Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 72

In the last days of March, members of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) opposition party announced that they intended to establish a new party, “Alga, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan!” (“Forward, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan!”) The founders signed a statement declaring that the new organization’s primary goal is to protect the civil rights of all citizens of Kazakhstan. However, the signatories did not specify whether this party is something substantially different from the old DCK, which an Almaty specialized economic court outlawed on January 6 for allegedly inciting people to confront state power, or if it was just a name change (see EDM, January 11).

The activists who signed the statement include the former chairman of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, who had been severely criticized by renegade DCK members for his proclivity to rule the party with an iron hand; theater director Bolat Atabayev; and Batyrkhan Darimbet, editor of the DCK party newspaper Azat. But most of the party members who signed the statement are less known — or totally unknown — to the general public. This anonymity raises strong doubts about the newly baked party’s ability to muster popular support in order to realize the stated goals of “fighting corruption, lawlessness, and social injustice.” The statement points out that Alga, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, strives to build a new state that will place natural resources at the disposal of the entire populace, not just a handful of wealthy oligarchs (Azat, March 30).

The attempt to resurrect the once-popular Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party under a new name may seem to prove the vitality of the opposition movement, which had suffered crushing blows in the past several months following a split within the major opposition forces: the Ak Zhol Democratic Party and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. Analysts, however, note that opposition forces have been losing ground since the September 19, 2004, parliamentary elections. In the pre-election campaign, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, and Ak Zhol showed a willingness to join forces by signing a declaration about concerted pre-election tactics. But in reality, the opposition did not constitute a unified force. Opposition candidates Batyrkhan Darimbet (DCK) and Oraz Zhandosov (Ak Zhol) failed to secure seats in the new parliament. The opposition blamed this on the election authorities, but outside observers ascribed this failure to looming strife within the opposition block. Former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, now in exile, said that the weakness of the opposition lies in its inability to unite and to overcome internal disputes (Epoha, March 11).

Party leaders have long hushed up the split inside Ak Zhol. But the rift came out in the open at the party’s March 13 Congress. Party co-chairs of Alikhan Baymenov and Ludmila Zhulanova, lashed out at Altynbek Sarsenbayev, Oraz Zhandosov, and Bolat Abilov, accusing them of deviating from the party charter. The confrontation buried any remaining hope for united action.

Nevertheless, after protracted horse-trading at the Coordinating Committee of Democratic Forces, the opposition nominated a single candidate for the presidency, Zharmakan Tuyakbay, former deputy chairman of the pro-presidential Otan party. Another notable move from the opposition was the drafting of a new constitution that, in essence, envisages the establishment of parliamentary rule in Kazakhstan. The National Commission on Democratization, created to support the incumbent regime of President Nursultan Nazarabayev, claims that only strong presidential power can bring about democratic changes.

Recently presidential advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev confidently declared that in Kazakhstan the opposition is not likely to succeed in inciting the people to a “Rose Revolution.” He argued that a well-off middle class, affluent property owners who dislike any idea of idea of upheaval, form the core of Kazakh society. Yertysbayev emphasized that regime change, “which is inevitable” and power struggles between the ruling elite and the opposition will pass off peacefully, within the legal framework (Liter, April 1).

Many observers apparently share Yertysbayev’s view. Taking for granted the assumption that there is no breeding ground for a swell of public discontent that would threaten the regime, some analysts are inclined to think that the revolution may be exported by certain Russian political circles, such as exiled business tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who owns several media outlets that were recently used by Kazakh opposition leaders (Liter, April 2).

Political scientist Yerlan Karin believes that the opposition, as well as the electorate, have grown weary of the long-standing disputes and nitpicking within the opposition. Karin fears that by nominating a single candidate for the presidency, the opposition block created another point of contention in upcoming battles, for other candidates will eventually enter the presidential race as the election campaign nears (Liter, April 2). By setting up Alga, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, its founders sent a challenge to the regime. That is the easiest part of the political struggle. Will the new party remain viable enough to survive the rivalry and intrigues that will, no doubt, intensify in upcoming months? It remains to be seen.