Kazakhstan: Review or chance to get out of the political crisis?
Aidos Sarimov (the Altynbek Sarssenbayev Foundation)
While it appears that the Kazakhstan political leadership has recreated Soviet traditions and institutions, political realities might prove slightly different. For opposition political forces, deprived of representation in the parliament, have joined together to form an alternative legislature. And now, even groups supporting the regime are participating in the legislature. Further, Yermuhamet Yertysbayev is again advising the President and confirms that the Azat party could again find itself in the Majilis.
Multi-party answer to the single party system
Kazakhstan's one-party political system, established with elections that observers say were neither free nor fair, is proving it does not satisfy anyone involved in the nation’s politics. Dissatisfied with the lack of representation in the Majilis, political representatives met last week to attempt to create an alternative parliament, or Khalyk Kenesy (People's Council). The idea was first suggested by the National Social Democratic Party headed by Jarmakhan Tujakbai. Representatives of a number of political parties and non-governmental organizations met on May 12 to sign a protocol to establish the Khalyk Kenesy and appeal to the population for support. The idea is not exactly novel as democratic organizations in Russia and Kyrgyzstan have also been trying to form a similar body.
The protocol was signed by leaders of the National Social Democratic Party, Ak Jol (Clear Way), Auyl (Village), Ruhanijat (Spirit), the Communist People's Party, Alga (Forward), and Khalyk Rukhy (Soul of the People). The latter two are political parties that are denied official registration. The alternative Majilis also includes prominent figures well known throughout the country.
It seems, however, that the authorities, and even some opposition political parties, do not support the initiative. Also, neither the President nor Nur Otan, the only political party represented in parliament, are expected to support the idea. It is believed that the country’s political powers will probably ignore the alternative parliament and continue suggesting cooperation with superficial structures such as the Public House and a variety of commissions, councils, and working groups mushrooming within Nur Otan.
Support of the alternative Majilis by authorities is tantamount to recognition of the inadequacy and inability of the single party parliament to consolidate society and solve existing problems. Actually aware of the inadequacies of the parliament, the regime is doing what it can to legitimize it in the eyes of Kazakh society and the international community - particularly in the light of the country’s upcoming turn as OSCE chairmanship.
The Azat party and the Communist Party, headed by Serikbolsyn Abdildin, did not attend the organizational meeting for the alternative parliament. Leaders of these parties have not yet commented on their absence from the alternative parliament, but it is safe to assume that they have no faith in the structure or cooperation between such different political forces. Moreover, the alternative parliament's very status is somewhat unclear. Ideological and political disputes that accompanied the organizational meeting make it plain that even organizers of the alternative legislature have but a dim vision of what it will be or do. At best, the alternative parliament will meet once a month to discuss the latest initiatives. However, it may become nothing more than a political valve enabling the involved parties to let off steam.
If the alternative parliament succeeds in proposing truly necessary laws and sincerely suggesting needed programs and initiatives, it may become another argument for supporting a snap parliamentary election.
-Gate, -gate, -gate (scandals colloquially known as KTZhgate, Rahatgate, and Shanyrakgate)
Lawyers for Zhaksybek Kulekeyev, the head of Kazakhstan Temir Zholy or KTZh who has been arrested by the financial police, organized a media campaign to prove him innocent. Media outlets featured an appeal from KTZh top managers to Nursultan Nazarbayev asking the president to make sure that the investigation into Kulekeyev is impartial and unbiased.
Families of Joldas Timraliyev and Aibar Khasenov, Nurbank executives kidnapped in late January 2007, organized pickets in front of the Embassy of Austria on May 13. The picketers demanded extradition of Rahat Aliyev, the president's former son-in-law, and his accomplices. A petition was presented to Austrian Consul, Klaus Reinhofer. The diplomat promised to forward the petition to Austria, but made it plain that it was all he could do because, "it is the Justice Ministry that handles this matter in Austria, and not the Foreign Ministry."
Representatives of the non-governmental organization, Shanyrak, held a press conference on May 13. Spokesman Asylbek Kozhakhmetov provided an update on those Shanyrak defenders tried and sentenced to prison for the murder of a policeman and organizing mass riots. At the press conference, a statement was distributed by Ibragimov, the prosecution's main witness, admitting to the Supreme Court that his testimony had been obtained under duress and that he had given false testimony to convict the four suspects. The imprisoned men’s lawyers made an appeal to the Supreme Court to reconsider the matter. The Supreme Court is scheduled to discuss the latest developments on June 10.
The Majilis (parliament) hosted a republican conference, "Domestic Migration: Processes, Problems, and Solutions" on May 15. Organized by Shanyrak, with help from state strictures and non-governmental organizations, the conference became the first discourse on domestic migration and social conflicts accompanying it.
