Kazak Opposition Parties Consider Merger

Four main parties have agreed tactical alliance, but underlying differences make complete union look unlikely.

Kazak Opposition Parties Consider Merger

Four main parties have agreed tactical alliance, but underlying differences make complete union look unlikely.

Despite concerted efforts by Kazakstan’s opposition parties to join forces, analysts doubt they will take the final step – a full merger – that would leave them well placed to take on the administration of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

During the Forum of Democratic Forces, held in Almaty on April 11, the four strongest opposition parties – the Azat Democratic Party, the National Social Democratic Party, NSDP, the Communist Party of Kazakstan, CPK, and the Alga People’s Party – agreed to form a united bloc.

A resolution signed by the four party leaders did not delineate the contours of the coalition, stating only that a committee would be set up to develop “a common vision on a strategy for political, social, and economic reforms in Kazakstan”.

“We have to combine our power and resources and leave behind old resentments and ambitions in order to implement plans for economic recovery,” said National Social Democrat leader Jarmakhan Tuyakbay

Tuyakbay said the parties had to work together on how to deal with the effects of the international economic crisis as they played out in Kazakstan. Accusing the government of an “ostrich-like” failure to admit the scale of the problems, he claimed that seven out of ten firms in Kazakstan were on the verge of collapse.

Tuyakbay floated the idea of creating a single opposition party capable of taking on the president’s Nur Otan, which has a massive membership and was the only party to win seats in the 2007 election to the lower house of parliament.

“We must join hands in order that we do not vanish one by one,” he said. “That is why we are setting up a joint committee to establish a single democratic party, and we would welcome other parties joining this discussion.”

Bulat Abishev, the NSDP’s deputy leader, said the unification deal was the only way the opposition would stand a chance in future elections.

“We are uniting because we know who we’re dealing with,” he explained. “The huge pro-presidential party has accumulated all the resources, and none of the four oppositional parties will be able to run against it alone.”

The four parties appear divided on how far they are prepared to move towards a merger.

Petr Svoik, one of Azat’s leaders, points out that looser alliances are not allowed under Kazak law, so the only real option is complete amalgamation.

“The main objective of unification is to participate in elections under the umbrella of one party, with a single party list,” he said. “Political blocs are banned, and elections are around the corner – that requires that we have a strong list of candidates. This is why a single opposition party can be the only form of unification.”

Yet Abishev indicated that the NSDP was not planning on disappearing, saying, “No matter what form the unified political entity takes, our party wants to preserve its own identity.”

The leader of the Alga party, Vladimir Kozlov, went further than that, telling IWPR that “a decision to merge into one party would be not only detrimental but dangerous.

“Even a single party can be torn apart by internal differences. And if these are compounded by external disputes when other parties coalesce into one, first of all each of them will disappear, and later on, the single party will vanish. So this approach would be completely futile.”

Unlike the other three coalition members, Alga, which emerged out of the main opposition party of the late Nineties, Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, has never been granted registration as a political party.

These differing interpretations of what unification might mean offer a clue as to why some analysts say the marriage will never work, however it is configured.

Political scientist Dosym Satpaev says it makes a lot of sense for parties to come together, given that they lack funds individually yet have the potential to tap into growing public discontent at the economic downturn.

In addition, he said, it is more than likely the authorities will call an early parliamentary election.

As IWPR reported in February, there are signs the authorities might go for an early election, partly to get it over and done with before the already difficult economic situation gets even worse, and to prevent the opposition from pursuing the protest vote. (See Early Polls Looking Likely in Kazakstan, RCA No. 567, 24-Feb-09.)

“The current difficult socio-economic situation presents an opportunity for the opposition,” said Satpaev. “The earlier merger of political parties into Nur Otan has turned it into a strong pro-presidential fist, opposed by the spread fingers of the opposition. Individual fingers obviously can’t fight against a fist, and that’s why they want to unite. The question is how viable this project will be.”

At the same time, Satpaev noted that the four parties have quite separate ideological views, making it hard to conceive of a combined party with a solid, coherent programme.

One particular problem, he said, was that they differ in how far they are prepared to engage with the Nazarbaev administration.

“While some parties won’t countenance dialogue with the current government in any form, others are more accommodating,” he said.

Another political commentator, Nailya Musina, shares Satpaev’s scepticism, saying the four opposition groups vary in terms of “ideological principles, methods, and past relations with the authorities”.

“The opposition parties have already tried uniting, but these unions did not last long,” she said. “And if they do form a single party, there will be the question of who leads it. No party will wish to cede this to the others.”

In 2007, Tuyakbay’s NSDP and Naghyz Ak Jol formed a bloc to contest a parliamentary election. But legislation passed only months before the ballot outlawed such blocs, leaving the two parties no option but to merge. The new party did not surmount the seven per cent threshold needed to win seats in the legislature, and the two parties subsequently went their own ways again.

Naghyz Ak Jol later transformed itself into the present Azat party.

Three years earlier, the CPK – which had just suffered an internal schism that produced the separate Communist People’s Party – fought an election in a bloc with Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, but they too failed to get into parliament.

Musin believes a smaller bloc called Narodovlastie (People Power) which the CPK formed with Alga this March is much more viable.

“Although it isn’t officially registered, Alga has been very active in the provinces, and they have very serious resources and interesting projects on the ground,” she said. “So I am putting my money on Narodovlastie, because if Azat and the NSDP were to merge, they’d have serious problems choosing a leader.”

Elmira Gabidullina is an IWPR contributor in Almaty.

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