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

Why I Won't Vote in Kazak Elections

Ballot outcome predictable, and opposition wouldn’t do any better than current regime, says local journalist.
By Almaz Rysaliev

The result of Kazakstan’s January 15 election was fairly predictable – the governing Nur Otan retained a massive majority but the authorities allowed a minority to appear in parliament. The only surprise was that not one but two pro-government parties got past the threshold for winning seats – Ak Jol and the People’s Communist Party of Kazakstan.

Most opposition parties were barred from standing. The National Social Democratic Party did compete but gained under two per cent of the vote.

IWPR asked a Kazak journalist from the eastern city of Almaty to explain why he stayed away from this election and plans to carry on doing so. The journalist asked for his name to be withheld as he works for a regime-friendly newspaper.

Why did you decide not go and vote?

I don’t see any point in voting, as everything that happens in politics here is decided in advance. Was anyone actually surprised by the landslide victory of Nur Otan and the two other pro-presidential parties?

Virtually everyone I know told me they voted for the National Social Democratic Party. This is hardly because they’re dreaming of a change of regime. They earn well and are generally happy with their lives.

One of my colleagues tells me he isn’t against President Nursultan Nazarbaev, or against him continuing in power. He just wants to see an opposition party in parliament that can keep an eye on what the executive is up to and prevent it doing whatever it wants. Most people would agree that this is fair enough – that’s how it works in advanced countries with democratic systems. One political bloc keeps the ruling one constantly in check, monitoring and highlighting its mistakes.

For Kazakstan, that’s a utopian ideal. The presidential administration doesn’t want the opposition holding any power. Too many things go on in the higher echelons of power that need to be kept well away from the public eye. Kazakstan’s national wealth is purloined on a scale that many dictators couldn’t even dream of.

So no real opposition can get into parliament. The whole performance – the ballot boxes that are supposedly safely sealed up, the so-called independent observers, institutions serving the authorities at arm’s length, the extensive coverage in pro-government media – is all just a veil that conceals illegal vote-rigging.

Why not vote for the opposition, then?

Why should I support anyone? From my observation of politics in our country, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no good or bad players, no friends or enemies. There are just conflicting sides, each with its own vested interests and the single purpose of gaining power and thus access to strategic resources.

They think of the nation only when an election is coming up, or when they raise some populist issue to score points.

It’s only now that the authorities are “bad” and the opposition is ”good”. If the regime’s opponents came to power, do you think they would roll up their sleeves and conscientiously set about implementing their Prosperous Kazakstan programme? Not at all. They’d start dividing up the country’s strategic resources among themselves – assets that are really public property. The government would contain the same people who now serve Nazarbaev. There would be no end to the violations of constitutional rights, corruption, or social problems.

Look at how Rahat Aliev [Nazarbaev’s exiled son-in-law] started talking about the problems facing his fellow-countrymen only when he fell out of favour with his former father-in-law. These days, his statements are full of love and concern for ordinary people in Kazakstan, who he says are being “oppressed by Nazarbaev”. Many people have fallen for this.

It’s just more evidence of how politicians – both in power and in opposition – excel at the art of play-acting.

Do you see any hope of improvement?

Nothing is going to change, regardless of which candidate or party name we put a tick beside. In my view, the individual players may change, but the rules of the game remain the same.

That is why I boycott elections, and why I will never go and vote for anyone.

Almaz Rysaliev is IWPR editor in Kazakstan.

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