"Almost 87,000 people left villages for cities in 2007," Labor and Social Protection Minister, Serik Abdenov, said. Almaty and other Kazakh cities may see similar events such as the Shanyrak tragedy unless severe measures are taken to analyze and regulate domestic migration and support migrants.
Opposition's spring offensive
Azat, the political party of the opposition that refused to participate in the alternative Majilis, arranged a press conference on May 13 where a document entitled, "The Necessity of an Anti-Crisis Conference", was distributed. Azat leaders Bulat Abilov, Tulegen Zhukeyev, and Pyotr Svoik also demanded the resignation of Karim Masimov's cabinet and the organization of an anti-crisis conference under President Nazarbayev's chairmanship to chart a "national anti-crisis program". "The unprecedented post-election rise of communal tariffs, food prices, and prices of other necessities continues," Azat leaders said. "It has already resulted in a deterioration in the manufacturing industry, retail turnover stagnation, decrease of taxes being collected, a decline in income for 70 percent of the population and worsening social conditions."
Azat leaders called for an anti-crisis conference for political forces, businesses, and domestic and foreign experts, "in the nearest future". They suggest aid be provided to citizens on fixed incomes by reducing the cost of construction of preferred real estate in Astana, capitalization of state holdings and security structures, and "urgent fiscal stimulation of consumer and investment demand." Azat suggests allocation of 840 million tenges from the National Foundation for the purpose and amendment of the Tax Code (including a reduction in the VAT from 13 to five percent and reduction of the income tax on non-raw-material sectors of the national economy).
Pro-regime media outlets and state political scientists condemned Azat's suggestions, but the business community and the authorities, themselves, are increasingly interested. "This country needs the headquarters to coordinate all communications," Mikhail Lomtadze of the Caspian Bank said at the PR Days in Kazakhstan forum. Moreover, what Azat is suggesting is similar to recommendations of International Monetary Fund experts.
Ex-information minister, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, is again an advisor to the president. In interviews with Ekspress-M and Liter newspapers, Yertysbayev acknowledged Azat’s presence and confirmed the pressing nature of the problems it brought up. Traditionally critical of the opposition and its demands, Yertysbayev admitted that the anti-crisis measures it suggested were similar to those policies promoted by the president. "I will advise the president to meet with Abilov, Zhandosov, Svoik, and Zhukeyev without delay. These people worked in the government and presidential administration," Yertysbayev said in one of the interviews. "I think it will be more productive than anti-crisis conferences or whatever," he added. In the other interview, however, he advised the opposition to meet with Premier Masimov. "He is a democratic man," Yertysbayev said. "If the advice is truly practical, he will certainly heed it... Actually, the president himself regularly speaks of a constructive opposition. If Azat is constructive, it will certainly be represented in the parliament."
Why the advisor is so benevolent is unknown. It is clear, however, that his interviews are a signal to the Kazakh opposition, a signal that was authorized at the very pinnacle of political power. Does it constitute the authorities' new policy with regard to the opposition? Are the authorities merely going through the motions in the hope of improving their image in the eyes of the international community? What will the opposition do now? Will the powers-that-be and the opposition convene talks to combine efforts and lead the country out of the political crisis and thwart the impending economic one? Do Yertysbayev's statements indicate a readiness of the regime to organize a snap parliamentary election? Is this a consolidated position of the authorities in general or just a faction in the corridors of power that do not care about the interests of others? There are no ready answers to these and other questions.
Nursultan Nazarbayev + Nur Otan = Zhas Otan?
Construction of the power structure around Nur Otan continues. This is the only explanation for Nursultan Nazarbayev's speech at the forum of Zhas Otan, the youth wing of the Nur Otan party. The authorities' eagerness to transform Nur Otan and Zhas Otan into organizations with obligatory membership is undeniable. Addressing the forum, Nazarbayev all but admitted this goal. He said Zhas Otan had to become "a school where experience of work in political and social institutions is gained…..The state must do everything to make sure the youth realizes its four principal rights: get a proper, professional education; have a stable job with a decent pay; have apartments to live in; and live a healthy life," Nazarbayev said.
Nazarbayev suggested a special Youth Policy Council, activation of cooperation between Zhas Otan and the Kazakh People’s Assembly and formation of the Assembly's youth wing. The president emphasized the necessity of promotion in the media of "the moral values that will challenge the Western ersatz-culture." Transformation of Yelarna TV network into a specialized TV channel for youth was suggested.
Nazarbayev also advised the youth to return to rural areas and participate in "Construction Projects", "Create Your Own Business", and "Build Your Own Home" projects. All of that bears a strong resemblance to the late Komsomol in the Soviet Union. It is the Pioneer and Young Octobrists organizations that are still lacking. Will the Kazakh authorities arrange them as well?
Nazarbayev also visited the new Nur Otan office in Astana. The facility includes a ten-storey building (16,580 square meters) with "a conference hall (400 seats), canteen (160 seats), and other premises."