A “Russian Model” for Kazakhstan?

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Just back from Astana, my fifth trip there in a few years. So Kazakhstan voted anticipately to renew his parliament (Majilis – low chamber) and, how promised (also anticipately) from president Nazarbaiev, after many ys of 1-party rule, 2 new parties were admitted into the assembly beside the power-holder Nur Otan (Fatherland’s Ray Light). Osce observers condemned the scrutiny as unfair: real opposition, they say, was prevented or curbed  to take part in the race, campaign and media were strictly controlled by power, vote turnout was suspiciously high (75%).

True. But more interesting is how electoral outcome pattern choosed by Astana seems fully borrowed from Russian politeknolog-engeneering model: one big over-dominant party with no clear ideology, self-identifing with a popular leader of the nation (much popular than the party itself with citizens) in power since more than 10 years, granting stability and economic growth to the country for a decade, but with no clear successor yet, plus 2-3 loyal opposition satellite-parties; 7 parties competing; and so on with similarities…so it must be not by chance if Vladimir Churov, the president of russian Central Electoral Commission whose “head” protesters are asking since dec 4, was sitting on my plane back Astana-Moscow. So Russia doesn’t export just energy, vodka, caviar and weapons. I said “Hello!”, he answered politely “Hello”, but couldn’t make to talk to him.

The question is: will the pattern work in Central Asian frame? Frustration over unequal distribution of the country’s mineral wealth is growing in Kazakhstan as the gap rich/poors, but the overall situation is far away from russian developments and premises.

On the other hand, Astana seems to stand out from Russia  in its response, or better its official attitude, towards protests and discontent. Zhanaozen – the strike-oil-town on Caspian in kazakh energy “Wild West” where 7 months protests ended up in blood on dec 16 – is still there with his heavy memories: its 70.000 citizens voted under armoured curfew.  Yes, there was though repression there and at the beginning government tried to put the guilt on workers and “provocateurs” instead of blaming the police for heavy use of force and firing at protesters. But on the eve of elections, Astana didn’t tried to downplay the events (as Putin did with white ribbons): on the contrary, around vote Zhanaozen was the talk of the town everywhere, especially in the capital town. And in Internet, where kazakh youth and bloggers were discussing it openly – they’re also turning to politics as their russian mates, after ys of indifference boosted by country’s oil boom. Meeting some high officials there, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was said repeatedly: “We learned the lesson – also from Russia”. Kazakh power is looking with huge attention at the new “Moscow spring” of course . President Nazarbaiev now plans to make of Zhanaozen a “model town” – electoral promises? We’ll see. Anyway, the risk of an uprising similar to that of Russia is very remote among KZ’s still poor civil society and on Central Asian background.

Also in kazak case, the 2 newcomers in parliament – albeit “fake” – seem to have been choosed more accurately then in Russia and with a precise goal: communists (the loyal communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, opposed to the tougher one second Kom-party of Kazakhstan), barred fro elections) and business-friends (Ak Zhol Party).  They correspond exactly to the 2 new emerging classes in Kazakhstan that could cause troubles to Nazarbaiev’s grip on power in the coming years: urban middle class of small-medium entrepreneurs of Almaty, traditionally a “dissident” town home to country’s political opposition and a more open and lively intellectual and social atmosphere (they scored the lower turnout at sunday’s elections) and Western Kazakhstan low class of workers of oil sectors with their growing social-economic discontent (the gap between local population poor life standards and the wealth produced by world world energy blue chips there is huge and fueling rage). “They never loved Nazarbaiev and the Party down there on Caspian – Bulat Abilov, leader of Osdp-Azat opposition party barred from scrutiny told me – in Astana now they’re afraid of them”.

Visiting the headquarters of the “winner” Communists in Astana, among portraits of Marx, Lenin and Castro, I learned how they put nationalization of country’s industries, land (a big issue here in a country with grain-record harvest) and resources (including gas and oilfields) at the top of their electoral program – to soften it after the vote asking for a “revision of PSA”, that’s to say Production share agreements with Western Energy companies working in the country (italian ENI included):  they were signed in the 90-es when the country was economically collapsing, at unfair conditions for kazakh side. Here they hit the point: today kazakh populations wants more, and Nazarbaiev has to play on both sides.

At Nur Otan huge headquarters in Astana, I had a small surprise. No soviet-style old chinovniki, informal style of staff, less portraits of the Leader than elsewhere. In the office of one of the 3 Party’s secretaries, the one entitled to Political Strategy, aged 30-35, the visitor is welcomed by a long gallery of b/w portraits of former leaders of Alash Party, a liberal-nationalist group founder of the homonymous Autonomy existing in the country between December 13, 1917 and August 26, 1920, before October Revolution. “Yes, is a symbol of independence against Russia” agrees our guest, enthusiast Facebook and Twitter user and frantically digiting on his I Phone (the guy in the picture above with Obama’s cup – yes). Asked about the Party’s ideology and future plans, he couldn’t give any satisfying answer but denied any role of family clans in today’s KZ politics. And offered a tricky inside view of the relationships with opposition: “Opposition leaders are all my friends on Facebook. One of them wrote me yesterday and asked: ‘are you ready for elections?’. I answered him: ‘yes of course, and you?’. ‘We’re ready also, preparing for street protests'”. True, not true? Surely interesting, and patent that the Party still feels no threat from opponents. A local political analyst had an interesting point of view on the issue: “Parties means nothing in Kazakh society. Our political culture is still poor, and people still don’t think about Majilis members and groups as  the ones whom to address their demands”. Whom, then? Uhm.

The pics in slideshow are my random shots from Astana, not so original sorry with Baiterek, but still I love watching the people coming up there, more than the view itself. The woman with heavy make up is Dariga Nazarbaieva, one of the 2 daughters (no sons) of President Nursultan, opera-singer, just re-elected deputy after a break from politics: in the 2000s she headed a party pretending to be alternative to Nur Otan (with seats in Majilis). She’s considered a possible successor to the Father. I met her on E-day at her polling station shortly before the Father came to vote, and she told me: “Political reforms? We must shift towards a presidential-parlamentarian system”, without detailing.


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