WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 643, March 10, 2011 STORY BEHIND THE STORY Deep Rifts Remain in Conflict-Torn Kyrgyzstan By Isomidin Ahmedjanov, Anara Yusupova
IWPR INSIGHT TAJIK GOVERNMENT HAS ISLAMIC PARTY IN ITS SIGHTS By Lola Olimova UZBEKISTANS ECONOMIC DILEMMA Authorities want to boost private sector to offset raw materials dependence but will the strategy work? By Dmitry Alyaev TAJIKISTAN TIGHTENS MARRIAGE RULES Move appears designed to stop foreign nationals marrying Tajiks to get passports. By Faromarz Olamafruz, Yasmin Khushbakht KILLING SPARKS UNREST IN KYRGYZ SOUTH Police regain control after protest gets out of hand, but incident highlights simmering ethnic tensions. By Yevgenia Kim, Isomidin Ahmedjanov KEEPING UP APPEARANCES IN KAZAKSTAN Presidential election serves little purpose apart from claiming democratic credentials. By Saule Mukhametrakhimova **** NEW ************************************************************************************ LATEST PROJECT REVIEWS: http://iwpr.net/make-an-impact/project-reviews VACANCIES: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia/central-asia-radio NEWS BRIEFING CENTRAL ASIA: http://iwpr.net/programme/news-briefing-central-asia CENTRAL ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia-human-rights-reporting-project STORY BEHIND THE STORY: http://iwpr.net/report-news/the-story-behind-the-story BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** STORY BEHIND THE STORY Deep Rifts Remain in Conflict-Torn Kyrgyzstan By Isomidin Ahmedjanov, Anara Yusupova The outbreak of violence between Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad and nearby rural areas in June 2010 left more than 400 people dead and a trail of destruction in its wake. The focus of the IWPR report Deep Rifts Remain in Conflict-Torn Kyrgyzstan was on how locals are coping with the impact of violence on their lives; how much tension still remains and what signs are there, if any, of reconciliation and rebuilding. The sensitivity of the topic and the uneasy atmosphere in the wake of the conflict required the involvement of journalists representing both communities. Therefore, the piece was co-authored by two IWPR-trained journalists Osh-based correspondent Isomidin Ahmedjanov, who is ethnic Uzbek, and a Kyrgyz reporter from Bishkek who writes under the pseudonym Anara Yusupova. Their experiences in putting together a joint article show how covering this issue, even in the post-conflict period, is still not easy. Isomidin Ahmedjanov: The tension between Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities remains and can be felt in all aspects of life. Under such circumstances, trying to talk to people requires being able to convince them that you are not taking sides and to exercise self-control so as to keep your emotions in check. Any wrong move or carelessly constructed question, and there is a danger of prompting suspicion from locals who might accuse you of being a spy. Such an attitude towards the media was caused partially by some one-sided reports which highlighted the losses and damage suffered by one side, while putting all the blame on the other. During last years violence, such inflammatory reporting exacerbated the situation, and in the wake of subsequent tragic events made reconciliation efforts more difficult. Doing your job as a journalist in the environment like this is like walking on a knife edge. I recall several incidents when I approached people on the street and they were unfriendly and did not want to do anything with me and my questions. "Mistrust between communities following such violent clashes is understandable, and so is the reluctance of people from the Kyrgyz community to open up to a person whom they automatically see as an outsider. Some locals with whom I managed to talk, for instance construction workers, were willing to share their thoughts with me. I was surprised how insightful their observations were about the impact of the conflict on the life of the community. Among the lessons that I took from working on this report was an understanding that, although I am an emotional person by nature, in my job as a journalist it is my role of a neutral outsider that enables me to do the job properly. What helps to get people talking is if you demonstrate that you are working an on impartial footing. Given the sensitive nature of the issue I was reporting on, I was careful how I chose my questions. I also wanted the interviewees to see me not as a member of Uzbek community, but as a journalist who wants to tell the truth. Another lesson was that if you have a feeling that someone has a story to tell, but they are at first unwilling to talk, you have to be persistent and put that extra effort to get him or her to share it with you. Among the people I encountered was a local businessman who fell victim to a criminal gang. They threatened him and his family and forced him to hand over his business. Initially, when I introduced myself as a reporter and explained to him the purpose of the story I was working on, he was reluctant to speak. But after I spent some time with him, he felt more comfortable about opening up. His story - told anonymously - was evidence of how criminal groups took advantage of the chaos that followed the violence, as well as the weakness of central government at that time, and how some entrepreneurs were forced to part with their property and businesses almost for nothing. Working on the article was a challenge but as a journalist I learned a lot about conflict reporting. Anara