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KAZAKHSTAN: Interview with new opposition leader

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Ayslbek Kozhakhmetov, DCK leader, says official recognition of his party is good for democracy in Kazakhstan

ALMATY, 18 May 2004 (IRIN) - Earlier this month a new opposition party, "Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan" (DCK), that grew out of Kazakhstan's leading opposition movement, received official recognition. Now the DCK is legal, it could offer a serious challenge to President Nursultan Nazarbayev - who has ruled unopposed since independence in 1991 - in a landmark national election sceduled for later this year. The DCK is the 10th officially registered political party in Kazakhstan, five of which support Nazarbayev.

The DCK seeks to curtail presidential powers and establish a parliamentary democracy. IRIN spoke to DCK party leader, Asylbek Kozhakhmetov. He said his party's registration was a big step forward for democracy, effectively legitimising a genuine opposition in the vast, mineral-rich republic for the first time.

QUESTION: Were you surprised that your party obtained official recognition and was registered?

ANSWER: I would not say it was a surprise. It was rather unexpected but we saw it as a test of democracy in Kazakhstan. We collected 86,000 membership applications, so there is plenty of support for DCK out there.

Q: Is the registration of DCK a positive thing for Kazakh democracy?

A:It is quite simply a huge step. A moral barrier has been removed. Now people see that the opposition is legal and therefore to be against the president is not a crime. It is very good. But it is not enough just to force out fear. People should be active, join parties, attend meetings, vote, and convince others to oppose injustice and to write to newspapers.

Q: Where is your support base?

A: We are constantly asked this question. First of all, those who feel injustice and those who are against it should vote for us. No matter whether a person is a pensioner, a state employee or unemployed. Those who think that social benefits received from the government must be distributed more equally will vote for us. Our people are also those who sympathize with [former DCK leader, given a seven year sentence for corruption in 2002] Galymjan Jakiyanov, who know that what has been done to him is absolutely immoral, illegal and undemocratic. These are people who are against [former DCK leader given a six year sentence for illegal business dealing, pardoned on condition he leave politics] Mukhtar Ablyazov and Sergey Duvanov [investigative journalist convicted of raping a minor, a case that supporters say was political] being imprisoned.

To speak more particularly about the structure of the DCK, I can point out that 60 percent of DCK members are women. Contrary to expectations, most of our members are aged between 40 and 60, though we have also a sufficient number of young people under 30 as well as people over 60.

Q: Does DCK receive any foreign financing or support from other sources?

A: According to the law, foreign sources cannot finance Kazakh political parties. We are a law-abiding party. We have domestic sources of financial support - big businessmen, who wish to remain anonymous. The reason for this is that our country is not democratic. I will explain. It is quite possible that tomorrow the companies of businessmen who have financed an opposition party will be subjected to tax inspections, which, in the long run, will necessarily make them stop their activities. Even if nothing wrong can be found in their companies, a year of tax inspections will bankrupt a successful enterprise.

We also get support from ordinary citizens, who do their best to make contributions. But again I would like to say that even though they make small contributions, people are afraid of being identified. People should not be afraid to help opposition organisations. Unfortunately, the authorities have managed to introduce a stereotype into the population that the opposition is bad and the authority is good.

Q: Living standards in Kazakhstan, unlike other republics of Central Asia, are on the rise. How will you appeal to the electorate against such a background? Why should they vote against the party in power, when economic improvements are obvious?

A: There is injustice everywhere in our country. Our GDP has increased as well as the annual budget, but how it is being distributed? Twenty percent of the gross revenue is abroad, in offshore zones. This money could be used to construct schools, raise pensions and build roads. Why can some people buy a plane today in Kazakhstan while others cannot afford to use even
public transport? It is not normal.

Why should we compare ourselves with other Central Asian countries, with Uzbekistan and, for instance, with Kyrgyzstan, whose situations are much worse?

We would like to compare ourselves with Russia and Eastern Europe, where it is not possible to say that they have more riches than we do, or their educational and cultural levels are higher than ours, but they live better.

Kazakhstan's citizens deserve this. Besides, unlike neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, our geographical position is more favourable; we have huge deposits of minerals, a stable economy and a powerful banking system.

Q: Do you expect the forthcoming elections to be free and fair? For example, what chance will your party have when the majority of the mass media remains in the hands of the party in power?

A: Certainly, we do not expect this [free and fair elections]. More likely, the future elections will be unfair. And the reason is not only the mass media, though the majority of them are completely pro-presidential. Their activity is absolutely not transparent in spite of the fact that enormous sums are circulating there. Broadcast networks such as "Khabar", "El-Arna" and "Kazakhstan" are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. You, as well as we, do not know who finances them, who owns them. But we guess what their position in the pre-election race will be.

Another issue relates to the election commission. We are not sure that they will work lawfully, fairly and impartially. In respect of observing the election rules, all remains as before - both the judicial and the public prosecutor systems are working against non-ruling party candidates. Conditionally speaking, if I, candidate Kozhakhmetov, asphalt a courtyard, I will be removed from the elections as it will be considered as bribing voters. If this is done by a member of [the ruling] Otan party, nobody will notice. In other words, administrative persecution will be used to the fullest. And in this respect, the elections will not be fair.

However, I hope that now the authorities will act less cynically than earlier, when district heads openly told people to support particular candidates. Certainly, they will continue such actions, but will apply more refined, artful methods. And this, too, is a step towards democracy.


 Theme(s) Democracy
Other recent KAZAKHSTAN reports:

Presidential election fell short of international standards - OSCE,  5/Dec/05

Independent inquiry into death of presidential critic sought,  14/Nov/05

Press freedom deteriorates ahead of presidential election,  25/Oct/05

OSCE to monitor presidential election,  19/Oct/05

OSCE election experts to arrive,  12/Sep/05

Other recent Democracy & Governance reports:

AFGHANISTAN: ADB approves US $55 million for post-conflict country, 23/Dec/05

NEPAL: UN welcomes Maoist statement on aid and development, 23/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: MPs elect president for the lower house, 21/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: Parliament convenes after three decades, 20/Dec/05

AFGHANISTAN: MPs elect upper house president, 20/Dec/05

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