Books on Kazakstan
Update No: 321 - (26/09/07)
New parliament forms
Kazakhstan held parliamentary elections in August with highly predictable
results. The economy is booming, GDP growth being at or close to double figures,
and the regime is genuinely popular, for all the graft and chicanery,
spectacular by any standards. There is so much money swirling about from buoyant
energy and commodity sales that corruption is inevitable.
The new lower house of parliament, the Mazhilis, convened September on 2nd. Its
first order of business was the endorsement of Prime Minister Karim Masimov's
cabinet, a move that seemingly waived the legislative prerogative of confirming
government members. The parliament is entirely dominated by the pro-presidential
Nur Otan Party.
Speaking at a joint-legislative session September on 3rd, President Nursultan
Nazarbayev, the strongman of the country since the 1980s, insisted that the
special August election that handed Nur Otan a dominating majority was free and
fair. "On 18th August, we became witnesses to honest, competitive and fair
elections. The Nur Otan party won a legitimate and deserved victory in
them," Nazarbayev told deputies in the expanded 107-seat Mazhilis, elected
for the first time by proportional representation. Official election figures
showed that Nur Otan won 88 percent of the vote.
No one should be surprised that monitors from the OSCE's Office for Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights, said the election failed to meet international
standards. Developments appear to undermine the credibility of the
administration's assertions concerning the new balance of power in Kazakhstan,
suggested Rico Isaacs, a political scientist from Oxford Brookes University.
"It demonstrates in all likelihood that the amendments were aimed at only
strengthening Nur Otan's role, and not the role of political parties in
general," Isaacs told EurasiaNet. "The changes affecting political
parties' ability to have a greater say are minimal and inconsequential in
relation to the executive powers of the president."
An election campaign plagued by controversy, a vote count criticised by the OSCE/ODIHR
as flawed and the resulting one-party parliament "suggest that the
intention of the reforms was to close the political system to pluralism,"
The election result -- which saw all other parties excluded from representation
after failing to overcome the 7-percent barrier to win seats -- stifles debate,
argues Dr. Ustina Markus, Associate Professor of Political Science at the
Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP).
"With this parliament it is clear there will be less debate," she told
EurasiaNet. "It's a 'yes-man' parliament, obviously."
President praises one-party rule as the key to progress
Having a one-party parliament in Kazakhstan creates a "wonderful
opportunity" to foster pluralism and prosperity in the energy-rich Central
Asian nation, according to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Nazarbayev called on the party to represent the whole nation. Domination is
"not an aim in itself, but a wonderful opportunity to adopt all the laws
needed to speed up our country's economic and political modernisation," he
told deputies. Nur Otan's campaign platform and the Nazarbayev administration's
political programme are virtually identical: They aim to increase GDP, diversify
the economy and improve the healthcare and educational sectors.
The special parliamentary vote was part of a constitutional overhaul, which the
Nazarbayev administration has portrayed as the catalyst for an accelerated
modernisation drive. Even though one of the constitutional changes opens the way
for Nazarbayev to become president-for-life, if he so chooses, he has continued
to characterise the reforms as aimed at boosting parliamentary authority and
fostering party politics.
If that is the case, critics now ask, why did Nur Otan MPs not assert themselves
more in the question of the government's composition? Nur Otan representatives
did not make themselves available for comment.
In a reminder of the tight discipline expected from the Mazhilis, Nazarbayev
recalled new rules banning voting against the party line, which would lead to
the deputy being expelled from the party and losing the parliamentary seat.
"Our body of deputies must be consolidated around the party line,"
Nazarbayev said, that of course being identical with his diktat.
As observers pointed to diminishing checks and balances within Kazakhstan's
political system, controversy erupted when TV crews were ejected from the
Mazhilis chamber on September 5th. Cameramen and photographers were sent to
report from another room using a video feed. After the journalistic community
condemned the move, the ban was reversed and TV crews returned to the chamber on
The new old men
The Mazhilis is chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Aslan Musin, with Nur
Otan vice-chairmen Bakytzhan Zhumagulov and Sergey Dyachenko as his deputies.
The government endorsed by parliament included new ministers appointed in a late
August reshuffle. Umirzak Shukeyev, the former governor of the South Kazakhstan
Region, was appointed deputy prime minister, Berdibek Saparbayev became labour
minister, Bakhyt Sultanov took over as economy minister and Sauat Mynbayev, who
headed the Samruk state assets management company, was named energy minister.
As part of a Samruk management shakeup, the president's son-in-law Timur
Kulibayev -- husband of Nazarbayev's middle daughter Dinara Kulibayeva -- was
removed from his post as the company's deputy head.
Analysts linked Kulibayev's move with the fall of another presidential
son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, who is wanted in Kazakhstan on multiple charges;
Austria has refused to extradite Aliyev, who is being divorced by the
president's eldest daughter, Dariga.
"Nazarbayev has constructed a political system whereby he is the arbitrator
of all intra-elite conflicts," said Isaacs. "He balances the different
elite groups, so neither one is too powerful. Evidently, Kulibayev's demotion
was linked to the Aliyev affair. Nazarbayev does not like seeing one group
winning over the others. … Kulibayev's demotion from a very important state
organization represents the rebalancing of elite groups."
Markus expressed doubt that the star of Kulibayev is waning, pointing to his
political savvy and low profile in contrast to Aliyev. "It might just be he
is moving to something else. He's really got lots of fingers in lots of
pies," Markus said.
Amid the political realignment, the fate of another Aliyev rival, Almaty Mayor
Imangali Tasmagambetov, is being closely watched. Tasmagambetov - who recently
joined Nur Otan and has stressed his loyalty to the president - may receive a
diplomatic posting as Nazarbayev moves to balance the power groups.
"Tasmagambetov has political legitimacy and capital. As mayor of Almaty he
is quite popular - and it could be that Nazarbayev is considering him as a
successor," Isaacs said. However, with Nazarbayev set to remain in office
until 2012 and possibly beyond, it is too early to speculate on a presidential
transition, Isaacs cautioned: "Nazarbayev, as one of the most successful
and skilful of the ex-Soviet political operators, always has the ability to