Kazakhstan's elections: "Important for you, important for the country."
As Kazakhstan’s parliamentary election campaign begins on December 16, the country’s political classes are preparing for the ruling Nur Otan party to win yet another landslide. Though President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration bills the snap poll as a move toward democratization, few expect the January 15 election to loosen his stranglehold on the political process.
Eight parties are standing for seats in the Mazhilis, the lower house. Nur Otan, which is led by Nazarbayev and held all elected seats in the last Mazhilis (dissolved last month for this snap election), is heading for a landslide—perhaps on a par with the 88 percent it received in 2007, when no other party cleared the 7-percent electoral threshold.
Under legislation passed in 2008, this time a multiparty parliament is guaranteed: If no other party clears the barrier, the party coming second will be exempted from it.
Favorite to come second is the pro-business Ak Zhol party, led by Azat Peruashev and viewed as tacitly backed by Astana for the role of tame parliamentary opposition.
The only credible opposition force standing is the OSDP, which includes the Azat party and is co-led by Zharmakhan Tuyakbay and Bolat Abilov.
The Party of Patriots’ ticket is headed by environmentalist Mels Yeleusizov, famous for challenging Nazarbayev in this April’s presidential election – and voting not for himself but for Nazarbayev.
A clash between a group of suspected terrorists and security forces outside Kazakhstan's commercial capital has claimed seven lives, local news agencies reported. The weekend fighting is latest in a series of terrorism-related incidents that are sending shock waves through the country as authorities confront the rising threat to stability posed by homegrown extremism.
The shootout occurred in the village of Boralday, five kilometers outside Almaty, when security forces moved in near midnight on December 3 to capture a group they suspected of being behind the killing of two police officers in central Almaty on November 8. Two members of the elite Arystan crack squad and five members of the group died, the prosecutor's office said, including the alleged leader, named Agzhan Khasen, who was wanted on suspicion of leading a terrorist group. Two grenades and four firearms were found in the house where the group was holed up.
"There is no threat to the public and there are no grounds for anxiety," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The incident brings the death toll from a string of cases with possible extremist links to 37, including 14 members of law-enforcement bodies.
Dariga Nazarbayeva is staging a political comeback in Kazakhstan. After four years in the wilderness, Nazarbayeva, daughter of strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, is to stand for parliament on the ticket of her father’s ruling Nur Otan party. In Kazakhstan's micromanaged political system, it's an almost certain bet that she’ll get in.
Nur Otan unveiled its party list for the January 15 election at its party congress today. This is a remarkable comeback for the president's eldest daughter, who fell out of favor thanks to the antics of her former husband Rakhat Aliyev in 2007. Aliyev was once a powerful political and economic player in Kazakhstan, but his machinations finally became too much for Nazarbayev when he was linked to the abduction of two bankers. Criminal charges were filed against him, and Nazarbayeva divorced him.
The bankers' bodies were found this year, prompting a murder charge against Aliyev, who’s already been found guilty in absentia on charges including abduction, racketeering and plotting a coup d'etat. Aliyev, who regularly emits a stream of online vitriol against his former father-in-law, is now reported to be living in Malta under the surname of his new wife, Shoraz.
The Peace Corps, which sends thousands of Americans abroad every year to volunteer in public health, education and business development, is pulling out of Kazakhstan, according to unconfirmed reports. Volunteers say they have been ordered home within the next couple of weeks.
Peace Corps HQ did not respond to EurasiaNet.org's request for confirmation, but volunteers are adamant that – 18 years after the first contingent arrived in Kazakhstan – the program is closing.
Lisa Murray, a youth development volunteer in South Kazakhstan Region, blogged on November 17 that the Peace Corps would be leaving Kazakhstan next week.
She pointed to some possible reasons, including safety concerns over terrorism and what she said was the highest level of sexual assault and rape among the countries in which Peace Corps operates.
She says she knows of four incidents of “rape or sexual assault” of volunteers in Kazakhstan in a year – but adds that she does “not believe that Kazakhstan is an overly dangerous country” and has experienced nothing but “warmness, kindness, and hospitality.”
Not everyone in Kazakhstan welcomes the Peace Corps, however. In October the Aktobe Times, a Russian-language newspaper in the country’s west, published a vitriolic attack on volunteers on its website, which was also picked up by other media.
Last week, the stars were pointing toward a snap parliamentary election in Kazakhstan. Today, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has set the date for January 15, dissolving parliament and bringing elections six months forward.
Nazarbayev cited as his top reason the need to replace Kazakhstan’s one-party parliament with a multiparty legislature. Nur Otan, the party he leads, held all elected seats in the now-dissolved rubberstamp parliament.
At a meeting with officials on November 15, Nazarbayev said legislative amendments ruling out a future one-party parliament need to be enacted, so parliament must be dissolved. He did not explain why it had taken him three years to reach this conclusion – those reforms were introduced in 2008.
The likeliest explanation is that Astana is thinking ahead as it mulls the thorny issue of the succession to Nazarbayev, who has been in power for three decades.
After Kazakhstan’s snap presidential election last April, in which 71-year-old Nazarbayev won 95.5 percent of the vote, the early parliamentary poll looks like another jigsaw piece to slot into place as Astana’s gray cardinals plot a succession strategy.
The concept of “managed democracy” is maturing in Kazakhstan, the energy-rich Central Asian state where President Nursultan Nazarbayev has tightly controlled the political process since it gained independence. Analysts believe snap parliamentary elections are likely to be held soon in order to create the appearance of a competitive political system.
Two cops have been shot dead in Kazakhstan's commercial capital, Almaty, Kazakhstan Today reports. The latest violence is advancing concerns that terrorist activity is on the rise in the energy-rich state.
The officers died after unidentified assailants shot them on a thoroughfare outside the city center on the evening of November 8.
This is not the first slaying of police officers in recent times—two were murdered in the western Kazakh village of Shubarshi in June, prompting a security operation in which two more law-enforcement officers and nine suspects were killed.
Another police officer was killed in July in the western oil city of Aktobe in an incident in which a suspect blew himself up.
The latest shooting – which has not been proven to have a terrorist link – follows two explosions in another western oil city, Atyrau, on October 31 which killed one man in what appeared to be a botched suicide bombing.
Some macabre children's toys are on sale in northern Kazakhstan, according to press reports.
The gruesome playthings appear to imitate an abortion or miscarriage, an Interfax report said: “A plastic keg-shaped box contains a human embryo in red liquid. If the cover of the container opens, the embryo falls out together with [a] sticky mucus.”
“When my nine-year-old daughter brought the toy home, I was shocked,” Interfax quoted an outraged parent as saying.
The toys are reported to be on sale at markets and toy stores across Kostanay at a cost of 60-100 tenge (around 40-75 cents).
In contravention of Kazakh law, the packaging displays no writing in Kazakh or Russian, only what the report describes as “hieroglyphics.” That suggests the toys may have been manufactured in neighboring China, Central Asia’s number one source of cheap consumer goods.
Sale of the grisly toys is not limited to Kostanay – they are also on sale near a school in the northwestern city of Oral, displayed alongside more run-of-the-mill items such as exercise books and chewing gum, reports the Uralsk.info local news website alongside a gory picture of the offending item.