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Parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan are scheduled for October, and political groups are already active. RFE/RL takes a look at the recent changes in the Kazakh political landscape as parties and candidates set their sights on the vote.
Prague, 28 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- There is lots of activity in Kazakhstan these days, the kind that says elections are coming soon.
Where not so long ago there were seven parties, there are nine now and another trying to get registered before this October's parliamentary elections. One of the original seven also managed to attract a potential 27,000 new supporters on 24 April.
And the accusations of dirty tricks have already started.
A little more than a year ago, there were 19 registered political parties in Kazakhstan. But a new election law that came into effect on 19 July 2002, set new criteria for parties. The most challenging of the new rules stipulates that parties must present the Justice Ministry with the signatures of 50,000 members, whereas 3,000 signatures had been sufficient in the past.
On 15 April 2003, the Justice Ministry announced that just seven of the 19 parties had met the requirements to be registered.
One of those parties was the Patriots' Party of Kazakhstan, which claims to have 132,000 members. At least it had that many members until 24 April, when the party held its fifth congress and representatives from the Union of (Military) Officers attended. The former chairman of the union, retired General Aitkali Esenkulov, addressed the congress. “The fact is that the charter of our union and that of the Patriots' Party coincide in many respects,” Esenkulov said. “All of us are thinking of, and are ready to work for, Kazakhstan and for Kazakhs.”
The Union of Officers, which says it has 27,000 members, threw its support behind the Patriots' Party.
Patriots' Party leader Gani Kasymov, once a presidential candidate, seized the moment, lamenting the plight of veterans of the Kazakh military. "Nobody was taking care of their problems except the Patriots' Party, and [the Union of Officers] realized that," he said. "I'm speaking about tens of thousands of people. In every region, in every party branch, our people are working with them."
If the fortunes of the Patriots' Party are rising, those of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party (DVK) seem to be sinking fast.
The DVK started as an opposition movement. Members of parliament and former government officials formed the DVK in November 2002. By spring 2003, two of the movement's leaders were in jail, having been found guilty of abuses they committed while serving as officials in the government prior to their opposition activities.
Remaining DVK leaders held a congress on 17 February and declared that the movement was now a political party. Now, the DVK claims to have more than 60,000 members and says it has already handed in all the required documents to the Justice Ministry.
On 26 April, however, Kazakhstan's weekly newspaper "Ekpress-K" reported that some of the signatures on the DVK's list of members belong to ineligible voters and that others belong to people who have been dead for 10 years. The DVK says the Justice Ministry is checking the irregularities and is in the process of validating the signatures.
Talgat Manaev, who works on the Justice Ministry's registration committee, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that the DVK is incorrect, though he was aware there could be a problem. "We are not involved in any investigation," he said. "We only conduct the registration process. We received a couple of telegrams on this issue and have officially asked the prosecutor-general to investigate this."
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service called the Prosecutor-General's Office and was told that the office has not received anything on the matter from the Justice Ministry.
The prosecutor-general of the southwestern Magystau Province, Toizhan Muratov, said the DVK's activities are being investigated there, following a tip. "We're checking the data. We haven't finished checking yet. We have a suspicion. We started an investigation after an individual wrote to us about irregularities," Muratov said.
Batyrkhan Darimbet, a member of the DVK's political council, was in Mangystau to look for himself and said: "I just came from Mangystau Province on [26 April]. What I learned, what I saw there, is that local authorities are putting pressure on members of our party. I was in several towns. It is the same in all of them. About 10 or 15 days ago, representatives of regional akimiyats [administrative leaders] came to [DVK members] and warned them they will have problems if they continue -- as these representatives said -- 'being members of an anti-[President Nursultan] Nazarbaev party.' They even threatened [DVK members], saying they could be convicted as enemies of the nation. And there are many people who were frightened and left the party."
Other opposition groups have made similar charges ahead of past elections.
The Justice Ministry has registered two new parties since last April -- Rukhaniyat (Spirituality) in late October, and Asar (All Together) in late December. These two parties have an advantage the DVK does not.
Rukhaniyat's chairwoman is Altynshash Jaganova, a well-known writer and worker in state television dating back to Kazakhstan's days as a Soviet republic. She and her party are almost wholly supportive of the policies of President Nazarbaev.
Darigha Nazarbaeva leads the other party, Asar. Nazarbaeva is the head of Kazakhstan's largest media-holding company, Khabar, and the eldest daughter of the Kazakh president.
(Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)