Nazarbayev's life tenure as a means of gauging disposition of Kazakh society
The news that the parliament of Kazakhstan permitted Nursultan Nazarbayev to run for president as many times as he decided to was broken when this correspondent was approaching Volga Cliff, the spa where the Russia-EU summit was to commence in an hour or two. The news was shocking. President for life, a kind of Kazakhbashi in the country aspiring for chairmanship in the OSCE, an alliance of European countries most of which regard themselves as democracies even though some are actually monarchies? The whole idea seemed preposterous.
This correspondent immediately phoned his contacts in Alma-Ata. They confirmed that the idea had been put on the floor indeed, much to everyone's surprise. No voting occurred as yet. The parliament was waiting for the president himself to turn up. As a matter of fact, insiders claim that all of that was put into motion in order to enable Nazarbayev to demonstrate his democratic nature. It is this democratic nature whose display is eagerly awaited by Kazakhstan's political supporters to crush Euro-skeptics come November and have Kazakhstan become chairman in the OSCE in 2009. (The previous attempt, in 2006, was thwarted.)
Colleagues told this correspondent that Nazarbayev would probably thank the authors of the idea and politely turn down the honor of dying the president. These colleagues were wrong. Nazarbayev never turned up in the parliament. Lawmakers abolished the restriction on the number of times he was permitted to run for president almost unanimously (only one voted "nay"). Moreover, the abolition was applied to Nursultan Abishevich alone - that was how the parliament showed its appreciation of the "role the first president played in establishment of the new, sovereign Kazakhstan." The abolition will come into force when signed by the president. It may never happen, of course, should Nazarbayev decide that it is playing a democrat that he wants. On the other hand, it is unlikely. Why bother? Particularly after the Russia-EU summit in Samara that displayed the depth of the gulf between the involved parties.
Judging by President Vladimir Putin's public dispute with Merkel of Germany and Barrosu of the European Commission, European values (the state based on supremacy of the law and democratic procedures being the central of them) do not appear to be that appreciated by the Russian leadership. If the Europeans refuse to regard as a "pure democrat" the president of Russia regardless of his firm rejection of the demands put forth by the so called "party of third presidency" and remain in office after 2008, what then of the former CPSU functionary and member of the Politburo who has been the president of Kazakhstan for the last seventeen years? Why would he resist the local "party of presidency for life" just because "Princess Maria Alekseyevna" somewhere in the West will condemn him for it?
Nazarbayev is a seasoned politician. What happened looks like a gambit on his part, an attempt to gauge the reaction to realization of the Turkmen idea of presidency for life. Emomali Rakhmon in Tajikistan has already pulled off something like that. He has the constitutional power now to remain the president until 2020 when he is going to be only 68 (Rakhmon is but two days Putin's elder). There are few doubts that he will want to remain in office even after that. As for Nazarbayev, he will turn 67 this year...
As for reaction to the idea in Kazakhstan itself, it is both predictable and not. Everyone expected the Kazakh opposition to be thoroughly adverse to the idea, and it is. "That's another step back from democracy," Genuine Ak Jol leader Oraz Jandosov told Reuters. Symptomatically, but Academician Muhtar Aliyev, one of the leaders of the pro-president Nur Otan party, was also critical of the idea. "Abolition of restrictions will mark a deviation from crucial principles of the Constitution," Kazakhstan Today quoted Aliyev as saying. Aliyev is also known as the president's relative. His son Rahat is the husband of Nazarbayev's daughter Dariga. This couple heads one of the most powerful financial and political groups in Kazakhstan aspiring for supreme power in the country. Rahat Aliyev, a senior officer of secret services only recently and a diplomat nowadays, is the author of the whole ambitious idea of OSCE chairmanship Kazakhstan may probably forget about. Needless to say, he is upset.
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Vremya Novostei, May 21, 2007, p. 5