Kazakhstan's comparatively tranquil presidential election campaign has taken a mysterious turn following the killing of a prominent opposition figure.
Zamanbek Nurkadilov a former ally of President Nursultan Nazarbayev who had gone over to the opposition -- was found dead at his family compound in central Almaty on November 12 a pistol lying at his side. Authorities said the investigation was ongoing. Serikkaly Mussin, a lawyer representing Nurkadilov's family, dismissed the possibility of suicide noting that the deceased suffered two gunshot wounds to the chest and one to the head.
In a condolence telegram, Nazarbayev -- the odds-on favorite to win reelection in the December 4 presidential election mourned Nurkadilov as a "skillful leader and organizer who made a considerable contribution to the country's development," the Kazinform news agency reported. Nurkadilov served in a variety of governmental posts, including minister for emergency situations and governor of the Almaty region, before joining the opposition For a Fair Kazakhstan movement. In breaking with Nazarbayev in early 2004, Nurkadilov denounced the president as thoroughly corrupt and challenged him to resign. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Opposition leaders characterized Nurkadilov's death as a political assassination. At the time of his murder, Nurkadilov was supposedly preparing a "bombshell" announcement concerning Nazarbayev's alleged involvement in corruption, according to comments made by Jumash Kenebay, editor of the opposition newspaper Juma Times, published in the Kommersant daily.
At the same time, Nurkadilov had the reputation of being a political maverick who had contentious relationships with other leaders of the For a Fair Kazakhstan, including Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the movement's presidential candidate. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Nurkadilov at one point said Tuyakbai was taking For a Fair Kazakhstan in the wrong direction.
In early 2005, Nurkadilov mended relations with Akezhan Kazhegeldin, the exiled former Kazakhstani prime minister and leading Nazarbayev critic. The two had once been fierce political opponents. Political analysts suggested that Nurkadilov may have been angling to establish a new opposition movement with himself as the leader.
In London on November 10, members of a fact-finding mission sponsored by the Caspian Information Center (CIC) issued a report that offered an encouraging picture of Kazakhstan's campaign environment. It said the existing legal framework, if properly implemented, could produce an election "which [complies] with the Copenhagen Principles of the OSCE." The document adopted at the 1990 OSCE meeting in Copenhagen states that "the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms is one of the basic purposes of government."
The 29-page CIC report, titled "Inquiry into the Preparations for a Free and Fair Presidential Election in the Republic of Kazakhstan," characterizes the vote as a choice between Nazarbayev's pledge "to match economic decentralization with a program of gradual political reform" and Tuyakbai's promise "to replace what he describes as a corrupt and authoritarian regime with an administration committed to democratic change."
The mission comprised: Gerald Frost, CIC's general director; Kenneth Minogue, an emeritus professor from London University; Prof. Dennis O'Keefe, a social scientist at the University of Buckingham; and David Ruffley, a Conservative Member of Parliament. In researching their report, the team spent time in Almaty and Astana. "One caveat though is that we visited only two big cities. We haven't seen the rest," Frost said.
The report disputed the opposition contention that the benefits of energy development in Kazakhstan are not trickling down to average citizens. The sense of vibrancy felt by the mission participants in Almaty and Astana, combined with data from international financial institutions, indicates "that the number living below the poverty line has fallen considerably," the report says.
Mission participants faulted opposition leaders for making "little progress in establishing distinctive profiles in ideological or policy terms," adding that "many of the government's fiercest critics
Aldar Kusainov is the pseudonym for a Kazakhstani journalist. This article contains reporting by Mevlut Katik in London.