Joanna Lillis cached version 15/02/2019 21:18:28 en Joanna Lillis <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Joanna Lillis </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Joanna </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lillis </div> </div> </div> <p>Joanna Lillis is a freelance journalist based in Kazakhstan. She previously worked for nearly four years for BBC Monitoring in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Joanna Lillis is a freelance journalist based in Kazakhstan. She previously worked for nearly four years for BBC Monitoring in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. </div> </div> </div> Anonymous author Joanna Lillis Fri, 26 Mar 2010 13:12:42 +0000 Anonymous author and Joanna Lillis 51180 at Tajikistan's ghost democracy <p>The incumbent Tajik president has won a third seven-year term in an election denounced&nbsp;as a&nbsp;sham&nbsp;long before polls opened on the morning of 5 November 2006. <a href="" target="_blank">Imomali Rakhmonov</a> received&nbsp;79.3% of the vote on a 91% turnout, the central electoral commission announced at a press conference in the Tajik capital, <a href="">Dushanbe</a>, the next day.</p><p>Many observers were surprised at the relatively modest scale&nbsp;of victory for Rakhmonov,&nbsp;who has ruled&nbsp;this mountainous, landlocked central Asian state of around 6 million people since November 1992 (and was first elected <a href="">president</a> in November 1994). </p><p>After the election the OSCE emphasised the lack of choice offered to voters, and noted serious <a href=";alt=&amp;trh=20061107&amp;hn=38045">flaws</a> in the electoral process. &quot;The lack of any serious campaign and credible alternatives undermined this election to a degree that it did not provide an adequate test of Tajikistan&#39;s commitment for democratic elections&quot;, Kimmo Kiljunen, special coordinator of the OSCE short-term observer mission, told a press conference in Dushanbe.</p><p>Many voters seemed not to <a href="">care</a>, and in Dushanbe on polling day they sang Rakhmonov&#39;s praises. The view of teacher Izatullo Tagaynazarov was typical: &quot;I voted for Rakhmonov. He&#39;s my favourite candidate... He deserves his place... He loves the people and respects everyone. He&#39;s given his whole life to his motherland.&quot;</p><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><b><p>Joanna Lillis is a freelance journalist based in Kazakhstan. She previously worked for nearly four years for BBC Monitoring in Tashkent, Uzbekistan </p> <p>Also by Joanna Lillis in openDemocracy: </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3023">Kazakhstan's pre-election media war</a>" (November 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3096">Kazakhstan's political landslide</a>" (December 2005) </p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3293">Death in Kazakhstan</a>" (22 February 2006) </p></b> </div><p><strong>An opposition, just</strong></p><p>After major opposition parties declined to take part, the election looked like a <a href="">one-horse race</a> from the start. In the event, four candidates were prepared to challenge Rakhmonov, who represented the ruling <em>Hizbi Demokrati-Khalkii Tojikston </em>(People&#39;s Democratic Party) - although none was able to establish meaningful public recognition. </p><p>Two of the parties fielding candidates - the Agrarian Party and the Party for Economic Reforms - were established only&nbsp;in 2005, and some suspected them from the start of being&nbsp;government-backed. </p><p>The Agrarians fielded academic Amir Karakulov, while the Party of Economic Reforms was represented by Olimjon Boboyev, head of the Institute of Transport. Although&nbsp;both he and his party were relative newcomers, Boboyev&nbsp;defeated&nbsp;the better-known Communist Party candidate and MP, Ismoil Talbakov, to clinch (albeit a distant) second place.&nbsp; </p><p>The Socialist Party, which split in 2005, fielded Abduhalim Gaffarov, leader of the government-recognised rump movement; Gaffarov&nbsp;received the fewest votes.&nbsp;The leader of the other, non-recognised wing, Mirhuseyn Narziyev, accuses the government of manufacturing the split in a bid to consolidate its domination of the political scene. </p><p>Some analysts&nbsp;suggest that this field of mainly little-known academics was a show of democracy for domestic and international consumption. The fact that the candidates all took to the campaign trail <a href="">together</a> indicates at the least&nbsp;an unusual level of understanding among&nbsp;men reputed to be battling for the top job.</p><p>Not everyone on the political scene is on such good terms with Rakhmonov. Two major opposition parties boycotted the poll. The <em>Hizbi Demokrati</em> (Democratic Party) and the Social Democratic Party are angry over constitutional amendments allowing Rakhmonov to stand in the election. The changes, adopted by referendum in 2003, allowed&nbsp;Rakhmonov to stand for election on two more occasions. The president,&nbsp;who had&nbsp;altered the constitution in 1999 to extend the presidential term from five to seven years,&nbsp;could now be in power until 2020. </p><p><strong>A democracy, of sorts</strong></p><p>The Social Democratic Party&nbsp;is led by one-time Rakhmonov ally Rahmatullo Zoirov. A former presidential aide, he resigned over the 2003 amendments, which like many others he&nbsp;interpreted as presaging an increasingly authoritarian approach by Rakhmonov.