Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Election Defeat Galvanises Opposition

New bloc formed after parties’ election defeat is intended to work towards a presidential election still two years away.
By Alim Bekenov

Kazakstan’s main opposition parties have forged a broad coalition to counter the strong hold on power of President Nursultan Nazarbaev – but they took the step only after suffering a resounding defeat in the recent general election.

The formation of the new coalition –– the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces – was announced on October 15. The alliance unites for the first time the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK and its ally the Communist Party of Kazakstan, CPK, with the Ak Jol party, seen as less radically opposed to the present government than the other two.

Ahead of the parliamentary election on September 19 (with run-offs on October 3), talk of all three coming together came to nothing, and the DCK and CPK ran as a single bloc while Ak Jol operated independently.

The results were disastrous: only one opposition candidate – Ak Jol deputy leader Alikhan Baimenov – won a seat.

Otan, the main party supporting President Nazarbaev, swept the board, taking 42 of the 77 seats in the legislature or Majlis. Asar, the party led by the president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbaeva, won four seats and a pro-presidential coalition called AIST another 11.

That put the opposition in an even worse position than after the last election held in 1999, when the communists won three seats and the Republican People’s Party of Kazakhstan – barred from standing this time round – got one.

The opposition accused the authorities of election fraud, with tough statements from all three parties. The accusations were more or less ignored by the ruling elite, and there was no official reaction.

In the face of comprehensive defeat, the three parties have now fixed their minds on the presidential election due in late 2006, and intend to use the coordinating council to build a formal bloc called the Alliance of Democratic Forces.

“The main goals are now to develop common methods for reforming the political system, and a single platform for one candidate in the next, presidential election,” Baimenov told IWPR.

The CPK leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin agrees that putting up a single candidate against the incumbent is “a key point” for the alliance.

It is not clear whether the coalition partners are already discussing seriously who to pick as their joint presidential candidate. But at least two names have been floated in political circles.

One is former information minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev, who is co-chairman of Ak Jol. His return to domestic politics after resigning as ambassador to Russia has been seen as a sign that he may have presidential ambitions.

In the wake of the elections, another figure has emerged, oddly enough from the winning party. Jarmakhan Tuyakbay, currently speaker of the Majlis and deputy chairman of Otan, effectively signed his resignation from both jobs with an article published in the weekly Vremya newspaper on October 14, in which he called the parliamentary election a “farce”.

In an open letter, Tuyakbay said the entire election campaign had been characterised by “constant… pressure, both covert and open” exerted by the authorities on election commissions and the general public.

“The scale of the interference was such that it could not but have a significant influence on the results of the voting,” he said. “It is my civic duty to add my voice to those who believe that the 2004 elections were turned into a farce unworthy of our country.”

Tuyakbay appealed to President Nazarbaev to ensure that officials who had acted illegally were investigated and brought to justice.

At a press conference four days later, he announced that he would be resigning from the posts of speaker, parliamentary deputy and Otan member.

The speaker’s remarks came as a bombshell, all the more so since similar complaints from opposition parties had not received the same coverage. Tuyakbay’s position as Majlis chairman is counted the third most senior position in Kazakstan under the constitution, and the fact that he was speaking both as a newly elected deputy and as a top official in the winning party lent unique force to his attack.

A number of members of parliament have voiced agreement with Tuyakbay, some muted and some more openly.

One of the latter is Serikbay Alibaev, who is seen as an opposition figure but is not a member of a political party. He told IWPR, “I think that the opposition must now unite. And they need to unite around an honest, decent person – Jarmakhan Tuyakbay.

“Tuyakbay is capable of bringing society together, and he’s prepared to do it. As a public politician, Majlis speaker, and former prosecutor general, he will be able to solve many problems such as the war on corruption, clearing out false foreign investors, and ensuring that the law is observed. Tuyakbay is the most suitable candidate for this.”

Zamanbek Nurkadilov, the former minister for emergency situations who defected to the opposition in March this year, thinks that Tuyakbaev has acted out of concern that the presidential election will be brought forward from 2006.

Nurkadilov believes the next step the authorities will take is to install the president’s daughter – already head of a political party and now elected to parliament – as speaker to replace Tuyakbay.

“I’ve said [before] that Dariga Nazarbaeva is being groomed as speaker. There is a high chance of this happening…. It’s no coincidence that Dariga has become a Majlis deputy,” he said.

“Dariga has a big future ahead of her.”

Alim Bekenov is an IWPR contributor in Kazakstan.