Yusupova: Following the conflict, relations between various ethnic groups living in Kyrgyzstan topped the political agenda. As for relations between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, it feels like a bleeding wound. The issue is a difficult one to cover and various groups have their own take on it. Some media are fearful of the topics sensitivity and their reporting is too vague. Kyrgyz journalists who try to demonstrate a balanced approach and mention the suffering of Uzbeks are criticised by Kyrgyz nationalists for taking sides in favour of the Uzbeks. These nationalists inundate any newspaper that carries such reports with angry letters. Some Uzbek journalists, on the other hand, put the blame squarely on the Kyrgyz side, blaming them for what they sometimes refer to as genocide. That is why it was not an easy decision for me to take part in a story trying to assess the current tension between members of these communities. Knowing what I do about last years violent events, I understand those Uzbeks who decided to leave the country. I understand that it is not easy for them to settle in a new place; that they miss their home, but they are too fearful to come back. I also have a lot of respect for those members of the Uzbek community who have found enough courage to stay. They have a right to do so and no one has the right to take it away. What became clear to me when I worked on this article is that, despite what happened between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, both sides want to live in peace. So after what was initially hesitation on my part of being involved in a report dealing with such a sensitive issue, I concluded that it is up to us, independent journalists, to speak out about the problems that still remain in the south. The neutral platform that IWPR provides for publishing stories like that is a good opportunity to tell the truth about problems that still exist between communities that went through conflict so recently. IWPR INSIGHT TAJIK GOVERNMENT HAS ISLAMIC PARTY IN ITS SIGHTS By Lola Olimova After years of coexistence with the authorities in Tajikistan, Central Asias only recognised Islamic party is under mounting pressure. The Islamic Rebirth Party, IRP, launched an uncharacteristically public broadside against the government after a leading member, Hikmatullo Saifullozoda, was the victim of a serious assault in early February. IWPRs Tajikistan editor Lola Olimova comments on the case and looks at why official attitudes to the IRP appear to have shifted. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Was this assault an isolated incident, or is the Islamic party really right to claim it is under attack? Right now the IRP is under severe pressure. Its quite possible that the Tajik authorities have been shaken up by unrest across the Arab world and have stepped up pressure on all forms of opposition, using almost anything as a pretext for doing so. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Tell us about Saifullozoda, who he is and why hes important. Hikmatullo Saifullozoda is one of the partys leaders, its press spokesman and chief editor of its newspaper, Najot. He often speaks to the media, both in his capacity as an expert on political affairs and to set out the partys views. He recently spoke about the death of Aloviddin Davlatov, aka Ali Bedaki, a militant accused of complicity in the September 2010 attack on an army convoy in eastern Tajikistan. Davlatov was supposed to have been killed in a firefight with government, but video footage later surfaced on the internet showing him alive and in custody, so there are suspicions he died when he was already in detention. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Is there any other evidence that points to a concerted campaign to damage the party? Following the clashes in Rasht last autumn, government officials began hinting at links between the IRP and an outbreak of Islamic militancy in the area. A number of party members were charged with a range of offences, including Davlatovs brother Husniddin, who is a member of the IRP. Last month, government-run newspapers carried excerpts from an interview with leading poet Bozor Sobir, who called for the IRP to be banned because if it ever won an election, it would take the country backwards to a feudal state. Coming from a respected figure and one-time dissident who had only just returned to the country after many years in exile, Sobirs remarks appear to have been seized on to suggest that the party has alienated even those who were once its natural allies. There have been other forms of harassment, too, for example the closure of premises used as a mosque at the IRPs offices in Dushanbe, as part of a government crackdown on unregistered prayer-houses. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Since it entered the political process following the civil war peace settlement of 1997, the IRP has been the most prominent of Tajikistans opposition parties, yet it has never been aggressively confrontational. What might have promoted the government to take a much more hostile view of the party? The authorities are worried that the partys popular standing is increasing. These concerns emerged after the February 2010 parliament election, in which the IRP won just two seats but according to unofficial counts got at least one third of the vote. This ballot success made the authorities both jealous and alarmed that the IRP is becoming more popular among urban voters as well as in the Rasht valley and parts of Khatlon region. Although it has to be said urban support for the Islamic party is probably more a protest against current regime policies than a mark of its popularity. