Kazakhstan’s parliament has hastily adopted amendments to the constitution following weeks of largely cursory public consultation.
Following parliament’s adoption of the reforms on March 6, the amendments will have to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court, but that procedure is likely to be a formality.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has described the reforms, which ostensibly should lead to his power being shared with the executive and parliament, as a historic development, although critics argue they will change little in reality.
Nurlan Abdirov, a member of parliament and the chair of a joint commission on the reforms, said that legislators approved 26 amendments to 19 articles of the constitution. That suggests that what the government says were the 6,000 proposals offered by the public and the feedback provided during 10,000 public events over the past weeks have largely been disregarded.
The speed with which the reforms have been pushed through parliament is remarkable, even by the normal standards of Kazakhstan’s rubber stamp legislature. The first reading was wrapped up on a single day on March 3.
Among the 10 changes approved on March 6 during the second reading, lawmakers agreed that any acts that could lead to “inter-faith conflict” should be deemed unconstitutional.
Despite the many challenges confronting Kazakhstan down the road, one of the main demands made by the public in the nationwide consultation was, apparently, for language to be inserted into the constitution that would properly reflect Nazarbayev’s historic contributions. The president is already officially designated Yelbasy — Kazakh for “leader of the nation” — a title that affords him lifetime immunity from prosecution and ultimate say over core matters of state, even in the event of his retirement.
The ill-fated fourth strand of the Central Asia-China gas pipeline has again been put on hold amid apparent sagging demand for the fuel from Beijing, Russian media outlets have reported.
A Tashkent-datelined RIA-Novosti news agency report on March 2 cited unidentified sources as saying China National Petroleum Corporation and state-owned oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz have agreed on an indefinite postponement on work to the Uzbek section of the route.
The projected 1,000-kilometer Line D is designed to start in Turkmenistan, cross Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and end in western China, and will, if ever completed, boost the overall annual transportation capacity of the Central Asia-China pipeline network to 85 billion cubic meters. This strand constituted a shorter but diplomatically far more complicated route than the already functioning Lines A, B and C, which also rise in Turkmenistan but cross only Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
The three completed strands of the Central Asia-China pipeline currently allow for the export of around 55 billion cubic meters of gas annually — an amount equivalent to one-fifth of China’s consumption. According to a breakdown of existing contracts and capacity outlined by CNPC, Lines A and B are able to carry 13 billion cubic meters of gas from the Chinese-run Amu Darya Project at Turkmenistan’s Bagtyyarlyk field and another 17 billion cubic meters of gas sourced by Turkmengaz itself. Line C is intended to supply a mix of gas from Turkmenistan (10 billion cubic meters), Uzbekistan (10 billion cubic meters) and Kazakhstan (5 billion cubic meters).
Spare a thought for Tajikistan’s state-employed journalists.
For the best part of a couple of years, it is independent reporters that have felt the pain amid an ever-intensifying wave of pressure from the authorities. Now, employees with state broadcasters and print media are feeling the pinch as the government cuts budgets.
The state budget for 2017 envisions a 20 percent cut in expenses for state media.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, earlier this week reported that while journalists can now expect to continue getting their salaries paid by the state, the expense of per-story fees have to be met by the outlet itself. Journalists in much of Central Asia typically are paid by volume of work done rather than being given a set monthly rate. As a rule of thumb, reporters in Tajikistan are believed to earn around half their monthly income on the basis of volume of work produced.
Ozodi said official state media was allocated around 100 million somoni ($12 million) in 2016. Of that total, seven-tenths went to TV and radio, with the remainder going to print outlets. Around 10 TV stations, seven radio stations, 110 print publications and the Khovar national news agency are funded with that money.
Media experts predict the drop in financing is likely to lead to an increase in the practice of forcing government employees to take out subscriptions of state-run newspapers and magazines. Also, EurasiaNet.org has learned that private companies are being pressured into placing adverts in state media, thereby providing another source of revenue.
There were times when things were better for state media workers. Back during the 2013 presidential elections, the authorities made the possibly strategic decision to keep staff onside by hiking salaries across the board.
A photograph posted online purporting to show Turkish security services documentation incriminating Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Officials and the Turkish Embassy have called the document a fake. (Source: Facebook)
The jailed leader of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition Ata-Meken party fired back at the man he believes has engineered his predicament — President Almazbek Atambayev — accusing him of seeking to cover up his own corruption.
