Prime Minister Karim Masimov has topped a new ranking of Kazakhstan’s movers and shakers published by the Vlast online magazine.
Masimov, Kazakhstan’s longest serving premier (he has headed the cabinet since 2007), managed to come top since the study did not include President Nursultan Nazarbayev. As Vlast put it, “it is obvious that in terms of level of influence not a single participant in the ranking could compare [with the president].”
Nazarbayev is by far Kazakhstan’s most influential figure, but Vlast’s take on who else wields power, formed by polling 90 experts, makes interesting reading.
Timur Kulibayev, a son-in-law of Nazarbayev who has been tipped as a possible successor, was in third place: After Masimov came Aslan Musin, head of Nazarbayev’s administration and a gray cardinal on Kazakhstan’s political scene.
Another presidential relative featured on the list: Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s eldest daughter, who has recently staged a political comeback by winning a parliamentary seat.
Kulibayev and Nazarbayeva are joined on Vlast’s ranking by other influential people mooted as possible presidential successors: Nurtay Abykayev, the 64-year-old head of the domestic intelligence service, is at number four; Akhmetzhan Yesimov, the 61-year-old mayor of Almaty, is at number 10.
Yesimov’s influence is outranked by two younger contenders tipped as possible future presidents: 43-year-old Deputy Prime Minister Kayrat Kelimbetov at number six; and, on his heels at number seven, Imangali Tasmagambetov, the 55-year-old mayor of Astana.
Given all that’s gone on in the past year in Kazakhstan, some of Astana’s most ardent well-wishers in Washington are hoping that President Nursultan Nazarbayev grapples with the always delicate issue of succession planning.
The subject of a stable leadership transition came up several times during an all-day conference in Washington, DC, on January 31, hosted by the Atlantic Council. The meeting was designed primarily to laud Kazakhstan’s economic achievements over the past 20 years, as well as celebrate a strong US-Kazakhstani partnership.
Nazarbayev, a septuagenarian who has been at the helm of the Kazakhstani government since the Soviet collapse in 1991, has given no indication that he wants to leave the political stage. He seems in robust health, yet it was revealed in 2011 that he spent time at a German hospital.
Kazakhstan likes to portray itself as open to dialogue with the West – but is it open to criticism?
After observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) slammed Kazakhstan’s January 15 parliamentary vote as fraudulent, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has announced that in future certain “experts” voicing critical views will be banned from attending Kazakhstan’s elections.
“We are no longer going to invite to Kazakhstan experts hired by someone who criticize our elections,” Nazarbayev said on January 18.
He did not name the OSCE or any other organization or individual, but his remarks came two days after the OSCE-led observation mission issued a stinging critique of Kazakhstan’s poll, which it said “did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections.”
Nazarbayev, on the other hand, said the vote was “unprecedented in terms of transparency, openness and honesty.”
He pointed out that most international observers had found the vote to be free and fair, which is true – cooperative regional bodies such as the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States (a club of former Soviet countries) gave the election a ringing endorsement, right on cue.
Balloons in the state colors, which also happen to be the ruling Nur Otan party's colors, grace a polling station in Almaty.
Kazakhstan is voting in parliamentary elections in which the ruling Nur Otan party, led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is set to win a landslide, just one month after security forces opened fire on protestors in western Kazakhstan, killing at least 17.
Residents of Zhanaozen, the epicenter of the December 16 violence, were casting their ballots under a state of emergency, with restrictions on freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and access for journalists. Independent international election observers were granted access to the town.
As voters trickled into less-than-bustling polling stations 1,500 kilometers away in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, the Zhanaozen violence – sparked by an industrial dispute in the oil sector – appeared to have had minimal impact. Citing the need for stability, voters overwhelmingly said they would elect Nur Otan.
“I want only peace and quiet,” said pensioner Zukhra Akhatova after casting her vote for the ruling party. Had events in Zhanaozen influenced her choice? No, she said, someone had “stirred up” the strikers and provoked the violence.
“I think the [oil] company management treated them wrongly, but [the management] aren’t people from the [ruling] party,” said retail trader and Nur Otan voter Alibek.
This prevalent mood suggests the administration’s tactic of blaming the unrest on mysterious third forces and oil executives is paying off.
As Nur Otan heads for a landslide, the pro-business Ak Zhol party, led by Azat Peruashev and seen as close to the administration, is tipped to come a distant second.
When Kazakhstan goes to the polls to elect a new parliament on January 15, voters in the restless western oil town of Zhanaozen, where at least 16 people were shot dead when police opened fire on protestors last month, will not be allowed to cast their ballots.
Astana has postponed the election in Zhanaozen, promising that its 50,000 voters can head to the polls at an unspecified later date.
The Central Electoral Commission announced the move on January 6 after consultations with the Constitutional Council, on the grounds that the vote cannot be held in the town while a state of emergency is in place. On January 4, President Nursultan Nazarbayev extended the state of emergency until the end of the month.
The exclusion of Zhanaozen’s voters from the election, even if temporary, raises the question of how legitimate the election will be. Central Electoral Commission head Kuandyk Turgankulov said casually that Zhanaozen’s exclusion would have only “minimal” impact on the nationwide election results.
Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed free and fair by international observers, and Nazarbayev and his ruling Nur Otan party regularly win with eye-popping landslides. Nazarbayev won reelection last April with 95.5 percent of the vote; Nur Otan won the last parliamentary election in 2007 with 88 percent, forming a single-party parliament after other parties failed to clear the 7 percent voter threshold.
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.