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

Exiled Leader Boosts DCK

Kazakstan's former prime minister throws his weight behind the republic's leading opposition movement.
By IWPR Central Asia

Main speakers at the conference

Serikbolsyn Abdildin, leader of the Communist Party of Kazakstan and DCK member

Zauresh Battalova, Kazak parliamentay deputy and DCK member

Ermukhamet Ertysbaev, presidential administration representative at the DCK conference

Amirjan Kosanov, the leading representative of the opposition Republican People's Party
Photos by Valery Khegai, Almaty

An exiled opposition leader has finally decided to join forces with the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, after apparently acknowledging that the opposition has to unite to mount a serious challenge to the authorities.

Former prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, head of the Republican People's Party, RPP, was accepted as a member of the DCK on principle at its recent conference in Almaty, which ended on October 20. According to the movement's press secretary, Vladimir Kozlov, the RPP leader has been placed on the list of candidates, and the formal decision will be taken at the next DCK meeting.

Delegates rejected his offer to sit on its political council, a platform for leading members of the movement to express their opinions on policies. The RPP leader had previously turned down the chance to act as the DCK's third co-chairman - the party's principal decision-makers - citing his five-year exile as a reason.

Alhough he has always voiced support for the DCK, Kazhegeldin has been reluctant to join the movement. But a series of setbacks seems to have convinced the RPP leader that the opposition has to unite in order to survive.

The DCK's co-chairmen - former governor Galymzhan Zhakianov and ex-trade and industry minister Mukhtar Abliazov - were both jailed this summer for abuse of power while in government. Their trials were controversial, with many observers claiming they were politically motivated.

Political analyst Ermek Nasyrov told IWPR that the DCK's leaders initially believed the movement had no need of Kazhegeldin, who is based in London.

"(But) after the arrest and imprisonment of its leaders, the DCK realised that the democratic opposition had to unite to survive," he said, adding that the movement will use the recruitment of Kazhegeldin to show the public that it has not been weakened by the loss of Zhakianov and Abliazov.

As well as jailing opponents, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has completely suppressed the opposition media and has introduced further measures to stop his adversaries speaking out.

A recent law requires political parties to have at least 50,000 members before they can be officially registered and contest elections. Analysts believe this legislation was specifically designed to stop opposition groups from standing in the 2004 parliamentary polls.

Separately, the DCK and the RPP may have struggled to reach the membership requirement, but by pulling together - without necessarily running on a joint platform - they should achieve this goal.

The DCK has been collaborating with the RPP and its umbrella Forum of Democratic Forces, FDF, movement from the outset, and has enticed many of its political leaders to join.

Kazhegeldin outlined his plans to follow suit in a recent letter to Zhakianov and Abliazov, which was published on the opposition-linked website on October 9. He expressed the hope that his move "will help to unite a democratic anti-Nazarbaev opposition".

This was not an easy decision for Kazhegeldin, who was prime minister of Kazakstan from 1994 to 1997 before going into exile. RPP, which he has led since 1999, once played a major role against Nazarbaev through the work of the FDF.

His decision to join the DCK is being interpreted by some analysts as an acknowledgement of the fact that his party is no longer the main player in the opposition camp.

According to the RPP activist Sergey Duvanov, the public might see Kazhegeldin's move as a sign

that he believes DCK has a brighter future than his own party.

DCK member Guljan Ergalieva said that Kazhegeldin was approached to become the third co-chair while Zhakianov and Abliazov were standing trial.

But the RPP leader declined the offer, claiming his continued exile would prevent him from organising its day-to-day activities.

Kazhegeldin then warned the movement against Nazarbaev's tendency to monopolise power. He said it would be a mistake to invest too much authority in the co-chairmanship of the movement, arguing that the political council should have a greater say.

The exiled leader also proposed that the movement's goal, the introduction of democratic reforms, should be more radical, and suggested that it adopt the slogan "Kazakstan without Nazarbaev!"

Polina Ginzburg is the pseudonym for a journalist in Almaty