</p><p>The trend has also been manifested in criminal proceedings against opposition leaders, critics say. Democratic Party leader <a href="">Mahmudruzi Iskandarov</a> is serving a twenty-year prison term on charges of terrorism, embezzlement and banditry.&nbsp;The government has recognised an alternative wing of the Democratic Party, in what Iskandarov&#39;s supporters say is a bid to silence the real opposition. </p><p>Such cases are not widely publicised in the <a href="">Tajik media</a>, which is largely loyal to Rakhmonov. But awareness of them seems as likely to provoke fear and silence as further&nbsp;dissent.&nbsp;&quot;It doesn&#39;t matter if I vote or not - Rakhmonov will win.... Anyone who is against is in prison. If you raise your head, that&#39;s it&quot;, said a Dushanbe taxi-driver who declined to identify himself.</p><p>Another opposition party, the <em>Nahzati Islomi Tojikiston </em>(<a href="">Islamic Renaissance Party</a>), participated in the poll but did not field a presidential candidate. The party, which (along with the Democratic Party) fought the government in the 1992-97 <a href="">civil war</a>, was dealt a severe blow by the death of its leader, Said Abdullo Nuri, in August 2006. A power struggle broke out between traditional and modernising wings, settled in favour of a new leader, <a href="">Muhiddin Kabiri</a>, who is obliged now to focus on rebuilding internal unity. </p><p>The decision of the party - which could have offered a clear, coherent opposition to Rakhmonov - not to stand in the election dealt a blow to the chances of an authentic political choice. </p><p>The OSCE&#39;s statement of preliminary findings issued on 6 November spoke of a lack of political debate, and also singled out the legislative framework and a &quot;media environment largely under government control&quot; as areas of concern.</p><p>During the campaign - as at all other times - Rakhmonov&#39;s activities dominated the media, though all candidates received free media space. Five websites known for reporting opposition views were temporarily taken down on government orders. </p><p>Another incident which marred Tajikistan&#39;s democratic credentials was the break-up of a peaceful Democratic Party picket, involving just six protestors, outside the justice ministry on 3 November. Police detained the demonstrators, and one (according to an Associated Press report) was sentenced to fifteen days in prison. This small incident speaks volumes about Tajikistan&#39;s commitment to a genuine plurality of views.</p><p>Amid the <a href="">criticism</a>, the OSCE did have some positive things to say about the election: a lack of violence; an efficient election process; serious attempts at voter education; moves to refine legislation; &quot;an inclusive approach to national minorities&quot;. Moreover, it heard no allegations of ballot-stuffing, though it found widespread incidents of one person voting for the whole family.</p><p><strong>Peace, now</strong></p><p>The <a href=";s=b&amp;o=325198&amp;apc_state=henh">incumbent</a> plainly enjoyed a favourable position in the election. Rakhmonov dominated&nbsp;the media,&nbsp;controlled parliament via&nbsp;the party that nominated him, commanded&nbsp;the state apparatus, and averted&nbsp;any&nbsp;serious challenge.</p><p>After casting his vote in a Dushanbe&nbsp;polling-station whose entrance was festooned with two large banners quoting him, Rakhmonov rejected criticism that the trappings of power could help him win the election - saying that he had not used any such advantages, and that in any case the west was guilty of &quot;double standards&quot;: &quot;The president of the USA fights for the Republican Party to win elections in the Senate and Congress... [but] if any president in the post-Soviet space comes out in support of any political party, there is an immediate reaction.&quot; </p><p>Indeed, Tajik citizens showed little sign of echoing such criticisms - at least openly. In public, their president enjoys a popularity that appears untouched by <a href="">social problems</a> that are still far from resolved after fourteen years of his rule. </p><p>Rakhmonov&#39;s promise to fight poverty has gone down well with voters living in the poorest country in the former Soviet Union. The country relies on remittances from the&nbsp;estimated 10% of the population that works abroad. Tajikistan also suffers from infrastructure problems that Rakhmonov, again, has pledged to tackle. </p><p>However, it was the president&#39;s emphasis on the need to maintain national unity that really hit home with voters. In a country whose experience of civil war is both recent and painful (some estimates suggest a death-toll of up to 100,000, 1.6% of the population), what Tajiks really crave is peace and <a href=";s=f&amp;o=324242&amp;apc_state=henprca">stability</a>. </p><p>&quot;There&#39;s no-one like Imomali Rakhmonov because he brought peace&quot;, said Sherali Khalilov, sitting drinking tea in the Dushanbe cafe he owns in the bright sunshine. &quot;It was such a nightmare.