Kazakhstan’s new parliament has only been in place since the elections in March, but it already has its first major scandal.
The clamor surrounds one of the country’s more recognizable politicians: Zhiguli Dayrabayev, a leading member of the Auyl (Village) party and one-time presidential candidate.
Dayrabayev has over the past few weeks found himself at the center of intensifying media claims that he and two sons committed a string of serious crimes. The lawmaker has flatly rejected demands for his resignation and said that he will entertain no more questions on his situation.
The first inklings of trouble arrived in early April, when Dayrabayev’s sons, Marat Dayrabayev and Didar Moldakalyk, received suspended five-year prison sentences on charges of involvement in swindling more than 550 million tenge ($1.2 million) from the state in bogus farming subsidies. Another two accomplices were given custodial prison sentences.
Later that month, Dayrabayev delivered a speech in the Majilis, the lower house of parliament, in which he defended his sons, insisting that they were innocent of the charges, and added that he refused to step aside. In a boost for his own political fortunes, his Auyl party registered solidarity with his position. One colleague in the faction, Anas Bakkozhayev, called on journalists to desist from criticizing Dayrabayev.
“His children are adults. They should be responsible for their own actions,” Bakkozhayev said.
And then more allegations followed.
In early May, a resident of the southern town of Merke, Said Ruziyev, publicly accused Dayrabayev of unlawfully signing a two-story mansion worth 140 million tenge ($315,000) into his own name. Ruziyev says the property was at the center of a legal dispute that the deputy therefore had no right to assume ownership. The legal tussle involved Ruziyev’s ex-wife.
That was just for starters. The most startling accusation to date was delivered by a 60-year-old called Vasily Koveshnikov, who told reporters at a press conference on May 16 that Dayrabayev’s sons had, over a span of three years, kept him captive at a farm in the southern Zhambyl region. Koveshnikov claims that the pair forced him to work on the land without pay, essentially treating him as a slave. Every time he attempted to escape, the Dayrabayev sons caught him and beat him, the man alleged.
No evidence has to date been produced to substantiate these grave accusations.
Dayrabayev has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, calling the allegations false and part of a larger smear campaign. In a Facebook post, he stated that his detractors have failed to produce any evidence to support their claims. Dayrabayev went on to declare that he knows who is responsible for the accusations against him and that those individuals will be held accountable in due time.
Dayrabayev, the MP, has described the would-be revelations as falsehoods. He wrote in a Facebook post that he is the victim of a smear campaign and that his detractors have failed to produce any proof for their charges. He added that he knows who is out to get him and that those people will in the fullness of time be brought to justice.
While the verdict is still out on some of the more lurid assertions being leveled at the lawmaker, many commentators have argued that the conviction of his sons alone should be sufficient grounds for Dayrabayev to give up his seat.
In an interview given to the Orda news website, political strategist Dina Shaikhislam made the point that this ongoing scandal is offering an insight into how the politics of accountability works in Kazakhstan. Past experience shows that even officials with fairly tarnished reputations are able to maintain their posts, she said. Shaikhislam said that ever since Soviet times, it has been the leadership, and not the voting public, that ultimately decides who gets to stay or go.
“Dayrabayev knows that the concept of reputation does not work, that the people still do not decide anything,” Shaikhislam said. “Why should he leave when everyone around him is just like him?”
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.