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Why do you think an Islamic party is gaining ground here? Poverty, the lack of decently-paid work, declining social and economic conditions, unfair appointments policies, region-based favouritism, the increasing influence exerted by President Imomali Rahmonovs party all these things are fuelling public discontent. Theres been a failure to institute political reforms, the economy is in a dire state, and a young generation is growing up that never experienced the civil war and is thus less prone to compromise for the sake of stability. That alarms the authorities, who seek to suppress any alternative to themselves. As the IRP grows into a viable opposition party on the back of widespread discontent, the authorities have begun viewing it as a serious opponent. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- If the IRP is marginalised, how will that affect the future of political Islam in Tajikistan? The IRP is the only legally-operating Islamic party in Central Asia, and IRP chairman Muhiddin Kabiri enjoys considerable respect internationally as a moderate, forward-thinking leader. Many observers see the moderation espoused by the party as a bulwark against the extremist groups that are now a rising force in Tajikistan as elsewhere in Central Asia. Some young people are being driven into the arms of these radical groups out of disappointment and desperation. UZBEKISTANS ECONOMIC DILEMMA Authorities want to boost private sector to offset raw materials dependence but will the strategy work? By Dmitry Alyaev A new programme to promote private enterprise appears to be a move to reduce Uzbekistans dependence on raw commodities, but analysts say powerful vested interests are likely to be a major obstacle to changing the profile of the economic system. Last month, President Islam Karimov approved a programme to help improve the business environment, in year that has been designated the Year of Small Business and Private Entreprise. The plan envisages sweeping away the bureaucratic barriers standing in the way of setting up new businesses, and giving them access to loans and a range of tax breaks and other privileges. The authorities seem particularly interested in fostering small-to-medium-sized manufacturers which produce goods of a high enough standard to export as well as for the domestic market, and which create new workplaces and thus improve the standard of living in the process. John Andrew, an analyst who covers Uzbekistan for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, EIU, told IWPR that it remained to be seen whether the strategy would be put into action in any meaningful way, or whether it was just rhetoric. Uzbekistan is heavily reliant on the revenue it earns from cotton, natural gas and gold, and like many raw-materials exporters, it suffered from falling demand and prices when the global economy slowed down in recent years. The reliance on export revenue from basic commodities makes Uzbekistan extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices and demand, Andrew explained. Given that the state sector cannot provide enough jobs or sufficient living standards for the population, there are clear risks to the regime's survival. Popular protest among the underemployed, impoverished population could increase, and could spiral out of control if the regime were to falter in any way. Some commodity markets have since recovered, but the Uzbek economy remains inherently sensitive to changing external conditions. Uzbekistan has benefited from high global cotton and gold prices, particularly in 2010, and from the rapid increase in gas export prices that it has agreed with its main markets in recent years. But gas exports to Russia have been more problematic in 2009-10, as they depend on Russia's demand for gas to send on to its own export markets, Andrew said. The government may well have come to realise the need to expand private-sector manufacturing, given the risks of focusing on extracting and exporting commodities, and the fact that even Uzbekistans economically dominant state sector cannot generate enough jobs for the growing population. But changing direction so radically is no easy task, and there is a danger that it will be achieved artificially, through cross-subsidisation. Dilmurat Kholmatov, an economist based in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, warned that since the business environment was not conducive to foreign investment, the only source of funding to boost local manufacturing was natural resources. The net result might be simply a shift of funds from one part of the economy to another. In Kholmatovs view, the real solution to Uzbekistans economic imbalance is liberalisation of the business environment, a reduction of state controls and improvement of our investment reputation. But therein lie other obstacles the existence of powerful commercial interests close to government that have benefited from monopolistic positions for many years and will not welcome the emergence of competitors. Meaningful support for the private sector has never formed a part of the Uzbek regime's economic policies, Andrews said. The regime's state-directed model allows it to maintain the economic patronage networks that help to keep it in power. Any radical and genuine shift towards support for free enterprise could therefore jeopardise its