<strong> </strong>In 1994 I was beaten with a machine-gun by some fighters and I was unconscious for one-and-a-half months. It was lawless. Now it&#39;s fine and we live well. There is no other leader like this for Tajikistan, so I&#39;m voting for him. My family and relatives are all for Imomali Rakhmonov.&quot;</p><p>As Rakhmonov heads for another seven-year term, critics suggest that it could see a further erosion of democracy and more outright <a href="">authoritarianism</a>. However, thoughts of democracy are not a priority for most voters. What they hope for is seven more years of peace.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></div> democracy & power russia & eurasia politics of protest Joanna Lillis Creative Commons normal Wed, 08 Nov 2006 00:00:00 +0000 Joanna Lillis 4078 at Death in Kazakhstan <p>The bodies of a prominent Kazakh opposition figure and two of his aides were found in a car in the foothills near Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city and former capital, on 13 February 2006. Altynbek Sarsenbayev, along with his driver and bodyguard, Baurzhan Baibosyn and Vasily Zhuravliov, had been shot dead in a clinical operation. </p> <p>Sarsenbayev was a former government official who broke ranks and enlisted with the opposition in 2003. Before joining the opposition <em>Ak Zhol</em> (Bright Path) party, Sarsenbayev had been a senior official, government minister and ambassador to Russia. When the <em>Ak Zhol</em> party he co-chaired splintered, Sarsenbayev and his supporters formed a new party, <em>Nagyz Ak Zhol</em> (True Bright Path), in April 2005.</p> <p>Sarsenbayev is the second high-profile politician to have died suddenly in Kazakhstan in the last three months. Zamanbek Nurkadilov, another former official turned dissident, was found dead at his home on 15 November 2005. The official police investigation found that the cause of death was <a href="" target="_blank">suicide</a>. It was not only Nurkadilov's supporters who had difficulty accepting this verdict: there were two bullet-wounds in Nurkadilov's chest and one in his head. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Joanna Lillis is a freelance journalist based in Kazakhstan. She previously worked for nearly four years for BBC Monitoring in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.</b></p> <p>Also by Joanna Lillis in openDemocracy:</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3023">Kazakhstan's pre-election media war</a>" (November 2005)</p> <p>"<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3096">Kazakhstan's political landslide</a>" (December 2005) </p> </div><p><b>A political crime? </b></p> <p>This sequence of events, as well as the circumstances of <a href="" target="_blank">Sarsenbayev's killing</a>, meant that the Kazakh rumour-mill started working at full strength virtually before the blood had dried. Many among the opposition were quick to accuse the regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev, reinvigorated by its December <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3096">election victory</a>, of high-level complicity. </p> <p>The early official response to these accusations was predictably dismissive; but a week on, the investigation took a <a href="" target="_blank">dramatic turn</a> with the arrest of six people in connection with the murders, five of whom worked in the elite Arystan combat division of the Kazakh security services. On 20 February, interior minister <a href="" target="_blank">Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov</a> &#150; whom Nazarbayev had ordered to take direct control over the investigation &#150; told the press that the five were being questioned in Almaty on suspicion of carrying out the murder, along with a sixth person suspected of organising it. </p> <p>A day later, the National Security Service (the KNB, Kazakhstan's successor to the Soviet-era KGB) issued a press release saying: "Five soldiers from the Arystan service of the KNB of the Republic of Kazakhstan who are suspected of involvement in this crime have been arrested." </p> <p>The arrests cast a fresh light on officials' explanations of the likely range of motives for Sarsenbayev's murder: business, personal and what they coyly term "extremism". Mukhamedzhanov's deputy, Kalmukhanbet Kasymov had suggested that "the murder of a person in order to destabilise the situation in our country" could not be ruled out. Mukhamedzhanov himself, after questioning the suspects, <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> that the five men accused of committing the murder were each paid $25,000. </p> <p>The short statement of Nursultan Nazarbayev, broadcast by Khabar TV on 21 February, pledged that whoever is behind the