Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party is set to be challenged by at least one opposition force at the snap March 20 parliamentary elections, but prospects the competition will be fair should be discounted at the outset.
The All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) decided at a congress on January 30 that it will field 27 candidates on the party list. Names include long-familiar habitués of Kazakhstan’s beleaguered opposition movement, such as OSDP leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbay, economist Petr Svoik, activist and former senator Zauresh Battalova and veteran opposition politician Ualikhan Kaisarov.
Fresh faces were few and far between, suggesting that the only-semi-cooperative opposition has struggled to capture the imagination of a new generation.
Tuyukbai was sober about his party’s electoral prospects and suggested that the results have already been determined.
“To talk about real percentages is a thankless task, because nobody knows what the real percentages are, and how many votes each participating party will receive. Nobody counts these votes. Today, the questions of distribution are in the main decided with pencil in hand by high-ranking officials,” Tuyukbai said in remarks quoted by Informburo.kz.
Instead, OSDP’s election campaign should be devoted to raising the alarm about the economic, political and social crisis gripping the country, Tuyukbai said, in the evident belief that the authorities are oblivious to all these factors.
The OSDP is right to be pessimistic about any chances it will be allowed a look-in.
Since the party’s foundation in 2006, it has run in one parliamentary election, in 2012, when it got 1.59 percent of the vote. Some feeble protests against the result fizzled out without a trace. It then refused to put forward a candidate in the 2015 presidential election, arguing that it was “politically senseless.” Sure enough, Nursultan Nazarbayev renewed his mandate at those polls with almost 98 percent of the vote.
The established actual opposition — as opposed to the banned opposition or the ersatz opposition installed in the lower house of parliament to create the unconvincing illusion of a multiparty democracy — has for years been marred by inertia and infighting.
OSDP’s marriage of convenience with another opposition party, Azat, collapsed in acrimony in early 2013. In September that year, Azat leader Bolat Abilov announced he was leaving politics altogether (for a while) to pursue other less problematic activities. Tuyakbay also bickered with his OSDP deputy Amirzhan Kosanov, throwing the party into disrepair.
Elsewhere, grassroots activists have expressed their intent to take up the challenge of confronting the authorities, but it seems improbable the government will be in any hurry to regularize their legal status as a political party.
So a combination of electoral fiddles and a showy campaign by Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party, whose candidate list has been sprinkled with some improbably photogenic celebrities, is certain to deliver a resoundingly pro-government parliament.
The outcome for the upcoming election, therefore, already looks to have been decided, although the government will as usual have to swat away the same old tiresome political midges.