Books on Kazakstan
Update No: 320 - (31/08/07)
The survivor of Central Asia
The president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been around in politics
for a long time. He was head of the Kazakh Communist Party in 1989, a date which
spelt doom for many a communist leader in Europe. But not for him.
Only Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, is still around of former communist
bosses in Central Asia. But he runs a very distraught and troubled regime.
Not so Nazarbayev. He is genuinely rather popular, being the ruler of a country
enjoying massive economic growth, thanks to a cornucopia of mineral resources
(60% of the Former USSR's as a matter of fact). GDP growth is in double figures.
It helps that there are under 16 million people in a country the size of Western
Europe to share the largesse.
Electoral victory assured
Nazarbayev must be very gratified and confident that he will go on for
equally as long as he has lasted so far. After 18 years as Kazakhstan's
president, and 16 of post-Soviet independence, he has managed to bend its
political system enough to bring it full circle. After a deft revision of the
constitution, abolishing the two-term limits so common elsewhere, he can be
president for life.
Following parliamentary elections on August 18th, the country has become a
one-party state once again. The authoritarian Mr Nazarbayev, who heads the
winning Nur Otan ("Ray of Light-Fatherland") Party, is once more its
undisputed leader, with an added bonus: the country is now a nominal democracy.
Nur Otan won all the contested 98 seats of the Majilis, the lower house of
parliament, with 88% of the vote. None of the other six parties in the running,
including Ak Zhol ("Bright Path") Party and the opposition
All-National Social Democratic Party, managed to cross the 7% threshold needed
to qualify for any seats at all. That 7% figure is not a matter of chance. It is
widely agreed by academic election observers, that in a new nation with tight
media controls and other restrictions to political freedom and organisation,
that the 7% threshold is unreasonably high.
The opposition has cried foul and intends to file judicial complaints. But
Kazakhstan is not famous for the rule of law, and, if the past is any guide,
they will not get very far. The Social Democrats, who had expected from opinion
polls to win around 20% of the vote, said they would apply to hold a rally at
the end of August, but will not take to the streets without official permission.
OSCE has its doubts
According to the election-observer mission of the Organisation for Security
and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a number of international standards were not
met. The vote-counting was flawed in over 40% of polling stations the observers
visited. But it was said that these elections "move Kazakhstan forward in
its evolution towards a democratic country". This did not stop one OSCE
official, Lubomir Kopaj, from adding that he had "never seen a democratic
country with only one party in parliament". But Mr Nazarbayev crowed that
the election had overall been approved as the first free and fair election in
The OSCE's assessment of the election, moved up by two years so that
constitutional changes passed in May to strengthen parliament could go into
effect, is vital in Kazakhstan's controversial bid for the organisation's
rotating chairmanship in 2009. Although Kazakhstan is clearly not the ideal
candidate for this role, Mr Nazarbayev craves the international recognition it
would bestow. After intense lobbying among the other 55 OSCE member states, only
the American and British governments stand in the way of a favourable decision
expected in December. Nazarbayev's bid remains controversial!
Lesson for Russia?
Whatever the longer-term outcome, Kazakh-style democracy will be closely
watched in neighbouring Central Asian republics. Even Russia may not be immune.
The constitutional amendments also give Mr Nazarbayev, who is 67, the right to
stand again as often as he likes after the end of his term in 2012. He could be
president for life. But nobody knows of course how long that life might be.
In an interview with Russian television, Mr Nazarbayev has urged Russia's
president, Vladimir Putin, due to step down next spring, to ignore what people
abroad say and run for another term. A president should do what is best for his
people and the state, he said. The chairman of Russia's election commission,
Vladimir Churov, promptly replied in a Russian newspaper that "Nazarbayev
is a politician of international standing whose words should be carefully