crime would be brought to justice. The <a href="" target="_blank">president</a> drew a political message from the incident: "The cruel murders of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, Baurzhan Baibosyn and Vasily Zhuravliov are primarily, of course, a dreadful loss for their near and dear &#133; I consider that a challenge to the whole of society and to the authorities standing behind this. This is a challenge to the image of our country. The criminals wanted to sow fear and mistrust between people. Someone strongly dislikes the peace, order and stability in our native home. Irrespective of who stands behind this crime and of who is the executor, who is the organiser and who is the contractor of these murders, they will all stand before a court and will receive the most severe punishment." </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="" alt="Kazakhstan funeral procession" border="0" /><span class="image_caption">The funeral procession near<br /> the Academy of Sciences.<br /> &copy; Joanna Lillis </span> </div><p>The short-term <a href="" target="_blank">political fallout</a> continued with the resignation, on 22 February, of the head of the KNB, Nartay Dutbayev. Dutbayev told the press: "As you know, during the criminal investigation into the murder of Sarsenbayev and others, a group of staff members from the Arystan service of the KNB was exposed which &#150; betraying the interests of their service (and) of the people &#150; had entered into a criminal plot and was involved in this appalling murder. In this situation, I do not consider that I have the moral right to head the KNB, and I have submitted my resignation." </p> <p>The murder of a second opposition politician within three months has caused a furore outside as well as within Kazakhstan, and Nazarbayev plainly needs to be seen to be taking action &#150; even to the extent of accepting <a href=",1397,9907255" target="_blank">FBI assistance</a> in the murder inquiry. The arrests, statements and resignations that have followed the 13 February murders not just contrasts with the secrecy that still surrounds Nurkadilov's killing on 15 November, but indicates the Kazakh regime's awareness that the death of opposition politicians is putting its own reputation on the line in the eyes of the world. </p> <p><b>A sleepless protest</b></p> <p>From the moment Sarsenbayev and his colleagues' bodies were found, most members of the Kazakh opposition have been sceptical of the official versions of what might have happened, and consistent in the view that his dissident activities led to his death. </p> <p>These sentiments were vividly on display before Sarsenbayev's funeral at Almaty's Kensay cemetery on 15 February. A 500-strong crowd gathered in grief and protest outside the academy of sciences building, some carrying banners declaring "No to the regime's bloody 'democracy'", "Let us save our country from executioners", and "No to dictatorship and murderers". </p> <p>A succession of speakers &#150; including opposition orators, and the politician's friends and relatives &#150; denounced Sarsenbayev's murder as a political crime. The prominent journalist Sergey Duvanov was one of those who identified a chain of suspicious killings that links Nurkadilov's and Sarsenbayev's deaths to others: <a href="" target="_blank">Askhat Sharipzhanov</a>, a journalist with the opposition <em>Navi</em> (now <em>Mizinov</em>) website, who died in a car accident in 2004 (the very day he had interviewed Nurkadilov and Sarsenbayev); and <a href="" target="_blank">Oksana Nikitina</a>, the 14-year-old daughter of an activist working for opposition presidential candidate <a href="" target="_blank">Zharmakhan Tuyakbai</a>, whose body was found on 20 December 2005 after she had been missing for nearly two months. </p> <p>"People are being killed for their views", Duvanov told the mourners and activists; referring to the size of <a href="" target="_blank">Nazarbayev's</a> electoral victory on 4 December 20o5, he declaimed: "Everyone is afraid to say who is behind it, but I am not afraid: Mr 91%!" </p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Among openDemocracy's articles on the politics of central Asia:</b></p> <p>Nathan Hamm, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2511">Andijan and after: what future for Uzbekistan? </a>"<br /> (May 2005) </p> <p>Deniz Kandiyoti, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2527">Andijan: prelude to a massacre</a>" (May 2005) </p> <p>David Coombes, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2601">A different kind of revolution in Kyrgyzstan</a>" <br />(June 2005) </p><p>Anora Mahmudova, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2703">Uzbekistan's window of opportunity</a>"<br /> (July 2005) </p> <p>Hamish Nixon, "<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2831">Afghanistan's election world</a>"<br /> (September 2005)</p> <p></p><p>If this material engages you, please consider commenting on it in our <a href="">forums</a> &#150; and supporting <b>openDemocracy<b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue</b></b></p> </div><p><a href="" target="_blank">Sergey Duvanov</a> (himself given a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence in March 2003 for raping a minor, a charge he says was sparked by his criticism of Kazakh officials) voiced a theme that is becoming common among the Kazakh opposition: that the Kazakh authorities are allowing "terror" to reign. The Communist Party leader, Serikbolsyn Abdildin, found himself in unlikely agreement with the liberal-democratic politicians around him: "We have to rebel against this politics of fear, creeping terror and now political extermination."