Kazakstan: Father and Daughter

Has President Nazarbaev fallen out with his daughter – or is it just an election tactic to allow Dariga to capture opposition votes?

Kazakstan: Father and Daughter

Has President Nazarbaev fallen out with his daughter – or is it just an election tactic to allow Dariga to capture opposition votes?

Monday, 21 February, 2005

When Kazak president Nursultan Nazarbaev seemed to distance himself from the political party led by his daughter Dariga, rumours started circulating about a family split that might affect the general election.


But analysts say the rift is merely a political manoeuvre designed to draw off opposition votes.


The speculation was fuelled by President Nazarbaev’s appearance at a congress of the main pro-presidential party Otan on June 15, when he failed even to mention the party his daughter leads, Asar.


Nazarbaev strongly endorsed Otan –calling it “a powerful modernising political force” – and made it clear he wants it to come out on top in the election scheduled for on September 19.


He used his speech to suggest that systems where one party is dominant tend to work better, “The experience of many countries that belong to the third wave of modernisation – and that includes the majority of democracies in Asia - shows that they were able to move [forward] because of the dominance of one particular political party.”


This view of political party development appeared to be at odds with the view taken by Dariga Nazarbaeva at her party’s first congress in January, when she suggested that all of Kazakstan’s pro-presidential parties should form a joint election platform for the election.


Nazarbaev’s latest speech led to rumours that he and his daughter had fallen out.


Political commentators interviewed by IWPR agreed that the two were definitely sliding towards differently-delineated positions – but argued that this was in fact a concerted and finely-tuned election strategy.


“Rumours about the president and his oldest daughter have been circulating for quite some time. I think that the source of these rumours is located in the presidential circle, and in reality they are not true,” said Dosym Satpaev, a political analyst who heads the Risk Assessment Group.


A government official who asked not to be identified confirmed that there was no real conflict between Dariga and her father. “No one has persuaded the president not include his daughter’s [party] in the [pro-presidential] bloc,” he said. “It is all an election strategy to secure victory for the president at the election.”


At the same time, there may be some factions within the ruling elite who are uncomfortable with Asar’s rapid rise – previously a public movement, it transformed itself into a party only in October 2003. When Asar was seen to win the presidential seal of approval, the other longer-standing “loyalist” parties may have grown uneasy about their own future.


“When certain people say that they don’t like the way Asar is becoming more active, we are not talking about the president himself but about a group within his circle who think that through its actions, Asar is breaking up the pro-presidential bloc,” explained Satpaev.


In March, Otan members in the western Atyrau region wrote an open letter to Nazarbaev complaining that Asar was encroaching on its constituency, and local authorities previously supportive of Otan were now promoting the newer party.


Whatever the rivalries between the pro-Nazarbaev parties, the tactic now appears to be to position Asar at some distance away from the rest, so as to create the impression that it is a quasi-opposition force.


A parliamentary deputy who asked not to be named told IWPR that the shift was a conscious attempt to woo voters who might otherwise vote for the opposition parties. “The talk of Asar being in opposition is deliberate,” he told IWPR. “It’s being done with one purpose in mind - to take away voters from the real opposition.”


The 12 parties which plan to stand in the election include three from the opposition – the Communist Party, Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, DCK, and Ak Jol.


Amirjan Kosanov, leader of the Republican’s People Party – which has not received official registration and cannot stand in the election – thinks the authorities are making sophisticated calculations to target different voter groups.


“You shouldn’t think that the people who work in the presidential office are stupid,” he said. “It all helps strengthen Nazarbaev’s position. Some of the public would like to support younger [parties] - I mean Asar – while others will go with Otan.”


DCK Asylbek Kojahmetov agreed, saying that there was no real competition between Otan and Asar, “What’s really going on is a carve-up of niche population groups… That means Asar will get voters who would have voted for opposition parties.”


Kojahmetov pointed out that Asar had already associated itself with some of the agendas usually pursued by opposition groups – campaigning against a restrictive media bill, calling for greater public accountability of the public funds and pushing for pensioner rights.


And it scored a coup when it recruited Erlan Karin, a respected young political scientist, as deputy chairman. “It was a shrewd tactic to bring Karin on board. But all their democratic slogans are just an attempt to conceal… their links with Nazarbaev,” said Kojahmetov.


Analyst Satpaev noted that there had been some talk that all Asar’s campaigning work signalled a challenge to the president’s position – but he dismissed it, saying, “I think that it’s just a black public-relations campaign. Rumours like that are groundless because in the post-Soviet countries, family is always family.”


Karim Tanaev is the pseudonym of a journalist in Astana.


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