Kazakstan: Austrian Exile for President's Son-in-Law

Rakhat Aliev is sent abroad on ambassadorial duties following clashes with an increasingly united opposition.

Kazakstan: Austrian Exile for President's Son-in-Law

Rakhat Aliev is sent abroad on ambassadorial duties following clashes with an increasingly united opposition.

The Kazak president's controversial son-in-law Rakhat Aliev is to represent his country at a European body that has repeatedly condemned his family's regime.

Aliev had been forced to step down as deputy chief of the Kazak national security committee - the successor to the KGB - amid claims he was monopolising the country's mass media and expanding his business empire.

His new post as Kazak ambassador to Austria will include a role as envoy to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, whose spokesman on media issues, Freimut Duve, has called Kazakstan's political system "loathsome", the state of its press "horrid", and described President Nursultan Nazarbaev as "an authoritarian dictator".

Astana has been coming under increasing pressure from the OSCE over Nazarbaev's ruthless suppression of dissent as his opponents unite and become increasingly outspoken.

This has included a series of OSCE statements expressing concern over the health of imprisoned opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, leader Galymzhan Zhakianov and highlighting what it says are numerous legal violations during the trial of Mukhtar Abliazov, another high-profile DCK figure.

It has also strongly criticised proposed legislation that sets tough conditions for the formation of new political parties, which has been described by a local OSCE spokesman as "a serious threat".

Political commentator Viktor Kalmykov expressed amazement that the president should see his son-in-law as being in any way capable of improving the country's image in the West. "Aliev controls all major media in Kazakstan. Opposing voices can hardly be heard anymore," he said.

"Opposition websites are under pressure from the authorities and may not last much longer, so most Kazaks are forced to get all their information from media controlled by the government or owned by Aliev."

According to political analyst Marat Kereev, the president's son-in-law has been sent abroad after a series of clashes with some of the nation's most influential finance and industry groups last year, which led to the formation of a new powerful opposition movement that has managed to unite the government's rivals.

The battle with the business elite began when deputy Tolen Tokhtasynov accused Aliev of being a "media monopolist". This was followed by series of opposition media articles that charged the ruling elite of entering into clandestine business deals.

There were also revelations that Aliev and his wife Dariga Nazarbaeva owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, nearly all major national television channels, radio stations and newspapers in the country. They have long wielded substantial influence through their ownership of local news and advertising agencies.

"Aliev was facing an array of up-and-coming businessmen and politicians," Kereev told IWPR. "While the president's son-in-law won that battle by pulling certain power levers, the young business tycoons and politicians responded by forming the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan party."

"Things started getting out of hand last November 15, when the president forced Aliev to resign and urged him to lay low until the media noise died down," said political commentator Viktor Kalmykov. "At the same time, the authorities unleashed an unprecedented campaign against the opposition - especially the DCK - and their print organs."

However, despite Aliev taking a less public post as chief of presidential security, the media uproar surrounding him showed no sign of fading away.

Nazarbaev's main rival, former premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, has now received a freedom passport from the European parliament enabling him to spread his pro-reform message across the continent. There is also widespread local speculation that he plans to return home soon.

Irrespective of how Aliev performs in his new job in Vienna, most analysts have no doubt that the president is biding his time, waiting for the trouble to blow over so that his son-in-law can rejoin the political scene.

Oleg Sidorov, director of the Conflict Resolution Centre, believes that Aliev's Austrian exile will last no longer than two years. "It all depends on how the internal political situation develops," he said. "Aliev may yet reappear in a very high place in Kazakstan's government."

Altai Jasulanov is the pseudonym of a journalist from Almaty

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