</p> <p>A former prime minister, <a href="" target="_blank">Akezhan Kazhegeldin</a> &#150; who leads the Republican People's Party from his exile and in his absence was sentenced to ten years in prison for corruption &#150; echoed the argument in a statement published on <em>Mizinov</em>: "Terror is the brother of corruption. It is used to settle scores with businessmen who defend their affairs, with journalists who uncover the scale of corruption and with politicians who go into open warfare with the system."</p> <p>Kazhegeldin even compared modern Kazakhstan to the Soviet Union under Stalin: "Altynbek Sarsenbayev was a leader of the generation of 40-year-olds who reached manhood in the years of independence. Ancient logic dictates that he and his colleagues should in time take over the country's driving-seat. However, the authorities are shooting the most worthy people &#150; just as (Soviet-era Kazakh leader) Filipp Goloshchekin did in the 1930s." </p> <p>The information and culture minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev, a former aide to the president and considered close to him, attempted to use a <a href="" target="_blank">1930s</a> analogy against the opposition by warning against jumping to conclusions about responsibility for the murder: "If the opposition hurries to declare a political murder whose every thread leads to the corridors of power, this will be no different from the verdicts of the 'trios' (the closed court of three judges at the Stalinist show trials)."</p> <p>But the opposition's determination to see the truth of the Sarsenayev killing exposed will if anything be spurred by the five KNB officers' arrest. The opposition group <a href="" target="_blank">For A Fair Kazakhstan</a> has already called for a special parliamentary session to debate the murder and questioned Nazarbayev's ability to "(safeguard) people's lives and rights". Kazakhstan's rulers may not yet be sleeping uneasily, but the week since Altynbek Sarsenbayev's killing shows that they can no longer command the automatic consent of their people.</p></div> democracy & power russia & eurasia politics of protest Joanna Lillis Creative Commons normal Wed, 22 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 Joanna Lillis 3293 at Kazakhstan's political landslide <p>The election in Kazakhstan on Sunday 4 December returned the longstanding president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to power in a <a href= target=_blank>landslide</a> victory. The preliminary figures from the central electoral commission released on Monday morning showing him winning 91% of the vote in a turnout of 77%. The two main opposition candidates, Zharmakan Tuyakbai (6.64%) and Alikhan Baimenov (1.65%) were far behind. </p> <p>Polling stations in Kazakhstan&#146;s second city of Almaty &#150; the former capital and an opposition stronghold &#150; were busy on Sunday, as people turned out to vote in large numbers amid a strong but low-key police presence. Sustenance was on hand in the form of snacks laid out around polling stations. &#147;We were told to come, like in the old Soviet times&#148;, said a cake-seller outside polling station Number 53 in <a href= target=_blank>Almaty</a>. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also by Joanna Lillis in openDemocracy:</b></p> <p>&#147;Kazakhstan&#146;s pre-election media war&#148; (<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3023">November 2005</a>)</p> <p></p><p>If you find this material valuable please consider supporting <b>openDemocracy</b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue</p> </div><p>What may have come as a surprise is that Nazarbayev&#146;s victory, though seen as a foregone conclusion, was in the event so overwhelming: most observers had predicted that even his campaign team aimed only for a respectable 65-70%.</p> <p>How then was such a result achieved, and is it legitimate?</p> <p>As Kazakhstan bids for the <a href= target=_blank>OSCE chairmanship</a> in 2009, it is keen to promote a positive international image. Seeking a niche as the most prosperous and democratic country in central Asia, it does not want to blot its copybook with obvious election-day violations such as vote-rigging or ballot-stuffing.</p> <p>The international election observation mission of the OSCE / Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (<a href= target=_blank>ODIHR</a>) did note improvements in the electoral process compared to the 2004 parliamentary elections, but its head Audrey Glover told a news conference in the capital, Astana, on Monday that &#147;the Kazakh authorities have not been able to provide equal opportunities for all candidates during the holding of the election campaign.