President Nursultan Nazarbayev has given a preview of how Kazakhstan will approach its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010, and the future does not look pretty for the organization's democratization component.
The OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly held a session in Astana in late June. Late last year the organization voted to award the 2010 chair to Kazakhstan with the tacit proviso that Nazarbayev's administration take action in the meantime to bolster its flagging human rights credentials. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Nazarbayev, however, is sending mixed signals on whether Kazakhstan will follow up on reform pledges made in order to secure the OSCE chair.
Addressing the parliamentary assembly on June 29, Nazarbayev singled out global security as he outlined the challenges facing the organization. "How is our organization going to assure the security and stable development of its member states? The answer to this question is still to be given," he told assembly dignitaries.
Judging by the address, democratization is an afterthought for the Kazakhstani government. Nazarbayev mentioned his administration's reform plans only toward the end of his speech, and then he only made vague references to "creating more favorable conditions for state registration of political parties," "improving procedural aspects of the electoral process," and "removing certain bureaucratic barriers regulating the activity of the mass media." He provided no specifics on how Kazakhstan plans to meet its commitments.
Of late, Kazakhstan has faced growing criticism over its inactivity on the reform front. Leaders of a visiting US delegation, for instance, had harsh words for Astana's recent rights record. "It is imperative that the [Kazakhstani] government undertake concrete reforms on human rights and democratization to demonstrate to the international community and to Kazakhstan's civil society that they [officials] are ready to assume the [OSCE] chairmanship," US Representative Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, told a press conference in Astana on July 1.
"Much more progress needs to be made in 2008," added US Senator Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who together with Hastings co-chairs the US Helsinki Commission, which monitors member states' compliance with OSCE commitments. "One of the commitments made by the Kazakhstani government was to allow for political and election reform so that political parties can freely compete in the election progress."
Cardin added that he had raised the issue in a meeting with Nazarbayev: "His response to me was friendly and candid, but we will want to see what results will come forward with regards to his government."
The president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Goran Lennmarker, also gently urged Kazakhstan to keep its promises. "We are confident that Kazakhstan will continue to work toward meeting the commitments outlined by Kazakhstan at the OSCE Ministerial in Madrid last year in good faith and in a transparent and inclusive manner," Lennmarker said in his opening speech. "The OSCE stands ready to support Kazakhstan in this process."
State media outlets in Kazakhstan have hailed the chairmanship as a sign of the country's growing international stature, while paying scant attention to slipping reform pledges. One commentary published by an independent-minded media outlet, however, suggested that Kazakhstan might have duped the OSCE. "Nothing is left for the OSCE member states [other] than to count their losses and pretend that nothing terrible has happened," the Respublika newspaper commentary stated. The newspaper went on to compare Kazakhstan to a Trojan Horse, alleging that Astana was intent on subverting the OSCE's democratization component from within.
While vague on an overall reform blueprint, Nazarbayev did address one of the most controversial features of Kazakhstan's current political landscape -- the lower house of parliament, in which all elected seats are held by the pro-presidential party, Nur Otan. Hinting that fresh elections held before 2010 would produce a more diverse legislature, Nazarbayev spoke of "creating a legal mechanism allowing the formation of parliament with the participation of no less than two parties."
Seeking to influence potential legislative reforms, two opposition parties that hope to obtain seats in any new parliament, Azat and the National Social Democratic Party, have drawn up four draft laws: on elections, political parties, the media and freedom of assembly. "It is vital to create proper conditions for civilized political competition and [a] multi-party environment," the parties said in a joint statement June 24.
They are calling -- as they have for years -- for balanced representation on electoral commissions, measures to prevent ballot stuffing, equal campaigning conditions, "ideological and political diversity" in the media, and assurances of the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
They hope the administration will meet the spirit, and not only the letter, of its reform pledges. "Will authorities bring themselves to real democratic reforms, or
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.