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

Kazak President Cosies Up to Rivals

Nazarbaev attempts to neuter opposition with gift of office.

President Nazarbaev is engaging opposition moderates to sideline more radical opponents and assure foreign investors that he is no enemy of dialogue and democracy, analysts believe.

Uraz Jandosov, a leader in the reformist Ak Jol party, became the latest opposition figure to be co-opted when Nazarbaev made him his economics aide on January 8 this year. Following the appointment, the president also held talks with the leader of the Communist Party, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, and Ak Jol co-chairman, Alikhan Baimenov.

As a former central bank chief widely credited with liberalising the economy, Jandosov has the right credentials for attracting more foreign investment to Kazakstan. At the same time, his return to high office marks a turning point for Ak Jol, which is likely to move closer to the president and, in so doing, weaken the opposition's fire power.

Jandosov's new role has come as a surprise to some observers, who recall how he was sacked as deputy prime minister in 2001 after pledging support for the radical reform group, Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK. However, since his demotion

he has pursued a more conciliatory path through Ak Jol, the centrist party that broke with the DCK's tactic of directly challenging Nazarbaev's authority.

The DCK was created in late 2001 by a group of young politicians who wanted to implement free market reforms and loosen Nazarbaev's grip over the state. They had the backing of the business community and were favoured by foreign financiers. However, their agenda was too radical for Nazarbaev's tastes and he successfully stripped them of whatever authority they had in government. Two DCK leaders, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov and Mukhtar Ablyazov, also ended up in prison.

Jandosov told IWPR that the offer to become a presidential assistant for economic affairs had come as a complete surprise. "Like everyone else, I am a soldier of the president," he said, adding that this did not mean he would suspend his political activities as a co-chairman of Ak Jol.

In marked contrast to Jandosov's rehabilitation, Bulat Abilov, another Ak Jol leader, recently found himself prevented from standing as a candidate in elections for the lower chamber of parliament on the grounds of having violated electoral law.

Abilov is known for being an outspoken critic of the authorities and claims to be outraged at the blocking of his candidacy. He did not comment on Jandosov's appointment, and denied any suggestion of a rift between him and his party colleague.

Some analysts suspect that Jandosov's appointment has been engineered to ensure Ak Jol does not become a radical opposition party, in the DCK mould. Kazak political scientist Andrei Chebotarev cites the brakes placed on Abilov's advancement into office in support of this view. "The government counts on causing a split within the Ak Jol party," he told IWPR.

According to Chebotarev, the appointment might also be Nazarbaev's way of gauging who in the opposition would be prepared to do business with him, regardless of their party's policies. Thus, while some such as Abilov are deemed to fail the test, others within the same party who are willing to cooperate are being courted.

The return of Jandosov may serve as a sign to other Nazarbaev opponents that their stance need not condemn them to the political backwaters. The door for dialogue remains open, as long as the terms of the dialogue are set by the president.

Kazak analyst Meirjan Mashan takes a more charitable view of the president's concessions to the opposition. He suggests that it is quite logical for figures who have displayed a willingness to participate in the political life of the country to be given the opportunity to do so.

"I see the appointment of Jandosov to the post of economics assistant as an acknowledgement of Ak Jol as a valid political party," he said. " And after his meetings with the president, Abdildin has also begun to show greater flexibility than before."

However, DCK member Nurbulat Masanov suggests that the real explanation for the presidential manoeuvres lies in Kazakstan's economic credibility abroad. He told IWPR that relations between the government and overseas investors were dangerously strained by a series of recent clashes, and Jandosov's appointment was a form of damage limitation.

"The figure of Jandosov is designed to regulate conflicts and create trust between foreign investors and the government," Masanov told IWPR.

As a moderate opposition figure, Jandosov would also be expected to offer measured criticism of the government and assure the world that democracy and dissent are alive and well in Kazakstan.

Sergei Ivanov and Alexander Gorodetski are pseudonyms for journalists in Kazakstan

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