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 

UZBEKISTAN’S 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

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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 year’s 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 topic’s 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 year’s 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 Asia’s 
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.

IWPR’s 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. It’s 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 he’s important.
Hikmatullo Saifullozoda is one of the party’s 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 party’s 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 
Davlatov’s 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, Sobir’s 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 IRP’s 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 Tajikistan’s 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 party’s 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 Rahmonov’s party – all these 
things are fuelling public discontent.

There’s 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. 


UZBEKISTAN’S 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 
Uzbekistan’s 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 Uzbekistan’s 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 Kholmatov’s view, the real solution to Uzbekistan’s 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, “It’s 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 Tajikistan’s 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.

“There’s 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 IWPR’s 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 man’s 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 Alimbaev’s murder could have been 
allowed to get out, Kyrgyzstan’s 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 year’s 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 year’s 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, we’ve been living in fear of something happening,” he said. 
“If we can, we’ll 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 year’s violence, and that many of those behind 
it – regional and criminal groupings – were still at large

“There’s been no final resolution of that [2010] 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.

“It’s an indicator not of ethnic confrontation but of ineffective work by the 
authorities,” she said. “Carefully-calibrated measures need to be chosen that 
won’t 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 wouldn’t 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 Alimbaev’s 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 
President’s Term.)

Kazakstan’s 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 Patriots’s 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 Nazarbaev’s 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 Kazakstan’s response after western 
governments raised concerns about the planned referendum allowing Nazarbaev to 
avoid going to the polls.

“This [election] won’t 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. There’s no question of a fair 
campaign,” he said. “Nevertheless, the democratic facade has been maintained. 
And that’s 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 
didn’t, 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 doesn’t collapse when that person leaves office,” he 
said.

“I believe Kazakstan’s [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 he’d 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.

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.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, 
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly 
basis.

The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, 
Tashkent and London, which supports media development and encourages better 
local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The 
service is published online in English and Russian. 

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and 
do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal 
Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director: John MacLeod; Central 
Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova.

IWPR PROJECT DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: Executive Director: Anthony Borden; Head 
of Programmes: Sam Compton.


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