Kazakstan: Government Proposal Threatens Small Parties

Small independent parties could be prevented from contesting the 2004 parliamentary elections if the government has its way.

Kazakstan: Government Proposal Threatens Small Parties

Small independent parties could be prevented from contesting the 2004 parliamentary elections if the government has its way.

A government proposal to raise the current membership threshold for political organisations is being seen as an attempt to prevent smaller parties from banding together and posing a threat to the current regime.

While supporters of the plan claim the political system would benefit from the creation of a few large, strong parties rather than the current 19, the move has caused controversy as it may prevent small opposition groups from registering for the 2004 parliamentary elections.

Under the amendment proposed by 45 Kazak deputies, all parties in the assembly would have to prove that they have the backing of at least ten per cent of the electorate - roughly a million people - instead of the 3,000 votes currently required.

The country needs to "get rid of paper parties, which effectively only consist of their leader and which have little public support," said Jasulan Aljani, who is employed by a government research body.

But opponents say the planned threshold is unrealistic. Fears have been voiced that Kazakstan could be left with as few as ten political parties as the others would be unable to prove they had the required number of supporters.

The deputies' action was triggered by the formation of the Russian Party of Kazakstan, whose April 15 debut triggered an emotional outburst from parliamentarians.

Several deputies expressed concern at the new party's distinct ethnic character and claimed it threatened the multi-national state's political order.

Political analyst Andrei Chebotarev believes the proposal has been specifically designed to prevent opposition parties from growing in size and uniting against the government.

The initiative looks like "a continuation of the hidden policies of the authorities, made in response to an opposition that has recently become much more active" agreed Bolat Tlepov, another Almaty-based analyst.

"With two years to go before parliamentary elections, the authorities are afraid that independent parties may transform themselves and present a real threat to the regime."

Tlepov's colleague Nurbolat Masanov believes the authorities' long-term plan is to replace the current multi-party system with two parties - both of which would be pro-government.

Masanov claimed this would only be the first in a series of steps taken by the republic's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, to "monopolise power and remove parties not wanted by the authorities from the field".

Opponents insist this development will increase the regime's control over political events and fear formerly independent parties will become toothless organisations packed with yes-men.

They argue that the Kazak assembly has already lost many powers following a 1995 law that increased the president's control over the legislature. Nazarbaev has openly called for party reform in the near future and few doubt that he will get his way.

Anton Ivanov, a specialist in the country's ministry of cultural, information and education, said that only a handful of Kazakstan's parties could be said to genuinely operate. Few enjoyed public support and, as most were pro-government, they would have an interest in seeing the amendment adopted.

As well as proposing a minimum membership threshold, the deputies have also called for the state to start financing political bodies. Some complained that the present system effectively encouraged a "competition between bank accounts". They suggested state aid would lead to greater transparency and civilise the political process.

"If the state precisely allocates the resources and controls their use, there will be less opportunity for abuse in elections," predicted Mikhail Troshikhin, one of the deputies behind the motion.

Sholpan Ibysheva is an analyst with the Russia-Sino research Institute in Almaty

Support our journalists