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Central Asia news

Kazakhstan: Opposition leader Akejan Kajegeldin advises President to make three steps

11.02.2008 09:59 msk

Vremya Novostei

Politics Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan's forthcoming chairmanship in the OSCE scheduled for 2010 compels Europe to focus attention on this Eurasian country, vast and rich in natural resources. Former (1994 to 1997) Prime Minister Akejan Kajegeldin, 55, remains one of the prime sources of data on Kazakhstan for European leaders. Kajegeldin aspired for presidency in the late 1990s, joined the Kazakh opposition, and found himself promptly sentenced to a decade behind the bars (in absentia). He has been living in immigration in the West ever since.

Kajegeldin met with EU Commissar for Foreign Contacts and European Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on February 7. It became the former premier's third meeting with prominent European politicians over the last several months.

Ferrero-Waldner and Kajegeldin discussed the situation in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries, EU strategy in the region and its implementation, and Astana's readiness to chair the OSCE.

Slated to become the OSCE chairman in 2010, Kazakhstan will join the leading trio in 2009 already. It follows that it has just under a year to launch certain changes indicating that the Kazakh leadership means to keep its promises to Europe. As it turned out at the meeting in Brussels, however, the EU is upset by Kazakhstan's idleness these last two months or so. Kajegeldin informed Ferrero-Waldner that everything actually depends on President Nursultan Nazarbayev who only has to make his will known to have the tame parliament adopt all necessary amendments to the acting legislation.

Kajegeldin listed three steps he thought Kazakhstan had to make. First, revision of the law on political parties and registration of all existing political parties in Kazakhstan. Second, abolition of the existing legislation pertaining the media so that all political forces will have access to electronic media. Last but not the least, an end to the practice of political prosecution of politicians and journalists, annulment of unjust sentences, and permission to all victims of the repressions to return to politics. The ex-premier backed the EU's idea of international monitoring of the course of changes in Kazakhstan so as to evaluate readiness of the country for the chairmanship in time for the meeting of the OSCE Council of Ministers in Helsinki this autumn. The emergency mechanism might kick in again otherwise, the way it happened in the Hague in 2006 when aspirations for chairmanship on the part of Kazakhstan failed to secure everyone's consent.

Kajegeldin's new stand on the matter of membership in the Council of Europe for Kazakhstan may take the rest of the opposition by surprise. Trying to deny Nazarbayev's regime international recognition, the opposition torpedoed entry into the Council of Europe in the late 1990s. Still, the Kazakh opposition leader suggested at the meeting with Ferrero-Waldner that "it's time Kazakhstan stopped kicking its heels in the anteroom. It's time to make it a fully fledged member of the Council of Europe with all it implies." Among other things, it implies revision of the Kazakh Constitution by the Venice Commission, permit to the Kazakhs to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, and so on. The ex-premier is convinced that membership in the Council of Europe will provide an impetus for political modernization of Kazakhstan.

Michael Laubsch, a German expert on Central Asia who runs Eurasian Transition Group, told Vremya Novostei that Europe would like to perceive in Kazakhstan a reliable partner, a Central Asian country to be counted on. "On the other hand, it is impossible without political rapprochement between Nazarbayev's government and the opposition," Laubsch said. "I hope that efforts of the EU as an intermediary in the process will be fruitful."

Arkady Dubnov, Vremya Novostei, No 20, February 11, 2008, p. 5