Jarmahan Tujakbai: Do not expect anything more serious than a redecoration from Nazarbayev
President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev may declare political reforms in the country come Monday, February 19. If he does, it will mean early parliamentary election in Kazakhstan later this year. Here is an interview with Jarmahan Tujakbai, former chairman of the lower house of the national parliament who became one of the opposition leader and even ran against Nazarbayev for president.
Question: You are in Berlin now. What is it that you are doing in Europe?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: We've been forming the united Social Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, something wholly new you know, since last summer. Its membership now amounts to 150,000 men. We convened the party congress in September 2006 and obtained official registration in January 2007. We intend to join the Socialist International now. We want to be in accordance with the ideology of international social democracy, its strategy and tactic. That is why we travelled to the Socialist International headquarters in London to meet with its Secretary General Luis Ayala there. As for Berlin, we met here with leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party and its representatives in the Bundestag.
Question: Are there any other similar parties from Central Asian countries in the Socialist International?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: No, we are the first from Central Asia. Socialist International functionaries are happy that ideas of social democracy are spreading through Central Asia. I know that they stay in touch with Russian Social Democrats (but not very actively), with the ones in Ukraine, Georgia, and even in Belarus. I did not ask which of them were formal members of the Socialist International. We discussed the political situation in the Central Asian region.
Question: So far as I know, even politically advanced and knowledgeable Europeans have trouble with telling Kazakhstan from Tajikistan. How about Ayala?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: He is pretty well informed of the political regimes in Central Asia. Ayala is fairly skeptical about the situation in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. At the same time, he believes that Kazakhstan has a fairly promising potential in terms of democratic institutions development.
Question: A group of German lawmakers forwarded a formal letter of inquiry to the federal government shortly before Nazarbayev's visit to Germany in late January. The document emphasized the necessity to discuss with Nazarbayev prospects of political reforms in Kazakhstan that would facilitate a positive answer to Astana's request for OSCE chairmanship in 2009. The subject of politicians in exile, say, ex-premier Akejan Kajegeldin, and their return to the native land was brought up too...
Jarmahan Tujakbai: What German politicians are really interested in is Kazakhstan's reliability as a potential exporter of energy to Europe and particularly Germany. They support Astana's aspirations for OSCE chairmanship but warn that this support depends on how Kazakhstan observes international standards in the spheres of human rights, freedom of expression, and democratic processes in general. As for Kajegeldin as such, he is not going back because of the ten year imprisonment awaiting him there. It will take political will on the part of the president to void this sentence and order another, unbiased investigation with Kajegeldin himself present.
Question: You are a member of the state commission for democratization. Nazarbayev is expected to address the commission on February 23 and outline a plan of unprecedented political reforms.
Jarmahan Tujakbai: My sources in Astana have just informed me that the meeting will take place on February 19. It will probably be the last, by the way. I'm a skeptic, you know. This is not the first such commission and accomplishments of all its predecessors amount to absolutely nothing. Discounting some stiffening of the regime, that is, that occurred several times. Sure, I know that the commission prepared some serious proposals for the upcoming meeting but I also know that everything in Kazakhstan depends on the will of one man only and on whether or not he is prepared to launch the reforms.
Question: What kind of reforms shall we expect?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: Just a minor redecoration. Certainly nothing so serious as to affect the existing system of the division of power. Some changes may be introduced into the procedures of formation of the government by the parliamentary majority. Or Nazarbayev may decide to have the lower house of the parliament itself formed by party lists and single-mandate districts in equal proportions.
Question: I take it that the proportions are not equal now?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: No, they are not. There are 77 seats on the lower house of the parliament. Sixty-seven of them are filled from party lists and only ten from single-mandate districts.
Question: But that will certainly spell an early parliamentary election because the term of office of this legislature expires in 2010.
Jarmahan Tujakbai: From the standpoint of common sense, a constitutional commission should be set up first - or assembly - to amend the Constitution. The situation being what it is, however, the president merely has to make his wish known and the process of amendment of the Constitution will take ten days only or even less. And that will automatically necessitate disbandment of the parliament and organization of election.
Question: On what grounds will the parliament be disbanded? Nazarbayev disbanded two parliaments in the 1990's, and it earned him vicious criticism domestically and abroad.
Jarmahan Tujakbai: No problems with that. A situation may be orchestrated where discussion of absolutely any draft law will foment an "insurmountable discord" between the government and the parliament. Vote of no-confidence in the Cabinet is suggested then, and the president is promptly asked to accept its resignation and disband the parliament.
Question: It is plain in the meantime that the new election will certainly be won by the new mega-party that recently united all pro-president political structures: Otan, Asar, Civilian Party, and Agrarian Party. And by the way, what does it call itself?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: Nur Otan which stands for "Light of the Motherland". Its functionaries all but admit that the name is associated with the name of Nazarbayev. Well, with a name or brand like that, they will certainly win the election.
Question: Will this party encounter any rivals?
Jarmahan Tujakbai: I hope that we all, parties of the opposition, will form an alliance of democratic forces. While the legislation permits it.
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Vremya Novostei, February 16, 2007, p. 5