With President Nursultan Nazarbayev ensconced in power for another five years following his April reelection, attention in Kazakhstan is turning to parliamentary politics. Elections aren’t due until August 2012, but the political scene is already getting a shake-up as Kazakhstan – which has a single-party parliament – contemplates the novel prospect of embracing a multiparty legislature.What party could be more fit for the role of “parliamentary opposition” than one headed by a man who was a member of the Nur Otan party (led by Nazarbayev, the only party in parliament) until the day before he was elected leader of an “opposition” party?Step forward Ak Zhol and new leader Azat Peruashev, who quit Nur Otan on July 1 and became Ak Zhol leader the very next day.Peruashev certainly has good connections: He works with Nazarbayev’s powerful son-in-law Timur Kulibayev at the Atameken Union, a business lobby. Peruashev is chairman; Kulibayev chairs Atameken's presidium.That’s the same Atameken that presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbayev is urging to become a party to fight the 2012 election.Unlike Atameken, Ak Zhol is an established political party – albeit with a checkered history. It’s actually a rump movement left behind when Ak Zhol’s co-leaders had a bitter row over engagement with the administration. Alikhan Baymenov, who was in favor of constructive engagement, was left heading Ak Zhol when the other four co-leaders split in 2005 to form Nagyz Ak Zhol (Real Ak Zhol), which no longer exists. They’ve always claimed that Baymenov is too willing to compromise with the administration and that Ak Zhol isn’t a genuine opposition party.In a choreographed move, the day before Peruashev became Ak Zhol leader, Nazarbayev appointed Baymenov head of the State Agency for Civil Service Affairs.This smacks of a strategy devised by the powers-that-be to co-opt Ak Zhol as a tame parliamentary opposition. Legal amendments since the last election mean a second party must enter parliament next time, but observers doubt Astana will allow in a genuine opposition force.Here’s a clue to Astana’s thinking: Last month Nazarbayev’s advisor Yertysbayev told the Liter newspaper that a parliament “built on confrontation” was a “blind alley.” “It is a question of which political force will be Nur Otan’s main partner,” he added. So Astana seeks an opposition party to be the “main partner” of the ruling party – and Astana always gets what it wants. As Yertysbayev helpfully pointed out, “all the levers are in our hands.”That’s democracy, Kazakh-style.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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