The sudden death of Zamanbek Nurkadilov, a prominent opposition activist in Kazakhstan, has triggered a flurry of speculation that is raising the tension level ahead of the December 4 presidential election. Nurkadilov’s wife, the popular singer Makpal Zhunusova, found him dead in their home in Almaty on November 12 with bullet wounds to the head and heart. Nurkadilov had been governor of Almaty city and Almaty region and past chairman of the State Emergency Agency, but he later joined the opposition camp.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev sent his condolences to the family and ordered a thorough investigation of the case. But over one week later, the police investigation, headed by a deputy interior minister, had not found any clues in this tragic case. Was it a politically motivated murder, a revenge killing committed by criminal gangs, or a suicide? The most embarrassing point for authorities is that the death comes in the middle of the election campaign, which Nazarbayev has promised to be free and fair. With overwhelming popular support on his side and confident of his success in the elections, Nazarbayev is doing his utmost to observe the established election regulations and avoid any clashes with his opponents. Thus it is hard to believe that the regime would choose to eliminate such a well-known opposition figure at this moment (Novoye pokolenie, November 18).
Nurkadilov fell afoul of the existing regime in March 2004 when he was still chairman of the Emergency Agency. In an unprecedented and bold statement published in opposition papers, Nurkadilov accused Nazarbayev of embezzlement from the National Fund, which holds accrued national oil revenues, nepotism and, corruption. Shortly after he dropped this bombshell, Nurkadilov was relieved of his post, and he joined the “For a Fair Kazakhstan” opposition block. However, over the past six months he did not make public appearances and seemed to live a cloistered life, distancing himself from political activities.
Kairat Nurkadilov, son of the deceased, in an interview with the national Khabar television channel, expressed his appreciation for the investigative efforts taken by a team of qualified forensic experts and said that his father’s death should not be used for political purposes.
Meanwhile, Nurkadilov’s death has triggered widespread speculation and rumor. Zhumash Kenebai, editor of the opposition paper Zhuma Taims, alleged that a few days before his death Nurkadilov had revealed to him over the telephone that he possessed “sensational information” that would seriously affect the outcome of the presidential elections (Delovaya nedelya, November 18).
Nurkadilov’s death threatens to disturb the temporary lull before the elections. The chairman of the Central Election Committee, Onalsyn Zhumabekov, fears that some political forces may provoke public disorder on December 4, using the inevitable omission of some voters from voting lists as a pretext. Law enforcement bodies are braced for any unexpected turn of events. The chief of the National Security Committee, Nartay Dutbayev, believes that some “troublemakers” may try to “destabilize the situation in the state.” He said any attempt to cause public disorder would be suppressed with all powers of the law (Panorama, November 18).
The authorities and the opposition have long accused each other of making attempts to disturb the peace. Presidential daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, who is actively campaigning for her father on her tours of the regions, said Nurkadilov’s death plays into the hands of the radical opposition, but in no way suits the authorities. Her observation seems accurate. Opinion polls show high political ratings for the incumbent president (See EDM, November 8). The director of the independent Risk Assessment Group, Dosym Satpayev, does not think that Nurkadilov’s death will influence the mood of the electorate (Central Asia Monitor, November 18).
Nazarbayev’s supporters obviously fear the negative fallout that Nurkadilov’s death may provoke outside Kazakhstan. Dariga Nazarbayeva said that Nurkadilov’s death is a domestic issue to be sorted out within Kazakhstan. At the same time, she asserted that an unnamed “outside factor,” either the West or “next-door neighbors,” is likely to exert pressure on Kazakh election officials (Delovaya nedelya, November 18). Many analysts believe she meant Russia. Her words gain even greater credence following the announcement by Onalsyn Zhumabekov, chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), that the CEC saw no reason to register observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Election Monitoring Organization, as this group has neither NGO nor international status. The head of the CIS-EMO, Marina Bogdanovich, said she would appeal to the Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan to get her organization registered (Kazakhstan TV, November 18).
Interestingly, the most critical remarks in recent days concerning the pre-election situation in Kazakhstan came not from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors, but from CIS-EMO observers.