The eldest daughter of Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev is assuming a higher political profile. Observers widely believe that Nazarbayev is preparing the ground for a dynastic transition of power.
Dariga Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter, has emerged as the leader of a new political movement called Asar, which is Kazakh for "all together." Designed to appeal to younger Kazakhstani citizens, Asar seeks to function as a power base for the president. Dariga told Kazakh state television on September 12 that Asar would focus on helping "the most needy and poor people."
Technically, Asar is a "public association," but Dariga indicated that the movement should quickly evolve into a political party. The movement's leadership, which includes other prominent public figures, including her father-in-law Mukhtar Aliyev, is working on developing a party program, she added.
Given that Dariga already holds the post of board chair of the Khabar media group, the creation of Asar instantly positions her as a likely presidential successor. The possible timing of such a transfer of power remains an open question. Dariga immediately sought to squash speculation that she would run in the 2006 presidential election. "Nursultan Nazarbayev's rivals can relax for the next 10 years," she was quoted as saying by the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta on September 12. The general consensus in Almaty and Astana is that Dariga would make a run for the presidency in 2013.
Political analysts say the timing of Dariga's political debut is connected with the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2004. Some believe that the presidential administration wants Asar to become a parliamentary force. Dariga would accordingly run for a parliamentary seat, presumably winning it. That would pave the way for her rapid rise to the top echelons of legislative power. Ultimately, many observers believe Dariga could be appointed as senate president, which under the Kazakhstani constitution is the first in line of succession if Nazarbayev were to resign, die or otherwise be incapable of carrying out his duties as chief executive.
According to a report published by the Respublika newspaper, a dynastic transition has long been contemplated by Nazarbayev. However, his daughter's appearance on the political stage was reportedly delayed by troubles in 2001 involving her husband, Rakhat Aliyev, whose efforts to accumulate economic and political power provoked conflict not only with the country's entrepreneurial elite, but also with the president himself. Aliyev now serves as Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Observers say efforts to put the succession process in motion gained fresh momentum over the last year, fueled in part by an ongoing criminal investigation in New York into alleged corrupt payments made to top Kazakhstani officials as part of oil deals between the government and Western conglomerates. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Some local political analysts believe that Nazarbayev is eager to position his daughter as his successor, thereby giving him the option of quickly departing office, if developments in the corruption probe made it expedient to do so.
In the Nezavisimaya Gazeta article, Dariga downplayed the corruption scandal, known as Kazakhgate, denying that any wrongdoing had occurred. At the same time, she made it clear that a major function of Asar will be to counteract the main opposition movement, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK). For more than a year, the Nazarbayev administration has kept up pressure on its political opponents, especially DCK. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Several prominent critics of the president, including DCK leaders and the opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov, have found themselves jailed on what they contend are politically motivated charges. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. DCK has in the past sought to utilize Kazakhgate in its political struggle against the Nazarbayev administration.
Dariga criticized existing pro-presidential political parties, especially the Otan and Civil parties, for not acting decisively to blunt the rise of DCK in 2001. The Asar movement may ultimately render other presidential parties redundant, political analysts say. In addition, the new movement could erode popular support for Ak-Zhol, a middle-of-the-road party that of late has been aligned with the president. One recent poll published by Respublika said that roughly two-thirds of Otan's membership is ready to defect to the Asar movement.
Aldar Kusainov is a Central Asia-based reporter who employs a pseudonym out of fear of government reprisals.