Kazakstan: President-in-Waiting?

New party set up by President Nazarbaev’s daughter likely to lead in this year’s parliamentary election.

Kazakstan: President-in-Waiting?

New party set up by President Nazarbaev’s daughter likely to lead in this year’s parliamentary election.

The political party set up by the Kazak president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbaeva is shaping up to become the regime’s major support-base in parliament.

What is less clear is whether the party will play anything more than a symbolic role as the dominant political force in the country.

Some believe the real aim is to use it as a base to launch Dariga Nazarbaeva’s career as a politician, and even possible successor to her father. The question is whether she would want Kazakstan’s top job.

The Asar party, formed only in October last year, launched its programme for this year’s general election when it held its first congress in the capital Astana on January 31.

Dariga, elder daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, took centre stage, and made it clear to the 700 delegates that the party would articulate the president’s views – not that there had been much doubt.

“The Asar party has a firm foundation – it takes as its base the development programme for Kazakstan up to 2030 which President Nazarbaev drew up,” she said, promising the party a “a successful future”.

The party chairwoman made it clear she planned to win half the 77 seats in the Majlist, the lower house of parliament, in the general election this October. When asked whether she was not being over-confident, she replied, “why create a party if you don’t have ambitious goals?”

At the congress, ten parliamentary deputies who have joined Asar, announced they were forming a party group for both the Majlis and the Senate or upper house. The next step will be to hold discussions on forming a broad coalition with the pro-Nazarbaev parties already in parliament – Otan, the Civic Party and the Agrarians.

Asar already has the president’s personal endorsement, and the idea of setting up an election bloc suggests it is being positioned to become the lead loyalist party.

President Nazarbaev has not placed great reliance on any single political party in the past. Over the years he has been in power, he has encouraged a succession of parties to establish themselves as the main parliamentary voice for his administration. Otan, currently the biggest party in parliament, was the favourite until Asar emerged.

But Nazarbaev has never aligned himself closely with Otan, and its predecessors such as the People’s Unity Party, were allowed to crumble, suggesting he does not see a strong central party as essential to his rule.

He may have more of a stake in Asar given the family connection.

His political adviser Ermukhamed Ertysbaev attended the congress and admitted that “the presidential administration is helping Asar, because its emergence provides an opportunity to manoeuvre during the parliamentary elections. This is a case when the presidential administration cannot remain uninvolved”.

The deputy head of the party, Erlan Karin, was keen to downplay any suggestion the party was being backed by the Kazak leadership, “I can say honestly and sincerely that during the formation of the party, we avoided using the administrative resources of the authorities, and there were no cases where this happened.”

But opposition critics of the party are concerned that the party has benefited from government support. In the three months since it was founded, its membership has more than doubled from 77,000 to 167,000, with people aged 35 accounting for over half the total.

Vladimir Kozlov, spokesman for the Democratic Choice of Kazakstan, which despite being a major opposition force has been denied registration and has no seats in parliament, said this rapid growth was achieved largely by enlisting students en masse. According to Kozlov, university authorities have come under pressure to supply lists of “willing recruits”.

The scene is now set for Dariga Nazarbaeva – whose main interest up to now has lain in the media, running the Khabar TV channel – to enter political life.

This change of career leads many to suspect that she is being lined up to succeed her father. There are unavoidable analogies with Ilham Aliev, who found himself taking over from his father as president of Azerbaijan in October last year. Unlike Heidar Aliev, who died two months after the election, Nazarbaev is reportedly in good health.

His aide Ertysbaev dismissed suggestions that Nazarbaev was considering taking a back seat. “The president is firmly bent on running in the 2006 elections - and he intends to win,” he told IWPR.

Some of those who watched Dariga Nazarbaeva’s performance at the party conference questioned whether she would summon up the aggressive drive needed to become a major-league Kazak politician. During her speech, she barely looked at the audience. “She looks glum and her voice is flat,” said one Almaty resident. “She does not give the impression of being a leader.”

One political analyst said he thought Nazarbaeva was not enjoying herself – his impression was that the role of party leader was one that had been thrust upon her.

Galima Bukharbaeva is an IWPR staff member.

Support our journalists