&#148; </p> <p>Meanwhile, <a href= target=_blank>Zharmakhan Tuyakbai&#146;s</a> campaign team reported a string of violations on election day: the inclusion of dead people on voter lists while eligible voters were missing, and voters being encouraged to make their decision electronically rather than afforded their right to choose a paper ballot. </p> <p><b>A president and his people</b></p> <p>There is no doubt that Nursultan Nazarbayev enjoys huge popularity in this central Asian state of 15 million people. This is largely due to the performance of the economy, which has been growing at an average annual rate of 10% since 2000 &#150; boosted by Kazakhstan&#146;s significant <a href= target=_blank>oil reserves</a>.</p> <p>Kazakh voters contrast their own relative prosperity and stability with the acute problems in impoverished neighbouring states such as <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2527">Uzbekistan</a>, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Daniyar Khaysarov, enjoying the winter sunshine on a bench in the centre of Almaty, praised Nazarbayev&#146;s economic performance and said he was about to cast his vote for the president: &#147;He has raised the country to such a level. There is no other candidate like him. We know what the country was like before.&#148;</p> <p>Hatip Atkeltiruly, an ethnic Kazakh who migrated from Iran to the Caspian port city of Aktau, said that economic development was an important factor in persuading him to vote for Nazarbayev: &#147;The economy is developing well and policies should not be changed until we reach a higher level of economic development.&#148; He also praised the president for &#147;forging good relations with other countries&#148;, indicating that Nazarbayev&#146;s attempts to project himself as a world statesman are scoring some successes &#150; at least at home. </p> <p>Tilekzhan Bisembayev, drinking beer in the centre of Almaty, said that Nazarbayev &#147;was the best candidate&#148; and added that the other candidates had failed to offer convincing programmes. This very awareness of opposition to the president reinforces the government&#146;s claim that the political climate in Kazakhstan is pluralist. </p> <p>But in the eyes of critics, the notion of an open political argument is deceptive. The government has resorted to some <a href= target=_blank>subtle means</a> to ensure that voters make the correct choice. Opposition candidates complained of harassment throughout the campaign; a leading dissident, <a href= target=_blank>Zamanbek Nurkadilov</a>, was found dead in suspicious and still unexplained circumstances; and opposition newspapers were seized. The broadcast media focused heavily on Nazarbayev during the campaign, reserving little airtime for other candidates &#150; and coverage was highly <a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=3023">selective</a> in content and style. </p> <p>Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests that employers put pressure on their workers to vote for Nazarbayev; some hospital staff were even told to promote Nazarbayev as they examined their patients. This <a href= target=_blank>over-zealous</a> approach helped give the president a scale of victory that his best advisers may not have wanted.</p> <p>Kazakh officials have encouraged the view that their country is heading for full democracy, but that western experience shows this to be a slow process that may take many years to achieve, with problems along the way. This view finds an echo among sections of the electorate who blame over-zealous officials &#150; and <a href= target=_blank>Nazarbayev&#146;s family</a> members &#150; for corruption, absolving the president himself. </p> <p><b>The other Kazakhstan</b></p> <p>The other four presidential candidates trailed far behind the incumbent: Tuyakbay, a former state prosecutor representing the opposition coalition For a Fair Kazakhstan; <a href= target=_blank>Alikhan Baimenov</a>, leader of the <em>Ak Zhol</em> (Bright Path) party; Yerasyl Abilkasymov, a communist, judged to have won 0.38% in preliminary results; and <a href= target=_blank>Mels Eleusizov</a>, an environmentalist from the <em>Tabighat</em> (Nature) movement, who received 0.32%. </p> <p>Some of those voting for <a href= target=_blank>opposition candidates</a> were happy to discuss their motives, though not to give their names. A middle-aged couple said that they had both voted for Tuyakbai, saying that a strong economy was not enough. &#147;We want something to change as regards internal freedom &#150; the chance to think and talk freely&#148;, said the woman.</p> <p>&#147;I voted for Baimenov&#148;, said an interpreter walking in the park with his wife and child. &#147;My logic was to try not to vote for Nazarbayev. That is not necessarily because I don&#146;t want to, but because it would be good to depart from the kind of tradition where the result is 80-90% (for the winner). It is not so much that I am against Nazarbayev or because I am for Baimenov specifically.