Kazakhstan: Social Media Storm Spurs Mayor Into Action

When an irate mother posted shocking pictures of a dilapidated children’s hospital in Almaty on her Facebook page, she no doubt hoped the authorities would act — but she probably did not expect such a fast result.

The pictures posted by Ainura Seitakyn showing grimy toilet facilities and a dismal-looking ward with peeling paintwork and cracked tiles caused a social media outcry. The furore got Almaty’s new mayor, Baurzhan Baybek, out from behind his desk to take a non-virtual look at conditions at the Almaty Children’s City Clinical Infection Hospital.

Hospital staff spruced the place up with a lick of paint before he arrived — but Baybek was not fooled. After the grim-faced mayor visited the hospital on September 17, the head of the chief doctor and two senior healthcare staff rolled, Almatynews.kz website reported.

“You’re sitting in here, it’s alright for you. So you don’t care what it’s like over there for others,” said an angry Baybek, presumably referring to the somewhat more luxurious office of the chief doctor, which was also pictured in Seitakyn’s photos. “Would you place your children here in these conditions?”

Baybek’s hands-on approach won plaudits from a public unaccustomed to top officials delving into the nitty-gritty of their problems and reacting so fast to solve them.

His actions suggest that the 42-year-old mayor, an up-and-coming politician who only came to office a month ago, has a keener sense of the public mood than his older-generation predecessor, Akhmetzhan Yesimov. 

The media savvy mayor also appears well aware of the growing power of social media in Kazakhstan, where ordinary citizens have few other outlets to express their frustration or stand up for their rights.

This week has also brought the resignation of a senior official in the office of Prime Minister Karim Masimov following an outpouring of online indignation. Bolat Turakeldiyev, chief inspector at the prime minister’s Chancellery, resigned on September 18 after his son was arrested for assaulting a female cinema cashier in Astana.

Although the father was not responsible for the crimes of the son, he decided to hand in his notice “bearing in mind public attention to this case and proceeding from moral and ethical considerations,” Askar Usenbayev, the son’s lawyer, said in remarks quoted by Tengri News.

In another case of Internet crusaders sparking action from the authorities, prominent Astana businessman Kayrat Zhamaliyev was last month jailed for 13 years for the savage beating he inflicted on a young man he believed to be a love rival. Zhamaliyev might have got away with it were it not for the victim’s father posting pictures on Facebook of his son with his face beaten to a pulp.

Kazakhstan: Social Media Storm Spurs Mayor Into Action

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