The party-list segment of Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections, set for August 18, will be an uphill battle for opposition political forces in Kazakhstan. For all their irreconcilable differences and divergent policies, the assorted opposition contenders all must face the formidable, pro-presidential Nur Otan People’s Democratic Party. Most analysts predict Nur Otan will easily win 90% of votes cast.
As the election campaign nears the final stage, it is becoming clear that President Nursultan Nazarbayev is grooming his Nur Otan party to establish a monopoly on political power. The threat of returning to one-party rule loomed large again as Nazarbayev, addressing the Nur Otan party congress on July, 6 alluded to the U.S. two-party system. “It would be nice for us to have, like in the USA, two powerful parties capable of offering their programs to the people.” However, it is not quite clear which of the existing parties would become the second party alongside Nur Otan, if the presidential scheme materializes. After ten years of unfulfilled promises, Kazakhstan’s voters have come to realize that all roads to authoritarian rule are paved with glib promises of political freedom and economic prosperity (Zhas Qazaq, July 13).
Nur Otan’s strength comes from the enormous administrative, material, and financial resources it wields as the ruling party. Informal accounts suggest that Nur Otan organizers sign up new “members” en masse at state enterprises and institutions, often without their consent. That gives the ruling party a sense of popularity. Nur Otan has capitalized on the solid economic potential of oil-rich Kazakhstan, promising to increase per capita GDP to $13,000 per year and to double the average income of the population. But independent experts warn that these frequently used populist slogans are out of touch with reality. Poverty is rampant, particularly in rural areas. Corrupt officials use the funds allocated to develop social infrastructure to line their own pockets. According to the head of the Public Committee against Coruption, Ludmila Zhulanova, last year the benchmark consumer basket of 43 basic items was estimated at 8,410 tenge ($70). As of May this year, minimal subsistence level rose to 7,945 tenge ($65). The government has also failed to keep its promises to bring the cost of housing down to $350 per square meter. Housing prices shot up to $1,000 over the last two years. Mortgage payments are simply unaffordable for families with average monthly income of $250. Failed government programs in other areas, including health care, education, and pension reform weaken Nur Otan’s position (Sayasat, July 7).
At the recent party congress Nur Otan leaders endorsed a list of 127 candidates for the majilis, the lower chamber of parliament. Given that only 98 candidates are to be elected via party lists, Nur Otan apparently has already ensured a clear victory in the upcoming elections. Among the six other political parties registered for the voting, only the Ak Zhol Democratic Party and the All-National Social Democratic Party — with 114 and 80 candidates, respectively — could realize some success in the election. But they can hope for only 40% of the seats at best (Delovaya nedelya, July 13).
The ruling party, led by Nazarbayev, has launched an undisguised effort to purge the party of politically unreliable elements. As part of this move, the party’s two deputy chairmen, Alexander Pavlov and Dariga Nazarbayeva, Nazarbayev’s daughter and the newly divorced wife of fugitive politician Rakhat Aliev, were removed from their posts and replaced by the head of the Kazyna Foundation, Kairat Kelimbetov, and the less well known figure, Sergei Gromov. Nazarbayeva was also removed from the list of party candidates. The father of Rakhat Aliev, Mukhtar Aliev, the disloyal publisher Andrei Shukhov, and former deputy justice minister Sergei Nugmanov were removed from the party’s political council. They have been replaced by former foreign minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev; Adilbek Zhaksybekov, chief of the presidential administration; Askar Mamin, mayor of Astana; and Umirsak Shukeyev, governor of South Kazakhstan region.
The success of Nur Otan is partly due to the permanent infighting within the opposition camp. Alikhan Baimenov, leader of the influential Ak Zhol Democratic Party, which recently absorbed the Adilet party, boasted before a television camera that the expanded party will get 30% of the votes. However, Nur Otan is not the only rival; Ak Zhol will also face strong challenges from Nagyz Ak Zhol, another opposition party and uncompromising political rival. Likewise, the Communist Party of Kazakhstan plans to boycott the party-list phase but intends to participate in local parliamentary elections (maslikhats) after failed attempts to form a voting bloc with the rival Communist Peoples Party of Kazakhstan. Gani Kasymov, one of the contenders in the last presidential elections and the leader of Aul Social-Democratic Party, hopes his party will not only surmount the 7% threshold for winning a seat but will also reap up to 20% of the votes. He believes that Nur Otan’s attempt to amass all political power in its own hand will backfire and eventually destroy the establishment.