Kazakhstan: President’s Son-in-Law to Lead "Opposition"?
Days after Kazakhstan's re-elected president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, took office with a vaguely worded pledge to democratize, his political adviser has voiced a novel strategy: a “top-down revolution” in which -- assuming all goes to plan -- Astana basically gets to choose the parliamentary “opposition.”In an interview with Megapolis newspaper, Yermukhamet Yertysbayev outlined his ingenious scheme for the Atameken Union -- an entrepreneurs’ association that just happens to be headed by Nazarbayev’s billionaire son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev -- to be transformed into a political party that would sweep into parliament in the next elections, scheduled for August 2012.“This [presidential] election campaign’s shown that opposition parties here are absolutely not ready for the fight – they don’t have a clear ideology, or organizational structures, or money, or a sociopolitical foundation,” he said dismissively, failing to mention that genuine opposition politicians refused to participate in the election on the grounds that it wasn’t a fair vote.Yertysbayev sees Atameken forming an offshoot of the ruling Nur Otan party, which is led by Nazarbayev and holds all elected seats in the lower house of parliament. Other parties would conveniently cease to exist. “Thus all other parties would join either Nur Otan or Atameken, and we would in an accelerated manner have created a two-party political system,” he said. Constitutional amendments since the 2007 parliamentary election mean that at least two parties will take up seats next time. Skeptics have suggested that Astana will ensure that the successful party is a tame movement rather than a real force for change. One headed by a close relative might fit the bill perfectly.Kulibayev is married to Nazarbayev’s daughter Dinara Kulibayeva. Both feature on the Forbes rich list with estimated fortunes of $1.3 billion each.It’s not clear how Kulibayev -- who’s tipped as a possible presidential successor but keeps a low political profile -- would feel about launching a political career. He is a Nur Otan member, and just three days ago was calling for members of the Atameken Union to increase their presence on the Nur Otan party list at the next election.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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