Monday, January 29, 2007

Political Party Un-Development in Kazakhstan: Will “Nur-Otan” Succeed in Destroying all of its Opponents?

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Will Minister of Justice Balieva begin registering independent political parties?

Since the dismantling of Dariga Nazarbayeva’s party Asar this past summer, there has been a gradual attempt to consolidate the political representation of all of President Nazarbayev’s political allies under the umbrella of a new enlarged Otan party, recently renamed “Nur-Otan.” At the same time, there seems to be an ongoing attempt to divide and control those opposition parties that might act as a counterbalance to “Nur-Otan.”

As Sergei Duvanov suggests in a recent analytical article, these attempts to divide the opposition appear to be working. While Alga DVK, the Real Ak Zhol, and the new Social Democratic Party all publicly support each other, there appear to be divisions between them. Without going into speculation as to who finances which parties, rumors suggest that these three emergent “wings” of the opposition have different patrons, which are not necessarily all motivated by the same goals. Furthermore, the government of Kazakhstan appears to be involved in its usual games of playing each of these parties against each other. While Bulat Abilov of “Real Ak Zhol” is being squeezed out of the political arena through politically charged court cases, the Government is simultaneously demonstrating tolerance by registering Zharmakhan Tuyakbai’s Social Democrat Party. At the same time, Alga DVK, which continues to operate without registration, is on the margins and could be manipulated against these two other parties.

Outside the opposition, there is yet one other political party “project” moving forward that has been rumored to have important allies with deep pockets who are within the President’s inner circle. This is the Atameken Party, which claims to represent the emergent Kazakhstani middle-class and tries to play a centrist position between the opposition and “Nur-Otan” by promoting reform without directly criticizing the President. While such a party would not appear to be a threat to the President and his inner-circle, it does upset the on-going process of pro-presidential consolidation under “Nur-Otan.” Perhaps for this reason, Atameken has recently encountered a series of road blocks in its attempt to register. While it has collected all of its signatures for registration, it has been blocked from its attempts to publicly discuss its proposed platform on television.

In the meantime, the founder of Atameken, Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov is busy obtaining international support for his party’s registration application, which is scheduled to be answered by the Ministry of Justice on Monday. First, he visited Moscow last week where he was able to get a statement of support from the Russian Union of Right Forces. Now, he is in Washington where he has been meeting with congressional staff, pundits, and governmental entities in an attempt to get their support for his party’s registration. Furthermore, he placed a full-page advertisement in the Washington Times, demonstrating that he indeed has resources behind his bid to be registered. In the advertisement, Dosmukhamedov aligned his party with the long-awaited “political modernization” reforms promised by President Nazarbayev “so that Kazakhstan may become a stronger partner with democratic nations all over the world.” While these moves may not determine the fate of Atameken's registration, they will ensure that groups in the west will take notice if Atameken is not registered, thus further bringing into question Kazakhstan's real intentions for political reform.

Kazakhstan, therefore, once again appears to be at a crossroads in its political development. While the government continues to promise political reforms, it is unclear whether the country is headed towards real multi-party politics or a re-installation of a quasi-democratic one-party system differing from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union only in ideology and name. While many have suggested that the appointments of Karim Masimov and Marat Tazhin are signs that the country will head down the path of political reform, a more accurate sign of the country’s intensions will be visible in the ways that it deals with political parties. Will Bulat Abilov be allowed to continue his political activity, or will he be gradually strangled by politically motivated court battles? Will the government quietly use different elements within the opposition to immobilize opposition voices? And, will the government register the Atameken party as a centrist pro-reform party representing the goals of certain allies of the president vis a vis his less reform-minded allies?

In general, the creation of “Nur-Otan” appears to be aimed at replicating President Putin’s success in liquidating multi-party politics in Russia through “United Russia.” Kazakhstan, however, is not Russia. There continues to be an intense intra-elite struggle for political influence in Kazakhstan in anticipation of an eventual change in leadership, and the security organs of Kazakhstan are not as all-encompassing or as brutal as Russia’s omni-present SNB.

Thus, even if “Nur-Otan” prevails through the destruction or silencing of other political voices in Kazakhstan, it will only drive political competition within the country’s elite further underground where it would definitely be less transparent, probably more violent, and likely more divisive. On the other hand, if the government of Kazakhstan was to take steps to allow for all political parties to operate unfettered by judicial machinations and fear, it could raise its profile internationally, leaving images of Borat’s Kazakhstan in the dust. It could also ensure that Nazarbayev would establish a legacy as a reformer even at the same time that he is implicated in the “Kazakh-Gate” case of James Giffen getting underway in New York. The answer to which path the country will take may depend upon what lesson President Nazarbayev takes away from post-Turkmenbasi Turkmenistan and post-Akayev Kyrgyzstan. Will he view the hubris of these now former Central Asian leaders as their lack of toughness or as their inability to establish a political system that would out-live themselves and ensure their place in history?


Blogger MattyJ said...

Excellent post. It's a fascinating topic and one that gets all too little coverage at RFE/RL and other more 'mainstream' publications.

If Nazarbayev is going to learn from the Singaporean model then he will have to accept the existance of opposition parties and tread carefully. Without wanting to offer tips on how to be a dictator, there are 'ways' of mainpulating situations and making life difficult for the opposition without bumping people off or stuffing ballots. This is the only way he can please the west and protect his family interests.

Astana's succession process appears to be stronger and better thought out than in Turkmenistan (there are at least different mid-level power groups and actors constantly competing relatively openly, who won't accept a Son/Daughter taking the next life-Presidency), whilst the Kazakhstani elite have a strong stake in the local and regional economy. These interest groups that Nazarbayev cleverly balances probably wont want to risk p*ssing off multi-national investors by bending the rules in a messy future succession.

The leader of the Senate will take over the Presidency and the interest groups will attempt to bend his ear/favouritism in their direction. Once an election has occurred and they realise what stance the new President will take, they will most likely throw their weight behind certain parties and Kazakhstan will enter a relatively brief 'semi-democratic era' such as that seen under Kuchma in Ukraine or Shevvy in Georgia. Big business groups backing certain parties - some more welcoming to Democracy than others, but a more open period of competition - a sort of democracy of the elites. Eventually this system will become too difficult to sustain and the media/society too divided to continue indefinitely.

The end result will of course be some sort of struggle/revolution but a victory for Democracy will occur.

Nazarbayev's legacy is a positive one. He's held the various interest groups together for several years now. That is not to say that once he leaves office they will all start fighting each other. Nazzy has taught them that they must live in harmony to ensure a prosperity from which they can all benefit. Once he is gone the preservation of this system, must surely be a priority for any rational thinker.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nazarbayev is a dictator who supressed the emerging civil society for many years and leaves no grounds for its evolution in the near future. His legacy is a very negative one as many talented politicians -- any nation's assett -- were killed, exiled or harassed. Nazarbayev has created a typical authoritarian system where freedom and democracy are decorative, not genuine. He demonstrated his greedy personality and inability to overcome it for the sake of a brighter future of his countrymen. Nazarbayev is a missed opportunity for Kazakstan. He is a traitor as he was bribed by Giffen -- an CIA agent who corrupted the Kazakh establishment for years. Nazarbayev is a shame of the Kazakh nation. People of Kazkstan look forward to seeing him fall along with his greedy family members and cronies.

11:26 PM  
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1:17 PM  

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