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

Kazakstan: Communists Deny Rift

Authorities accused of overplaying disagreement over appointment of “non-party” opposition figure to a senior role.
By Galima Bukharbaeva

Leaders of Kazakstan’s Communist Party, CPK, are trying to downplay reports of a split within its ranks over the recruitment and promotion of a leading opposition politician.

Reports suggested that the party’s decision to bring in outsider Tolen Tokhtasynov, a parliamentary deputy from the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, and place him in a senior position had caused a major split in the Communist ranks.

Deputy CPK leader Vladislav Kosarev denied that the alleged rift would damage the movement’s election chances, and told the media that the disagreement over Tokhtasynov’s appointment had been blown out of proportion by the state media.

“Certain people in the government stand behind these reports, because they will benefit from presenting the Communist Party in a bad light,” he said.

CPK leaders claim that the authorities are concerned at the role a strengthened Communist Party could play in the opposition – and that a concerted effort is now being made to discredit it.

In January, Abdildin told the party newspaper Pravda Kazakhstana that the authorities had hatched secret plans to discredit the movement to stop it uniting with other opposition groups.

“The regime is trying to block our party. The state press is always trying to denigrate us, and it works systematically to prevent young people from joining us,” Abdildin said, citing a case where the administration of the Eurasian University in Astana attempted to expel a number of students because they had joined the CPK.

The authorities have dismissed the CPK’s claims out of hand. A presidential spokesperson told IWPR, “The ‘plan against the Communist Party’ is a fiction thought up by the Communists. The presidential administration does not engage in such projects.”

The Communist Party has forged a link with the DCK in an attempt to strengthen both movements’ positions in the run up to a parliamentary election due to be held in October.

But seven members of the Communist Party’s central committee walked out of the late-December meeting in protest at the decision to appoint a newcomer to a high-ranking position, in contravention of normal practice.

Communist Party member Boris Sorokin later spoke out against what he described as “the leader’s disregard for the party tradition of having new members work as rank-and-file for some time before they rise to any leadership position”.

But CPK leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin told IWPR, “There is no rift – we are only talking about some internal disagreements.”

Party chiefs are standing by their decision to recruit Tokhtasynov, a 40-year-old businessman. Abdildin told the media that the party was in need of some fresh faces, and described the DCK deputy as “a young and strong politician”.

Analysts believe that the arrangement is a mutually beneficial one. For Tokhtasynov, who was elected as member of parliament in 1999 on an independent ticket, joining the Communists will improve his chances of re-election to parliament.

The Communists are likely to win more access to funding from commercial groups that now support the DCK, and improve their image as a business-friendly party.

For its part, the DCK – an opposition movement set up by Kazakstan’s young business elite in 2001 to call for reforms – will secure a voice in parliament despite the authorities’ refusal to recognise it as a political party.

It is very unlikely that the DCK - whose two leaders, former Pavlodar governor Galymzhan Zhakiyanov and ex-trade minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, were jailed in 2002 - will be able to participate in the election.

Local analysts believe that the row over Tokhtasynov will not damage the Communists, although it is possible a few party members will quit in protest.

Politicial analyst Nikolai Kuzmin of the Reputatsia Centre for Communication Technologies, an independent think-tank, told IWPR that the CPK’s ideological core would be unaffected by any schism.

“Today many in Kazakstan associate the CPK with stability, free health care and education, and with the fact that during Soviet times there were no power cuts, and new factories were built. Ordinary people will always support the Communist Party,” he said.

The Communist Party occupies a unique position in Kazakstan, as it is the only opposition group to survive following the introduction of a law in July 2002 which stated that all parties must have a minimum of 50,000 members in order to be registered. With more than 56,000 members, the CPK managed to squeeze over this threshold.

At the last parliamentary election in 1999, the Communists won three out of a mere four seats which the opposition won in parliament’s main chamber.

In the absence of any other opposition party to vote for, the Communists are the ruling regime’s main rival in the forthcoming election, and are in a strong position to pick up protest votes from people who would normally opt for the DCK or other opposition groups that are now prevented from taking part.

Communist Party activists also hope that the new relationship with the DCK will attract some younger voters. Support for the party currently comes mainly from the older generation, who look back to the decades of Soviet rule with nostalgia.

Galima Bukharbaeva is an IWPR staff member. Karim Tanaev is the pseudonym for a journalist in Astana.