&#148; </p> <p>The preliminary finding of the OSCE/ODIHR issued on <a href= target=_blank>4 December</a> comments that &#147;(visually), the campaign was dominated throughout the country by billboards, banners and posters of the President&#148; and noted &#147;detentions of campaign staff while handing out materials or attempting to contact voters.&#148; Kazakhstan today is more democratic than it was in Soviet times, and more democratic than its neighbours; but it is still a country where the president can be awarded over 90% of the vote. </p> </div></p> democracy & power russia & eurasia politics of protest Joanna Lillis Creative Commons normal Tue, 06 Dec 2005 00:00:00 +0000 Joanna Lillis 3096 at Kazakhstan's pre-election media war <p>The wave of revolutions across post-Soviet states in 2003-05 &#150; from Georgia through Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan &#150; has understandably made many leaders in the region nervous. It has also given rulers like Kazakhstan&#146;s president since 1991, <a href= target=_blank>Nursultan Nazarbayev</a>, ideas about how to avert a similar calamity in his vast central-Asian fiefdom. As Kazakhstan faces presidential elections on 4 December, the <a href= target=_blank>Astana</a> authorities are making strenuous efforts to avoid the fate of Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma and Askar Akayev. </p> <p>The most recent pre-election incident is also the most worrying: the murder on 12 November in the old capital Almaty of former minister for emergencies turned political dissident (and advocate of the group For a Fair Kazakhstan), <a href= target=_blank>Zamanbek Nurkadilov</a>. If it is not yet clear whether the killing has a political dimension, it adds to the sense of unease already generated by the Kazakh regime&#146;s strenuous efforts to prevent the election becoming an opportunity for real change in the country. <div><div class="pull_quote_article"><p><b>Also in openDemocracy on the politics of central Asia:</b></p> <p>Nathan Hamm, &#147;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2511">Andijan and after: what future for Uzbekistan?</a>&#148; (May 2005) </p> <p>Deniz Kandiyoti, &#147;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2527">Andijan: prelude to a massacre</a>&#148; (May 2005) </p> <p> David Coombes, &#147;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2601">A different kind of revolution in Kyrgyzstan</a>&#148; (June 2005) </p> <p> Anora Mahmudova, &#147;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2703">Uzbekistan&#146;s window of opportunity</a>&#148; (July 2005) </p> <p> Hamish Nixson, &#147;<a href="/articles/View.jsp?id=2831">Afghanistan&#146;s election world</a>&#148; (September 2005)</p> <p>If you find this material valuable please consider supporting <b>openDemocracy</b> by sending us a <a href="/registration2/donate.jsp">donation</a> so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue</p> </div><p><b>The media battlefield </b></p> <p><a href= target=_blank>Kazakhstan</a>, the largest of the central Asian states impelled into independence by the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, is an authoritarian state tempered by a degree of openness and diversity: opposition newspapers, and the existence of a Russian minority numbering around 5 million (in a population of 15 million), creates space for dialogue and criticism absent in neighbouring Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. </p> <p>But as the elections approach the Kazakh government&#146;s political hegemony has to be won rather than taken for granted, and it is taking no chances (even to the extent of responding to &#147;insults&#148; from foreign comedians like <a href= target=_blank>Sacha Baron Cohen</a>). The main TV channels have been hammering the message that revolution in other post-Soviet states means social chaos and economic collapse. The clips are accompanied by a slogan cleverly attuned to both Kazakh and Russian audiences: &#147;This does not suit us&#148; for Kazakh-speakers, and &#147;We are superior to this&#148; for Russian-speakers. </p> <p>This is only one skirmish in a wider media war against the threat of a Georgia (rose), Ukraine (orange) or Kyrgyz (yellow) &#147;colour revolution&#148;. Every evening the message is insistently conveyed: the state-owned Khabar TV devoted most of one weekly news programme to the topic, and its <em>Zheti Kun</em> documentary programme spent almost an hour &#147;revealing&#148; the fruits of revolution in the three countries to be poverty, crime and political instability.</p> <p>The potency of the message is that it draws on elements of a post-revolution reality that western governments and media &#150; as Anatol Lieven has recently pointed out in the <em>International Herald Tribune</em> &#150; routinely ignore (see &#147;<a href= target=_blank>Where have all the revolutions gone?