(Washington, DC--October 8, 2004) Despite the entry into national politics of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's daughter, Darigha, and the hope of opposition parties such as Ak Zhol and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan to develop some balance in the country's legislature, the overwhelming victory of the pro-presidential Otan Party in parliamentary elections on September 19 ensures the continued dominance of the current leadership in this pivotal Central Asian country. RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhan discussed the election and its results during a briefing yesterday at RFE/RL's Washington office.
According to results released yesterday by the Central Election Committee of Kazakhstan, Otan (42 seats) together with the other pro-presidential election bloc "AIST" (11 seats) will dominate the 77-seat parliament, while democratic opposition groups Ak Zhol and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) each earned only one seat. According to Sharipzhan, both opposition groups have refused to recognize the election results and the only Ak Zhol candidate to be elected, Alikhan Baymenov, has refused to take his seat. On September 30, the US joined election monitors from the OSCE in their September 20 assessment that the elections fell short of international standards "in many respects." Sharipzhan said that opposition parties believe their opportunity to gain power may not come until after the 2006 presidential election, which currently is the last time President Nazarbayev can be re-elected.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the election, according to Sharipzhan, was the poor showing of Darigha Nazarbayeva's Asar Party which had considerable resources. It won only four seats in spite of an extensive and very visible public campaign that included opinion polling to measure how open Kazakh citizens would be to the possibility of a female serving as President. The election results point to dissatisfaction with Nazarbayeva among the general public, who Sharipzhan reported is not well liked.
According to Sharipzhan most Kazakh citizens are not concerned about domestic political issues, given their level of satisfaction with the country's prospering economy. Since 2000,Kazakhstan's banking and finance sectors have continued to strengthen, with Sharipzhan noting that "Traditional Soviet rules don't work there anymore, which is good." Sharipzhan said that home mortgages are widely available and property values have risen tenfold, both factors that have contributed to making the Kazakh people happier now than they were five years ago. At the same time, most of the country's strategic businesses -- including Kazakhstan's very profitable oil business -- remain under the control of the Nazarbayev family.
Sharipzhan also attributed the country's lack of interest in politics to overwhelming centralization of media ownership in the hands of Nazarbayev family members such as the president's daughter Darigha Nazarbayeva. In addition, the government has acted against media not considered supportive of the current leadership by limiting the availability of that media for most Kazakhs. As an example, Sharipzhan said, the independent newspaper "Respublika" (formerly known as "Assandi Times") cannot be purchased in the parliament building, forcing deputies to go out behind the building to buy "Respublika" from a street vendor. Kazakhs do increasingly make use of the Internet for news, Sharipzhan said, even though the government does block access periodically to certain Internet news sources, including the website of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service (www.azattyq.org).
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