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

Kazakstan: DCK Facing Oblivion

Government seems to be determined to silence its most outspoken opponents
By Alexander Zakharov

The government’s latest attempt to break up one of the leading opposition movements in the country, the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, shows that its unwilling to tolerate any more dissent within the country, analysts say.

But some have suggested that the move could backfire by turning some DCK members into radical dissidents who might end up going into exile and seek to turn the international community against the regime.

The DCK, whose activities were recently banned, was told on October 14 that it could not register under a new name, the Democratic Power to Kazakstan (which in Russian allows it to keep its old acronym).

Officials claimed the new party’s charter was illegal because it states that its regional representatives are to be appointed, rather than elected as the law stipulates. The DCK now plans to address the problem and resubmit its application in the coming days, but some members admit that this is unlikely to sway officials.

“We know there’s been an order from the very top to prevent us from being registered at all,” said DCK member Pyotr Svoik.

The name change bid came after a court in Atyrau, in western Kazakstan, banned DCK operations after ruling that party secretary Bakhtyly Tumenova had violated a temporary suspension of its activities by attending a seminar in the city in her official capacity.

Tumenova challenged the ruling, saying her appearance at the gathering had nothing to do with the DCK, “I spoke at this seminar as a representative of the body that organises pre-election campaigns for municipalities.”

The party’s work was suspended on July 4 for four months because it had failed to register in all the regions of the country, as the law requires.

The latest blow to DCK raises serious questions over the future prospects of the opposition group set up two years ago by members of business elite, a number of whom held high-ranking government posts.

Some observers are suggesting that the government’s apparent attempts to silence the party may backfire by turning DCK activists into radicals, with some perhaps going into exile in an effort to turn western countries against the regime.

“If the DCK is not registered, its members will turn into dissidents, and will speak out more radically against the authorities,” said political analyst Andrei Kalashnikov.

“Perhaps some will try to get the status of political émigrés. For them, it will be a way to attract the attention of the international community to the political situation in Kazakstan.”

Concerned by nepotism and cronyism in presidential circles, the DCK campaigned from its inception in November 2001 for wider economic and political reforms, including the election of regional governors.

Not long after the party came into being, two of its leaders - the former governor of the Pavlador region, Galymjan Jakiyanov, and the ex-energy minister Mukhtar Ablyazov - were charged with corruption and given lengthy prison sentences, in trials condemned by international human rights organisations as politically motivated.

Some time afterwards, Ablyazov was amnestied, after agreeing to abandon political activity. Jakiyanov was refused a pardon, on the grounds that four new criminal charges connected with corruption had been brought against him.

But the authorities did not limit themselves to the DCK leaders. They began harassing activists, penalising business supporters and intimidating journalists sympathetic to the party’s cause and banning media linked to it.

Somehow, though, the DCK defied the authorities and continued to campaign vocally for reform, prompting the latest clampdown, observers say.

“After the arrest of several leaders of this movement and the silencing of opposition media, the next logical step by the authorities was a ban on its activities,” said political commentator Bakhtiyar Baimakhanov.

DCK members claim that the government sought to disguise its involvement in the prohibition by getting supposedly independent regional judicial officials, rather than the supreme court, to issue the bar on the party’s operations.

“The goal is to destroy the DCK. It is a comprehensive, systematic plan and the Atyrau court ruling is a part of it,” said Svoik.

More generally, analysts say, the authorities attempts to crackdown on the DCK is the clearest sign yet that it is no longer prepared to brook any further dissent.

“The president will not accept any real opposition,” said Anthony Robinson, former Financial Times East Europe editor. “Given the degree of state control, it is clear that president [Nursultan Nazarbaev] does not believe that time has come for democracy.

“Under current circumstances it is difficult to say how any opposition party can be effective.”

Alexander Zakharov is the pseudonym for a journalist in Kazakstan.

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