Omurbek Tekebayev issued a statement through his lawyers on March 1 alleging that Atambayev may have been the owner of cargo on a plane that crashed in January outside the capital, Bishkek, killing 39 people.
Tekebayev was detained by agents of the State Committee for National Security in the early hours of February 26 and later charged on suspicion of committing acts of corruption while he was acting deputy prime minister in 2010. The wave of detentions of leading Ata-Meken members has led observers to suggest the party is being targeted with politically motivated prosecutions.
This most recent arrest sparked off days of relatively low-key protests, although Tekebayev supporters have vaguely committed to holding rallies until he is released. A court earlier this week ordered that the Ata-Meken leader should remain in custody for at least another two months pending further investigations into allegations against him.
Accusations that Atambayev was in some way linked to the contents of the doomed Boeing 747 cargo plane have been floating around as gossip, although Tekebayev is the first public figure to make the claims so boldly.
RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz service in February compiled an impressively detailed report highlighting some intriguing and unanswered questions around the plane. One issue that remains unclear is whether when the plane was attempting to make its scheduled landing during intensely stormy weather in Bishkek airport simply to refuel — as officially stated — or to drop off dozens of tons of undeclared imports.
Following the formal end of national discussions in Kazakhstan on constitutional reforms intended, if only on paper, to rebalance authority away from the president toward the executive and the legislative, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled the issue should be considered further in parliament.
Speaking at a working group devoted to the reforms, Nazarbayev noted on March 1 that public feedback indicated that there were numerous shortcomings in the proposed amendments on the table.
Quashing one contentious issue from the get-go, however, the president suggested that an amendment that might notionally have opened the way for foreign nationals to buy property should be struck down. Authorities are still rattled by the wave of anti-land privatization protests that shook the country last year and are not eager to see a repeat.
The government outreach exercise to instruct the public about the details of the reforms, which consisted in a large part of members of the upper house of parliament traveling across the country and delivering talks to large halls, wrapped up on February 26, as previously advertised.
Presidential chief of staff Adilbek Dzhaksybekov said the public had submitted more than 6,000 suggestions on possible reforms to 63 out of the constitution’s 98 articles. As things stand, 23 articles of the constitution are due for revisions.
Kazakhstan’s Football Federation has a new vice president with a familiar sounding surname — Aisultan Nazarbayev.
With this appointment, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grandson has finally achieved his long-cherished ambition to make his mark on the country’s soccer scene.
The federation on February 28 anointed the younger Nazarbayev as its second-in-command. The 26-year old has a solid footballing pedigree. He represented Kazakhstan at Under-17 level and spent six months with England’s Portsmouth football club in 2007, when it was still in the English Premier League.
Nazarbayev, who is the son of the president’s eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, and the late Rakhat Aliyev, made his first foray into Kazakhstan’s football politics in October 2015.
He was hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps — Aliyev was once the of head of the federation — but Nazarbayev’s bid to repeat that feat was unsuccessful at that time. Aliyev, who was forced out of the country’s top footballing job following his spectacular fall from grace in 2007, committed suicide in his Austrian prison cell in 2015 while facing kidnapping and murder charges.
Aisultan Nazarbayev would not be deterred, however.
Tajikistan’s central bank last late week announced it was pulling the licenses of two of its troubled banks and is now trying to work out how to compensate account-holders.
That decision, publicized on February 24, comes only weeks after the National Bank committed to spending tens of millions of dollars on refinancing the lenders in question — Tojprombank and Fononbank.
Asia-Plus news website has cited National Bank representatives as saying that customers of the banks should not be concerned as they will get at least some of their savings back.
The law provides insurance of up to 17,500 somoni ($2,000) per depositor and that is, in theory, to be paid within two weeks of the announcement of the license withdrawal.
“Once the courts appoint administrators at these banks, the savings of those customers holding more than 17,500 somoni will also be reimbursed,” Asia-Plus cited the National Bank as stating.
Money will reportedly be paid as administrators go through the process of selling off the banks’ assets.
Assets on Tojprombank’s books include dozens of offices and an unspecified number of residential properties. Fonobank hold 37 items, including a main office, four branch offices and multiple residential properties.
