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Kazakstan: Dariga for President?

Though she firmly denies presidential ambitions, rumours are circulating that Dariga Nazarbaeva wants to replace her father.
By Aliya Asembaeva

Speculation is growing that Nursultan Nazarbaev’s daughter is planning a presidential bid, though Dariga Nazarbaeva denies she wants the top job.

Nazarbaev’s eldest daughter used the June 7 congress of her Asar party to announce she was forming a coalition of pro-presidential parties. Ostensibly the People’s Union of Kazakstan for Democracy is dedicated to explaining the president’s economic and social reforms. However, observers are speculating that it was created as a platform to launch Nazarbaeva’s election campaign.

“The main goal of the block is undoubtedly the elections,” said Vladislav Kosarev, leader of the Communist People’s Party of Kazakstan.

There’s been no announcement on who’ll lead the coalition, which so far includes only the Asar party and the Democratic Party of Kazakstan headed by Maksut Narikbaev, a group of little significance in Kazak politics.

“There is actually no coalition at all. The DPK was simply brought in so that it could be called a coalition,” political analyst Nurbolat Masanov told IWPR.

Rumours have been circulating for several months that presidential elections will be moved from December 2006 to the end of this year or possibly the beginning of next.

Some in the president’s circle say voting should be held this year to take political advantage of recent populist measure by Nazarbaev including pension and salary increases for low-paid workers. The economy is also relatively strong, lifted by high oil prices on the world market.

Others, however, maintain events in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have created a negative atmosphere in Kazakstan and focused the world’s attention on the region, meaning the poll should be put off for a year.

At the congress, Nazarbaeva, a deputy in the lower chamber of parliament, became the only person in the pro-government camp to admit publicly that discontent could spread to Kazakstan.

“If we ask the question which worries many people now, ‘Is it possible that what happened in Kyrgyzstan will happen here?’ we must answer, ‘Yes, it is possible’,” she said.

Sounding like someone running for political office, Nazarbaeva blamed opposition politicians for cooperating with the West and increasing the possibility of a “colour revolution” coming to Kazakstan.

“The opposition speculates on the discontent of ordinary people, their situation, but they do not anything specific to change the situation,” she said, adding the president’s opponents have little support and few plans other than seizing and holding on to power.

But she also had had a warning for the ruling regime, suggesting it keeps a close eye on those who oppose it.

“The statements of the opposition have not yet received a legal or moral assessment from the authorities or from pro-government political forces,” Nazarbaeva said. “The opposition now intends … to develop crisis situations on the principle that the worse things get, the better they will be.

“Are we prepared to entrust the fate of our country to political teenagers experiencing growing pains? I think not.”

A new elite and middle class have emerged in Kazakstan, demanding political reform from the president, and a greater say in the country's development.

Masanov believes Nazarbaeva is part of that elite and shares its views.

“Nazarbaeva is giving a signal to society that she demands political modernisation of the country,” he said.

On the election front, Nazarbaeva has denied she’ll stand for president, though earlier this year accompanied Nazarbaev when he met with Russian president Vladimir Putin, leading to speculation she was being groomed as his replacement.

“I am not planning this today and will not plan it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” she said after the congress. “I can assure you that I do not have a marshal’s staff in my knapsack, just as I do not have a knapsack. These are items for a man.”

The Communist’s Kosarev thinks that position will change as the election draws nearer. “I think that Dariga Nazarbaeva may well change her decision,” he said.

Masanov agrees a change of government in Kazakstan is possible, though perhaps not yet.

“So far Nazarbaev’s potential has not been exhausted, and he can guarantee the stability of political processes with the authority of his figure,” he said.

“But if he stops being the guarantor of this stability, and judging by the behaviour of Dariga Nazarbaeva and other representatives of the elite, there is clear discontent, it may be said that process of changing the elite is approaching.”

One potentially serious problem for Nazarbaeva is that Kazakstan is a traditional society and many in the country would oppose the idea of a woman as president.

Others like Astana resident Olga Simonova wouldn’t vote for Nazarbaeva, because she is the daughter of the current president.

“Why change Nazarbaev if he is replaced by a person from his family, with the same views and appetites? Why trade bad for worse?” said Simonova.

Aliya Asembaeva is the pseudonym of an IWPR correspondent in Astana. Zamir Karajanov is an IWPR correspondent in Almaty.

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