Kazakhstan: Pre-Election Puff Glosses Over Astana’s Democratic Record
Elections in Kazakhstan often bring out pontificating commentators displaying a glaring lack of knowledge of the situation on the ground and a startling propensity for glossing over Kazakhstan’s sometimes-blatant abuses of political freedoms and human rights.Ahead of January 15’s parliamentary vote along comes Peter Fraser, aka Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, doubtless an expert on democracy since he sits in the Mother of Parliaments: He holds a seat in Britain’s House of Lords (though he was not, of course, democratically elected to this unaccountable chamber).In a January 12 Moscow Times commentary headlined “How Kazakhstan Can Continue Its Success Story,” Lord Fraser paints a flattering portrait of oil-rich Kazakhstan as it trundles slowly but (in the author’s eyes) surely along the path to true democracy.Perhaps he should have solicited opinions on this “success story” from residents ofZhanaozen, where at least 16 people were gunned down by security forces on December 16. Unconfirmed eyewitness reports suggest the death toll may be higher and offer detailed accounts of torture of detainees in custody. In forming his opinions, instead perhaps Lord Fraser consulted bigwigs in the British-Kazakh Society, which he chairs? It sponsors include energy majors BG Group (which jointly operates the Karachaganak oil field) and Shell; its patrons are British Prince Andrew, often under media fire over his close ties to the powers-that-be in Astana, and Kazakhstan’s Leader of the Nation himself, Nursultan Nazarbayev, entering his third decade at the helm of his oil-rich country.This election, Lord Fraser gushes, is “expected to introduce at least one and possibly two opposition parties to the lower house of parliament that will break the 100 percent monopoly of the ruling Nur-Otan party.” Has the lord not noticed that most opposition forces were a priori ruled out of the election? That more opposition leaders were ejected from it recently? That the party tipped to win seats alongside Nur Otan is Astana’s stooge?He has noticed the latter point. “The degree of opposition in the new parliament will be low since the leading opposition party, Ak Zhol, is moderate and generally supportive of the government,” Lord Fraser states blithely, without explaining how an opposition party can be pro-government.Kazakhstan has never held an election deemed fair by international observers, though Nazarbayev has promised one this time. Lord Fraser thinks there are “strong grounds to believe that the elections represent the start of a carefully controlled process by Nazarbayev to develop a new political model for taking the country forward based on the gradual creation of political competition.” Top-down democracy on Nazarbayev’s terms, perhaps?And what of the Zhanaozen shooting spree? “The December tragedy in Zhanaozen…is an indication that industrial relations can still be a serious problem despite economic success.”Thank you for your insights, Lord Fraser.