The size of the banks’ client base is not readily available, so it is unclear how onerous a commitment all this will prove or whether the authorities are really in a position to make such guarantees given the lack of liquidity in Tajikistan’s financial system.
Neither bank has commented publicly on the developments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, in Dushanbe on February 27. Photo: Russian Presidential Press Service
Anybody expecting major developments out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tajikistan will be left disappointed as nothing of note appears to have transpired.
Putin exchanged the usual pleasantries with his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon, during their February 27 meeting in Dushanbe, while paying some very cursory and noncommittal lip service to the need to intensify defenses against potential threats spilling over from Afghanistan.
No mention was made of the Eurasian Economic Union, quashing suspicions for now that Tajikistan was considering finally relenting and joining the Moscow-led trading bloc. In fact, a very pointed reference was made in a speech by Rahmon to how talks addressed specifically bilateral relations.
“During the talks, we thoroughly reviewed the status and prospects of Tajik-Russian cooperation in the bilateral format and within international forums such as the United Nations, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” Rahmon said.
The most significant break for Tajikistan was signaled by Putin’s remark about his government considering a revision on a ban of Tajik citizens barred from traveling to Russia for one or other reason.
“We discussed this. And overall a solution has been found and we will work in line with an agreement reached with the president of Tajikistan,” Putin said.
Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov, who traveled with the visiting delegation, said that more than 200,000 Tajik citizens may currently be affected by travel bans. Shuvalov said bans would likely be waived for those people that had committed only minor violations of migration laws.
“Those that committed crimes or were in some way involved in illegal activity will, of course, not be granted permission to enter,” he said.
Kyrgyzstan’s government may with one arrest have contrived to revive the phenomenon of street politics — an increasingly rare sight in a nation exhausted by years of turmoil.
Hundreds of people turned out in the capital, Bishkek, on February 26 in rowdy protest at the overnight arrest of Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev on fraud and corruption charges. Tekebayev has denied the accusations, which his allies have described as politically motivated.
A large crowd concentrated around the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, where Tekebayev was taken after disembarking from an international flight in the early hours of the morning. While there was much shoving between protesters and police, and the crowd reportedly tried to barge its way into the building on two occasions, no violence appears to have ensued. Tekebayev supporters holding a megaphone delivered speeches and were at one stage joined by Roza Otunbayeva, who served as interim president following the April 2010 revolution that culminated in the current president, Almazbek Atambayev, coming to power.
Otunbayeva spoke in defense of Tekebayev, arguing that he had made important contributions to the country’s wellbeing.
“He is a person who always fought for the truth,” she was quoted as saying by Kloop.kg news website.
Tekebayev was a central figure in the anti-government protest movement that led to the 2010 revolution and later played an important part in drafting a revised constitution that on paper was intended to water down the powers of the presidency and usher in a parliamentary system.
Attendance at the protest outside the GKNB gradually dwindled as evening approached.
Ata-Meken leader Omurbek Tekebayev at a march to commemorate the first anniversary of the April 7, 2010, revolution. (Photo: David Trilling)
Authorities in Kyrgyzstan are threatening to spark a political crisis with their shock arrest of a prominent opposition leader.
Ata-Meken party leader Omurbek Tekebayev was held by police as soon as he flew into the capital, Bishkek, in the early hours of February 26. Dozens of his supporters demonstrated outside Manas airport and some were later detained.
Large numbers of police with riot gear were deployed to the terminal to contain any possible outbtreaks of protest. As well as Tekebayev supporters, police at one stage also detained a reporter with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz service, Ulanbek Egizbaev, and a member of parliament with Ata-Meken, Kanybek Imanaliyev.
The detention of the Ata-Meken leader followed an announcment by the General Prosecutor’s Office on February 25 that it was initiating a criminal investigation into the politician on suspicion of corruption and fraud.
Prosecutors say the case is based on materials provided by the State Committee for National Security, or GKNB, and involve an instance of alleged bribe-taking in 2010 in exchange for granting a Russian businessman preferential access during the sale of a part-nationalized mobile phone company.
Tekebayev was in Vienna, Austria, when prosecutors made their statement, but was due to return to Kyrgyzstan overnight. He vehemently denied the allegations.
A number of Ata-Meken deputies have been target of a sustained barrage of criminal investigations, all initiated by the security services, that political observers have argued are politically motivated.