survival. Creating a business environment for free and fair competition would, Andrews said, call for a far more effective crackdown on corruption than has hitherto been the case. Corruption and patronage networks are closely interlined, which makes this a difficult balancing act, he added. In a speech he gave in January, President Karimov claimed the Uzbek economy was performing well thanks to prudent measures that had insulated his country from the problems afflicting many other states. Andrew expressed caution about the upbeat figures presented by Karimov, saying the EIU estimated that economic growth last year was half the claimed 8.5 per cent, while the inflation rate was probably twice the official figure of 7.4 per cent. Although the automotive industry seemed to be doing well, most of the increase in export revenues reflected rising world prices rather than higher production volumes, he said. Despite officially reported rapid economic growth, and a job-creation programme that the authorities claim created almost one million new jobs in 2010 a preposterous claim Uzbeks continue to migrate to Russia and other countries in large numbers in search of jobs and higher wages, Andrew said. Dmitry Alyaev is a journalist from Uzbekistan now living in Russia. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. TAJIKISTAN TIGHTENS MARRIAGE RULES Move appears designed to stop foreign nationals marrying Tajiks to get passports. By Faromarz Olamafruz, Yasmin Khushbakht Changes to the law in Tajikistan making it harder for foreigners to marry locals seem to be a move to stop Afghan and Chinese nationals entering into marriages of convenience. The amended legislation, passed at the end of January, requires foreigners to have lived in Tajikistan for a year before they can marry locals. They must also sign a prenuptial agreement committing them to provide housing for their spouse. Since foreigners can only buy property after five years residence, this provision seems designed to ensure the family home is registered to a Tajik national. Since emigration rather than immigration is the main problem facing Tajikistan, it is hard at first sight to see the point of restricting marriages with foreigners who wish to settle in the country. However, experts explain that the changes target two specific groups Afghans generally, and ethnic Uighurs from China, a Muslim minority in the western Xinjiang province. There are suspicions that some of them wish to secure residence rights and accelerate the acquisition of citizenship, which takes three instead of five years if they are married to a local. Residence gives them the right to run a business more easily, while a Tajik passport opens the door to visa-free travel to other parts of the former Soviet Union, notably Russia. Explaining the thinking behind the new rules on Stan.tv on February 1, Deputy Justice Minister Abdumannon Kholikov said, Its no secret that many foreigners enter into marriages not in order to start a family, but to smooth the process of acquiring Tajik citizenship. The majority of marriages with foreigners involve nationals of countries that share Tajikistans language and Muslim faith Afghanistan and Iran or just religion, in the case of Pakistan, Turkey and the Chinese Uighurs. Officials statistics indicate that at least one in five of the 2,700 marriages with foreigners registered in Tajikistan over the last five years has subsequently ended. Nilufar Sobir, a Tajik journalist who writes on social issues, welcomes the changes to the law, which she believes will protects vulnerable women and their children. Theres a recent trend for Chinese citizens of Uighur origin to opt to stay and work in Tajikistan, she said. There have been similar cases with men from Afghanistan, They often marry impoverished poor women and register property and businesses in their names, she said. Then, when they go back home, they leave the wife behind with nothing. Aziza, a resident of the capital Dushanbe, was 18 when her mother arranged for her to marry a 35-year old businessman from Afghanistan. Unlike many women in Tajikistan, who go through Muslim weddings without registering with the authorities, Aziza was officially married. But she later learned that her husband already had two Afghan wives. When he then died, he left everything to his first wife, now living in Europe, and she and her three children were left destitute. Nigina Bahrieva, head of the Nota Bene human rights group, is concerned that introducing legal obstacles to marriage may contravene international conventions guaranteeing the rights of the individual. She warned that the regulations could leave women worse off than before, as their husbands are likely to seek only a religious wedding blessed by a Muslim cleric and avoid the complexities of legal marriage altogether. This would leave wives with no rights at all after divorce. This approach relieves them of any legal responsibility . and may leave Tajik women more vulnerable and harm their social and legal position, she said. Alla Kuvvatova, who heads the Association for Gender Equality and Preventing Violence Against Women, said the prenuptial contract could equally be abused by a wife who might divorce her foreign husband once the home was registered in his name. Others say the regulations run the risk of casting a shadow over all marriages with foreigners because of the actions of a few. A Tajik woman called Shahnoza described how by the time she finished university and started work, she was considered too old in her own community, so she married