Heads are rolling in the aftermath of violence in Kazakhstan’s oil-rich west. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has dismissed oil industry officials after insinuating that their inaction over the labor dispute that had festered since May contributed to the turmoil. But despite concerns that security officials overreacted, top brass remain untouched.
During a December 22 visit to Aktau and Zhanaozen, epicenter of the December 16-17 violence that left 16 dead, Nazarbayev named Deputy Oil and Gas Minister Lyazzat Kiinov to replace Bolat Akchulakov as head of the KazMunayGaz (KMG) state energy company. At London Stock Exchange-listed daughter company KazMunayGaz Exploration Production, Alik Aydarbayev was promoted from board chairman to chief executive, replacing Askar Balzhanov.
The dismissed officials are first to take the rap for the violence, which Nazarbayev distanced himself from, remarking that “my instruction to resolve the labor dispute in a timely manner was not carried out.” He described the dismissals of strikers as “illegal” and their demands as “substantiated,” pledging to find them new jobs at the same salaries. Their vindication begs the question why 16 people had to die before Astana acted.
In Astana-speak, the upcoming parliamentary election in Kazakhstan is meant to usher in a new era of multi-party democracy. Other parties will be allowed to join Nur Otan in the Majlis, or lower house of parliament. But looking around the streets of Almaty, the country’s commercial capital, you wouldn't know that any other parties were running at all.
Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that it's another presidential vote that's approaching on January 15. President Nursultan Nazarbayev (who won a snap poll earlier this year with 95.5 percent of the vote) seems to be his Nur Otan party’s only face.
All over the city Nazarbayev beams down, right arm raised aloft. The posters carry the simple message “Alga, Kazakhstan!” (“Forward, Kazakhstan!”) and urge the voters to support Nur Otan.
The choice of "Alga" as a slogan is ironic, as it also happens to be the name of a political party that is forbidden from contesting these elections. The unregistered party was formed out of the ashes of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and has been fighting to get on the voting slip for years.
Alga! is rumored to be bankrolled by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive banker holed up in London. Ablyazov is none too popular in Kazakhstan at the moment: Presidential advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev pointed the finger at the exiled banker for being behind this week’s unrest in the oil-rich west.
Yes, in Kazakh politics, everything revolves around the man at the top.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has imposed a state of emergency on the troubled western town of Zhanaozen, scene of violent clashes between protestors and police during December 16 Independence Day celebrations in which 11 people died.
Under the 20-day state of emergency, rallies, protests, and strikes are prohibited; freedom of movement within the oil town of Zhanaozen, and into and out of it, is restricted.
Although a government investigation commission has just begun work, Nazarbayev absolved the police and blamed the “criminal actions” of protestors for the violence.
Interior Minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov earlier said the clashes were provoked by former staff members of the OzenMunayGaz company who were dismissed over the summer for striking.
However, the president expressed doubt about that version, saying that “the oil workers’ industrial dispute must not be mixed up with the actions of bandit elements which wanted to use the situation for their criminal designs.”
Straight out of a Soviet playbook: "Every Kazakhstani must be provided with the opportunity to participate in the country's large-scale industrialization."
Kazakhstan is greeting Independence Day in style on December 16, with a riot of celebrations to mark this year's special anniversary—20 years since the oil-rich Central Asian nation was propelled into statehood as the Soviet Union collapsed around it.
As befits a special occasion in a country that knows how to throw a party, festivities are on a grand scale. New facilities are being opened across the country. The grandest of all is an arch reminiscent of Paris's Arc de Triomphe that President Nursultan Nazarbayev opened in Astana today. Standing 20 meters tall to represent the symbolic anniversary, the arch, called Infinity Land, is being billed as a symbol of Kazakhstan's statehood.
More symbolically, Almaty has also gained a gigantic statue of none other than the president himself, who – according to the spin emanating from Astana – has spent the last two decades singlehandedly steering Kazakhstan into statehood.
Nazarbayev has received an “endless flow” of congratulations from his adoring public, his press service reported, and “the letters’ authors link all the country’s achievements” with their president.
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.
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.
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.
Kazakhstan is rife with rumors about Nursultan Nazarbayev’s health, following a report that the president is in a German hospital.
Nazarbayev's number-one foe, his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, immediately jumped into the fray, publishing news on his blog that the 71-year-old president had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Aliyev – who fell out with his former father-in-law in 2007 and jumps at any opportunity to pour vitriol on him – didn't explain why, if he's so well-informed, he only published this news after reports of Nazarbayev’s hospitalization surfaced on July 19 in the German tabloid Bild, rather than before.
A Bloomberg report on July 20 quoted Bild as reporting that Nazarbayev had undergone prostate surgery and would be heading back to Astana that day.
Back in Kazakhstan, officials and the media are tight-lipped over the state of the president’s health. Nazarbayev’s office, which said on July 11 that he was taking a short vacation, issued no public statement and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The report (which isn’t available on Bild’s site) said President Nursultan Nazarbayev was in the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf for unspecified treatment. Nazarbayev is meant to be on a short vacation, according to his office.
Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry referred EurasiaNet.org’s queries about his whereabouts to the president’s office, which could not immediately be reached for comment. Sources in Germany didn’t confirm the Bild report – the Federal Foreign Office told AFP it had no knowledge of Nazarbayev being in Hamburg, while Reuters quoted the hospital itself refusing to confirm or deny the news and a spokeswoman at the Kazakh embassy in Berlin saying she couldn’t confirm it either. “He's on vacation and he could be anywhere in the world," Reuters quoted the spokeswoman as saying.
Nazarbayev, who’s been at Kazakhstan’s helm for two decades, turned 71 earlier this month. He appears to be in a robust physical and mental condition, but any sign that his health is failing would cause concern among foreign investors, and among members of the Kazakh elite who’ve fared so well under his rule. Even as the succession issue looms ever larger as he ages, Nazarbayev has given no sign that he’s grooming anyone to take over, potentially paving the way for a vicious succession battle.
There have been a few interesting twists and turns lately in the fortunes of some implacable foreign-based foes of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
London-based oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov is on the up – he’s currently rejoicing over news that the UK authorities have agreed to grant him political asylum, a development that’s sure to enrage Astana.
“Mr Ablyazov’s application for political asylum was based on the fact that if he were to return to Kazakhstan he would be persecuted because of his political opinions,” RLF Partnership Ltd., which represents Ablyazov’s interests, said in a statement e-mailed on July 12.
Backing his claims, Ablyazov points to a prison sentence he served in Kazakhstan in the early 2000s on corruption charges. He was imprisoned shortly after becoming a founder member of a political reform movement.
BTA is now suing Ablyazov – who denies any wrongdoing – in London’s High Court, alleging that he defrauded the bank of $295 million. But in a setback to his case, earlier this month a witness admitted lying in court, the London Evening Standard reported.