Kazakhstan is experiencing a political shift, as President Nursultan Nazarbayev is striving to make peace with his moderate critics.
The clearest signal of a rapprochement was evident in early October, when the head of the Ak Zhol Party, Alikhan Baimenov, opted to take up his seat in parliament. He became the sole representative of Kazakhstan's political opposition in the legislature. For first nine months of 2006, Kazakhstan was the scene of a markedly high level of political tension, underscored by the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev in February. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Baimenov's decision to assume a legislative mandate is an indicator that a period of relative political tranquility could be in the offing.
The Ak Zhol party had declined to take up the seat - the only one gained by an opposition party in the 2004 parliamentary election - to protest at what it said was a flawed poll. The OSCE agreed that the vote fell short of international standards. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Ak Zhol decided to reverse course at a party congress in late September. "The congress decided - in view of the political situation in the country, and the fact that modernization is only possible with political consensus - to take up the parliamentary seat it won in the 2004 election," Baimenov told a press conference.
Addressing delegates before they voted on the motion to adopt a new policy, Baimenov spoke of engaging with the authorities rather than appeasing them: "A consensus between political forces and elites is extremely important. A consensus does not mean appeasement or endless plaudits
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asian affairs.