an Afghan and they emigrated to Canada, where they have settled down happily and now have two children. Deputy Justice Minister Kholikov said the law would not stand in the way of couples whose intentions were genuine. Some rights activists say the focus on marriages with foreigners is at odds with the authorities failure to assist the much larger number of women who end up being abandoned by Tajik husbands who go abroad in search of work, and end up staying. Various estimates put the number of expatriate migrant workers from Tajikistan, at between 800,000 and one million, the majority in Russia. A 2009 report by the International Organisation for Migration on the plight of abandoned wives estimated that about one third of men working abroad would settle down in the host country. (See IWPRs recent report Plight of Abandoned Wives in Tajikistan.) Faromarz Olamafruz and Yasmin Khushbakht are pseudonyms used by journalists in Tajikistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. KILLING SPARKS UNREST IN KYRGYZ SOUTH Police regain control after protest gets out of hand, but incident highlights simmering ethnic tensions. By Yevgenia Kim, Isomidin Ahmedjanov The atmosphere remained tense in Nookat, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan, on March 2, a day after crowds set fire to the home of a man they believe ordered the killing of a local tax official. The incident was a reminder just how precarious stability is in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of massive violence that scarred the region last June, and left over 400 people dead and homes and businesses looted and burned. On March 1, between 400 and 700 demonstrators gathered in Nookat, a small town some 30 kilometres from Osh, to demand action on the murder of Sagynbek Alimbaev, the deputy head of the district tax service who was found dead with gunshot wounds on February 23. Police made two arrests on February 25, and information then leaked out that the detained suspects had named a man who they said had ordered them to carry out the murder. It was this leaked account that prompted the protest in Nookat. Initially, the crowd, believed to include relatives of the late Alimbaev, called on the authorities to extradite and try the alleged mastermind, who was said to be across the border in Uzbekistan. But some in the crowd then attacked and torched the mans home. Several nearby shops were also damaged, though it is unclear whether this was by design or accident. Police then stepped in, dispersed the crowd, and detained 20 people, who were subsequently released. Additional security forces were sent in to maintain order. Asked how sensitive information relating to Alimbaevs murder could have been allowed to get out, Kyrgyzstans interior minister Zarylbek Rysaliev said, Nookat is a small town. Everyone knows each other. Whether we like it or not, information is going to leak out. At one level, the incident can be seen as local anger over a murder getting out of hand. However, it needs to be seen in the context of the fraught and uneasy environment that has prevailed since last years violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. Alimbaev was Kyrgyz and the man allegedly behind his killing was Uzbek, as are most people in Nookat. Many Uzbek residents of the town are reluctant to speak, but those who are prepared to do so say they fear a repeat of last years bloodshed. One man, who asked not to be named, said he had been planning to leave anyway probably to Russia but this incident had made him want to go as soon as possible. Since last summer, weve been living in fear of something happening, he said. If we can, well be leaving in the next few days. Another man from the town, who witnessed the protest, said some participants were calling for Uzbeks to be expelled from Nookat and the surrounding district. Experts interviewed by IWPR said the outbreak of trouble in tensions in Nookat showed how rapidly things could get out of hand in an atmosphere of continuing mistrust. This was compounded, they said, by the fact that the country had not really come to terms with last years violence, and that many of those behind it regional and criminal groupings were still at large Theres been no final resolution of that  situation, and those responsible have not been held to account, Pavel Dyatlenko, an expert at the Polis Asia Centre, a think-tank in Bishkek, said. The conflict is now latent, manifested in the form of animosities and tensions. It will re-emerge at the first possible pretext. Dyatlenko pointed out that the Kyrgyz political scene remained fluid, with a presidential election just over six months away, and a real risk posed by what he called political forces that either want to derail [the political process] or to exploit the situation and score points using false patriotism to win votes. Other commentators like political analyst Asel Myrzakulova argue that events in Nookat show that the Kyrgyzstan authorities level of control is weak. Its an indicator not of ethnic confrontation but of ineffective work by the authorities, she said. Carefully-calibrated measures need to be chosen that wont lead to any ethnic group living in this country having its rights abused. Human rights activist Tursunay Kadyrova was present at the protest in Nookat, and told IWPR there were too few police there at the start. If the protesters had taken them on, the police wouldnt have been able to contain them, she said. Another analyst, Marat Kazakpaev, said that while there was an ethnic angle to the trouble, the main