</a>&#148;, 28 October 2005). There is little doubt too that it finds a welcome reception among many Kazakh citizens. The problem is that it is unrelentingly one-sided and refuses to offer the viewers the objective information that could allow them to form their own conclusions. </p> <p><b>A space of freedom </b></p> <p>At the same time, Kazakhstan does offer more scope for expressing <a href= target=_blank>opposition</a> views than its Uzbek, Turkmen and Tajik neighbours to the south. The print media presents a diverse range of views including many critical of the government. Yet this freedom is <a href= target=_blank>qualified</a> by periodic legal manoeuvres to censor, halt distribution or even close the opposition press. One publisher&#146;s refusal in September to print six opposition-minded newspapers &#150; though any political motive was vigorously denied &#150; was only halted after journalists went on hunger strike and an alternative publisher was found.</p> <p><a href= target=_blank>Gulzhan Yergaliyeva</a>, editor of <em>Svoboda Slova</em>, told the OSCE central Asian media conference in Almaty on <a href= target=_blank>13 October</a> that the six newspapers concerned had been harassed for several months: their distribution stopped by traffic police, held up at railway stations, and &#150; if they managed to reach the point of sale &#150; having their vendors intimidated by state security officials and &#147;persuaded&#148; not to offer them to customers. </p> <p>The harassment continues. An edition of <em>Svoboda Slova</em>, in which it reported the business interests of one of the president&#146;s daughters, <a href= target=_blank>Aliya</a>, was seized, and a court ruled that the <em>Juma Times</em>&#146;s 3 November edition had insulted the honour and dignity of the president &#150; an offence in Kazakh law. This was the second time that editions of these newspapers had been confiscated since the beginning of October. Meanwhile, <em>Soz</em> reported on 11 November that 25,000 copies of the <em>Epokha</em> and <em>Nagyz Ak Zhol</em> newspapers had mysteriously &#147;disappeared&#148; from a train taking them to the west of the country. The newspaper reported that railway staff had said the newspapers had been &#147;thrown out of the carriage, and part of the consignment had been &#133; burnt&#148;.</p> <p><b>Kazakhs&#146; cyber-resistance</b></p> <p>The amorphous nature of the internet makes it more difficult for the authorities to control &#150; a lifeline for brave citizens in the more repressive central-Asian states, but valuable too for opposition and independent-minded Kazakh journalists. But the very <a href= target=_blank>freedoms</a> of the net make the Kazakh government determined to employ ever more sophisticated methods to limit its power and reach. At the same OSCE media forum, Yuriy Mizinov of the well-known Kazakh opposition site Navigator, detailed some of these: blocking sites, slowing access to them, hacking them and manipulating domain names. </p> <p>The latest state tool, said Mizinov, is patents. A recent case was launched charging Navigator with stealing the name it has been using for several years. The site countered by moving to a <a href= target=_blank>new address</a> outside the .kz domain, but Mizinov has since been forced by the courts to give up the Navi / Navigator element of its domain name altogether (in Cyrillic or Latin alike) and has been obliged to move <a href= target=_blank>yet again</a>. Yuriy Mizinov predicts that moves outside the .kz domain will become more frequent as the authorities seek to enforce tight control over it. </p> <p>The deputy media minister <a href= target=_blank>Ardak Doszhan</a> told the OSCE conference that no such methods were to his knowledge employed by the authorities. </p> <p><b>The colours of Kazakhstan</b></p> <p>Kazakhstan&#146;s constitution, media law and electoral legislation <a href= target=_blank>formally</a> set out equal access to the media for election candidates. But in practice, opposition candidates&#146; access to the broadcast media is proving to be extremely limited. In recent days, the controversial CIS Election Monitoring Organisation (<a href= target=_blank>CIS-EMO</a>) has expressed concern about TV reporting of the election; its observer Stepan Novoselchan was quoted in <em>Soz</em> as telling a news conference on 11 November: &#147;I am extremely surprised at the position adopted by TV channels, which are giving the majority of their airtime to one candidate &#150; Nursultan Nazarbayev.&#148; </p> <p>The death of <a href= target=_blank>Zamanbek Nurkadilov</a> and the restrictions on Kazakh media indicate that Kazakh citizens face major challenges as the presidential election approaches. Nursultan Nazarbayev may care about his image in the eyes of the world, but current evidence suggests that he and the government he leads care more about keeping hold of power than seeing Kazakhstan move towards genuine democracy. </p> </div></p> democracy & power russia & eurasia politics of protest Joanna Lillis Original Copyright Mon, 14 Nov 2005 00:00:00 +0000 Joanna Lillis 3023 at