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Central Asia news

Snap parliamentary election will take place in Kazakhstan on August 18. Three political parties will be vying for election

30.07.2007 10:10 msk

Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Politics Kazakhstan

Publicity campaign is under way in Kazakhstan. Political parties make the same old promises: to up, support, reinforce, and so on. Needless to say, three political parties are energetic at this point: presidential People's Democratic Party Nur Otan, Ak Jol loyal to the regime, and National Social Democratic Party of the opposition. These structures have both finances and activists. Other participants in the parliamentary race bide their time. They are either smart enough to see the pointlessness of effort, or save their strength for the last days of the campaign.

Carrot for everyone

What most parties are going to say is more or less clear. Nur Otan will once again resort to provisions of the presidential annual message. Count on this party to rely on all traditional ideas: economic growth, political and ethnic stability, social sphere. Some clearly populist issues (like that concerning autos with right side steering wheels) will also be used, but this is where Nur Otan will have to compete with other political parties.

First and foremost, the others are the National Social Democratic Party and Ak Jol, two structures slated to fight for one and the same electorate. Both will aspire for the voters of the Kazakh Communist Party that dropped from the race. The ideas the National Social Democratic Party and Ak Jol will promote are going to be different. The parties will concentrate on appeals to the "new poor" (the strata that never benefited from the reforms in Kazakhstan) and to the small middle class. Both parties will address a broad assortment of issues from oil dividends distribution to promotion of the state language.

The National Social Democratic Party has an advantage. Recently denied official registration, the Alga! party urged its followers to vote Social Democrats. The matter concerns mostly the poor, the very stratum of society that is critical of the regime.

Everything will be fine and dandy

A few words on the favorites in the parliamentary race. Nur Otan centered its campaign around the thesis that "Everything is fine and dandy and will be even better!" The National Social Democratic Party in its turn remains true to its conviction that "Everything is bad and will be even worse without us!" Ak Jol in the meantime is trying to sit on two chairs at once. Indeed, it has to avoid insulting the authorities and attract voters. Its tactical slogan therefore comes down to "Not everything is fine and dandy but it could be worse!"

The National Social Democratic Party and Ak Jol have already found themselves in the center of scandals. Ak Jol is accused of the failure to meet some sort of financial commitments. The National Social Democratic Party convened a press conference on the policy promoted by nationwide media outlets. It reminded observers the title of a once popular movie "Welcome or No Admittance!"

All in all, the parliamentary race is going to be boring. First, because few parties will be running for the legislature. Second, because of the date of the election when the majority of voters are going to be away on vacation or thoroughly skeptical of the very institute of election.

Needless to say, the regime will do everything to make sure that the election is tranquil, its outcome legitimate. Hence the decision to permit a party of the opposition in the race. As a matter of fact, some opposition activists may even make it to the parliament where the majority will be fiercely pro-president in any case. Moreover, Kazakhstan's application for the OSCE chairmanship is slated for late November. The nature of the parliamentary election from the standpoint of democracy, openness, and competition will become one of the criteria when Kazakhstan's fitness is gauged.

Artificial structures

Will the parliamentary election strengthen the political system of Kazakhstan? Will it become a step toward development of the mechanism of continuity? Hardly. The election is not going to result in appearance of a competitive force capable of supporting successors to the president. Unfortunately, not even the presidential administration is far-sighted sufficiently to calculate all corollaries of political campaigns. On the one hand, it has already set the objective - following in the steps of the "Asian tigers" like Singapore or Malaysia, the countries were economic development is more of the priority than development of democratic institutions as they are perceived in the West. On the other, democracy is impossible in poor countries. Democracy in Kazakhstan is centered around one individual, director and the only actor in the political show.

This individual cannot even rely on a major political force because no such forces exist in Kazakhstan. Consider Nur Otan whose problems mirror shortcomings of the Kazakh party system. Most parties in Kazakhstan are artificial structures formed on the spur of the moment. They do not owe their appearance or existence to political wars or political activeness. Nur Otan is not a classic party capable of an adequate response to current challenges or even of adequate assessment of its own capacities and prospects. Its dependance on the head of state makes party's chances to outlast him quite dim. It is a party of mediocre career-seekers and bureaucrats. Factions in Nur Otan are bound to be at each other throats over financial and administrative resources and clout in general once the election is over, and these internal strife may even split the party. Are party activists the president's associated or ordinary functionaries? It's a coin toss. Are there people in the country who really care for Kazakhstan and not only those who are only eager to report the fantastic results of the election to their superiors?

All of that is not typical of Kazakhstan alone. Analysis of political and economic development of Central Asian countries shows both common features and certain differences. The former include political monocentrism (save for Kyrgyzstan), predominance of shadow politics over public (save for Kyrgyzstan), economic insecurity, and foreign political pluralism. The latter come down to different political and economic agendas, mechanisms of presidential legitimacy maintenance, and hierarchies of external and internal threats. All the same, different trajectories of political and economic development allow for some common tendencies. All Central Asian countries strengthen presidential power either through constitutional mechanisms (Kazakhstan) or neutralization of potential political adversaries (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan).

As for the president of Kazakhstan, he faces a major problem. He cannot foresee actions of elite groups anymore even though he is still capable of neutralizing them. Generally speaking, Kazakhstan has to answer two questions at this point: what kind of the authoritarian political system is has established (centered around mobilization, conservative, or modernization i.e. capable of political reforms), and what concentration of power in the president's hands will result in (authoritarianism for the sake of itself or authoritarianism for the sake of modernization).

Unfortunately, the parliamentary election is not going to provide answers. Experience of some new industrial countries (Thailand, South Korea to some extent, Taiwan, Brazil) where authoritarian modernization did take opinion of the opposition into account could come in handy. History is politics that cannot be amended anymore, but politics is still amendable history. Conservation of the existing political relations - with all it implies - is the only sad alternative. This conservation will foment another menace, one people usually forget about even though it is typical of the majority of authoritarian states. The matter concerns absence of the mechanisms by which young generations enter national politics. It results in radicalism we are already witnessing in Central Asia.

Dosym Satpayev, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 30, 2007, p. 12. © Translated by Ferghana.Ru