thing was to remove any cause for further escalation. Ensuring that the investigation into Alimbaevs death was conducted speedily, as the protesters were demanding, would remove the potential for exploiting the case to incite more trouble, he said. Yevgenia Kim and Isomiddin Ahmedjanov are IWPR trained journalists in Kyrgyzstan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. KEEPING UP APPEARANCES IN KAZAKSTAN Presidential election serves little purpose apart from claiming democratic credentials. By Saule Mukhametrakhimova Despite the emergence of multiple candidates for the April 3 presidential election in Kazakstan, none looks likely to seriously challenge the incumbent, Nursultan Nazarbaev. Analysts say the only real reason for holding the contest is to maintain the facade of democracy. The election was due to take place next year, but was brought forward in a surprise announcement by Nazarbaev on February 4, leaving just two months for possible rivals to prepare. The move was seen as a deft piece of sleight of hand, since a snap election was bound to be viewed as more democratic than the alternative then under review holding a referendum to allow Nazarbaev to carry on until 2020 without going to the polls. (See Kazak Early Election Presented as Democratic Option and Kazak Parliament to Rule on Extending Presidents Term.) Kazakstans beleaguered opposition parties are boycotting the election. On February 21, opposition groups and NGOs that oppose the early election set up a Committee to Protect the Constitution and Boycott the Forthcoming Election. Apart from its self-explanatory name, the body plans to monitor voting on election day. When nominations closed on February 20, a total of 22 names had been submitted, although not all may pass the qualifying tests needed to go forward as candidates - they must show least 91,000 signatures supporting them, pay a 5,500 US dollar deposit, and pass an exam in the Kazak language. Nazarbaev has already done so. Some candidates represent political groups that support the current administration, such as Jambyl Akhmetbekov of the Communist People's Party, Gani Kasymov of the Kazak Patriotss Party and Kurmangazy Rakhmetov of the Jeltoksan movement. The rest are little-known figures, the only exception being Mels Eleusizov, head of the Tabigat green movement who is running as an independent. Vyacheslav Abramov, deputy director of the rights watchdog Freedom House Kazakstan, estimates that between four and six hand-picked candidates will make it past the final approval stage. None of them can believe they have a remote chance of winning, and standing as candidates merely provides them with opportunities for self-promotion, he said. For the electorate, Abramov said, this would be an exercise in voting without a choice. Analysts say the election landscape highlights the extent to which power is concentrated in Nazarbaevs hands, and the lack of scope for other individuals or political groups to emerge and compete with him. At 70, Nazarbaev has been in charge since the Soviet period, periodically securing constitutional changes to extend his term in office and lift the two-term restriction on his presidency. However, Kazakstan has also made efforts to win international acceptance as a democracy, exemplified by a much-prized spell as chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe last year. Abramov sees the forthcoming election as Kazakstans response after western governments raised concerns about the planned referendum allowing Nazarbaev to avoid going to the polls. This [election] wont save Kazakstan from criticism since things are already clear a very short time-frame for campaigning, pictures of Nazarbaev on every street and footage of him on every TV channel. Theres no question of a fair campaign, he said. Nevertheless, the democratic facade has been maintained. And thats enough [for Kazakstan] to stay in the bigger game with the West, and set its own rules. Igor Vinyavsky, editor-in-chief of the Vzglyad newspaper, said the opposition parties were probably right not to take part, given that doing so would only allow the authorities to claim more legitimacy for the election. Pavel Grudnitsky, head of the Almaty-based Analytical Resources Studio, said that most of the opposition politicians who might present a challenge in elections were in prison, in exile or had left politics. Abramov said opposition groups could use the boycott process to put their own ideas across to the public. But he said it was surprising they had not anticipated that the election would be brought forward from 2012, since the authorities often used the element of surprise. They should have had some campaigning scenarios. But it turned out that they didnt, and that everyone was preparing for 2012, he said. While the present monolithic structure of power suits the ruling elite very well, Abramov said it would have to change sooner or later, so the forthcoming election was just postponing the inevitable. The political system is built around one individual, so efforts should already be under way to ensure it doesnt collapse when that person leaves office, he said. I believe Kazakstans [leaders] are closely following events taking place in other authoritarian countries, and they realise that at some point in the future, Nazarbaev will have to state that hed not going to stand for re-election. Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR Central Asia editor. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. 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