One of Kazakhstan's leading opposition parties has re-branded itself, with a new name and a leadership shake-up. Party leaders hope that the makeover will inject new momentum into attempts to open up Kazakhstan's political system. But, in this case at least, any expansion in Kazakhstan's domestic political landscape may not bring welcome news to foreign investors.
Over the past year, President Nursultan Nazarbayev's administration has tightened its hold over the country's political life. Parliamentary elections in August 2007 gave the pro-presidential Nur Otan Party a virtual monopoly of the legislative process. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Earlier in 2007, Nazarbayev engineered constitutional changes that enable him to become president-for-life. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Though down, the president's political rivals are not counting themselves out. The former Nagyz Ak Zhol voted at a party congress on February 29 to rename itself Azat, which means freedom in Kazakh. The name selection was the result of a contest, in which party leaders selected two names to put to a vote out of some 300 suggestions received: Azat and Azamat, meaning citizen. Azat won overwhelmingly with 88 votes to Azamat's 58. Other popular suggestions included Akikat (truth), Adal (honesty), and even the names of some political movements, which already exist, such as Adilet (justice) and Atameken (fatherland).
The new name will embody the party's values of "independence, democracy, freedom and justice," said Bolat Abilov, who was unanimously elected the party chairman as the movement abandoned its policy of having three co-chairs. Another former co-leader, Tolegen Zhukeyev, was elected secretary-general, with responsibility for strategy. The third former co-leader, Oraz Zhandosov, remained without an official post but was tipped to become a deputy leader and will continue as the party's chief economic strategist.
"Let's be one big family as we have been all these years.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.