On May 19, 2005, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a meeting on the political developments in Kazakhstan. The speaker was H.E. Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, Chairman of the Union of Democratic Forces "For a Just Kazakhstan." Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment, moderated the session.
H.E. Tuyakbay began by stating that it is evident that the time has come for the current rulers of the former Soviet Union countries to relinquish their posts to a new generation of leaders. There is a trend among these rulers of gradual backsliding into authoritarian tendencies, a well-developed system of corrupt governance, and a concentration of wealth and power among government officials.
Despite some recent positive achievements of President Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has also been following this pattern. The dissolution of the parliament and drafting of a new constitution in 1995 have allowed Nazarbayev to concentrate power in his hands. Currently, all branches of government are mere puppets of the President and the circle of his most entrusted associates. A small corrupt clan of people, who are extremely loyal to President Nazarbayev, currently runs Kazakhstan. The resources of the whole country are concentrated in the hands of the members of this clan, who are either family or close friends of President Nazarbayev.
Currently, the government has engaged in an aggressive struggle against the opposition forces in Kazakhstan. There are extensive limitations of the freedom of speech. Any criticism against the current regime is perceived as a threat, and is severely suppressed. Many have already been prosecuted and sentenced. Newspapers, NGOs, and international organizations working in Kazakhstan have been closed down, threatened, or have been placed under investigation. Their staff has been repeatedly intimidated. Other measures to suppress opposition have included the recently issued presidential decree to limit the freedom of assembly after and during the election campaign. Another recent law has granted the authorities the right to close down any opposition parties without a court decision. These examples are all elements of growing authoritarian tendencies within the Kazakh government.
Despite the government’s promise of free and fair elections, there have been serious violations and manipulation of the votes by the party of the President at the last year’s parliamentary elections. The authorities have employed a full scale of tactics to ensure a victory for the current party. As a result, the opposition forces, having obtained more than 50% of the electorate’s vote, were effectively defeated. It is fair to say that today’s Parliament of Kazakhstan does not have a single opposition member.
As a former Deputy Chairman of "Otan", a party officially endorsed by the President, H.E. Tuyakbay had met with many international observers and political experts before the elections, and had also promised them free and fair elections. What he saw during the elections, however, has caused much bitterness and disappointment. Despite his continual efforts to report the extensive fraud to President Nazarbayev, nothing was done. This has led H.E. Tuyakbay to write an open letter in protest to such actions, after which he broke from the President’s party. After the elections, it became clear that the only way that the opposition can triumph is by uniting the opposition forces into one movement, and thus, the movement for Just Kazakhstan was formed.
Today, the members of this movement are forced to work under the harshest conditions. The authorities have repeatedly obstructed the opposition’s attempts to set up regional offices. The authorities have begun to employ new tactics against the opposition by hiring members of organized crime and other criminal organizations to violently threaten and intimidate individuals who might be sympathetic to the opposition. On numerous occasions, these violent groups have also physically attacked supporters of the opposition with stones and other objects. They enjoy the protection of the state police and secret services, thus, their actions continue without any reprimand. Their explicit tasks are to prevent opposition forces from public meetings and to intimidate voters, but their clandestine mission is to provoke the opposition forces to a violent counterattack, so that the government could openly label the opposition as a violent movement of extremism.
The goals of the opposition, however, are peaceful. The opposition desires a free democratic state in which free and fair elections can take place. The opposition wants a democratic society in which the freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed to all and the system of checks and balances functions effectively. The opposition calls for a separation of powers and a draft of a new constitution, which would empower the parliament and set up an independent and unbiased judiciary branch. The opposition envisions a country where the economy serves the people, not the clan of the president, and where corruption is absent or is at acceptable levels. The opposition desires justice. Such goals are realistic, but there is still much work to be done in order to achieve them.
During the question and answer session H.E. Tuyakbay was asked about the popular sentiment toward the opposition in light of recent events in post-Soviet space, and if high oil prices along with a slowly rising standard of living have contributed to the support for the central government. H.E. Tuyakbay replied that at first people did seem to support the central government and many were assured of its victory. Since the elections, however, the blatant violations and fraud have mobilized people to support the opposition, and if the opposition works hard now, its victory is guaranteed. He also stated that despite rising oil prices and increased revenue, the general public has benefited little. Majority of the wealth has continued to accumulate in the hands of the government officials, and the allocation of funds for socioeconomic problems, that has been recently promised by Nazarbayev, is perceived as a pre-election bribe and a campaign gimmick.
To a question regarding the opposition’s work with local youth and entrepreneur organizations, H.E. Tuyakbay replied that the opposition works extensively with various youth groups in the region, but work with the business sector is more difficult, since many of the entrepreneurs rely on the government for funding. H.E. Tuyakbay also stated that the opposition has been hoping to engage in dialogue with the central government, but members of President Nazarbayev’s government have abstained from demonstrating any interest in such a solution.
Summary prepared by Alina Tourkova, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.