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Kazakhstan: Nazarbaeva Bids To Unite Pro-Presidential Forces

  • Bruce Pannier --> Darigha Nazarbaeva at an Asar party meeting in November (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, June 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The eldest daughter of Kazakhstan's president has called for a consolidation of pro-presidential forces, telling party colleagues on June 19 that it is time to unite the president's backers into a single political party.

Talk in Kazakhstan for several months has been that Darigha and her father, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, have experienced a falling-out. But when Darigha made her call for groups supporting the president to unite, she said the aim was "to become genuine support for our common leader -- Nursultan Nazarbaev -- and to provide a dignified life to all Kazakh citizens."
"I think this speech was directed and first and foremost at the head of state -- and not, let's say, at the people of Kazakhstan." -- Satpaev

Nazarbaeva's connection to the state media agency Khabar and her opposition to proposed amendments to the media law may have played some part in her comments. Parliament is currently debating the controversial amendments, which have been criticized by international free-press groups.

Raising Her Profile

Independent Kazakh political analyst Dosym Satpaev argues that the likely passage of the media amendments represents a defeat for Darigha, who is a member of parliament, and her 2 1/2-year-old Asar (All Together) party. On the other hand, he says passage would signal a victory for Information and Culture Minister Ermukhammet Ertisbaev, once the acting chairman of the country's ruling party.

"The position of Darigha Nazarbaeva and her group [Asar] has weakened," Satpaev says. "This is of course due to her defeat in the battle with the information and culture minister over amendments to legislation regulating the media. It happens that [Nazarbaeva's] speech was to a certain degree an attempt to give the government food for thought."

Asylbek Kozhakmetov, leader of the unregistered opposition party Alga, agrees. He thinks Nazarbaeva's speech could be an attempt to regain personal and political influence after a bruising six months.

"Over the last half year, relations between Darigha Nursultan Kizi [Nazarbaeva] and Nursultan Abishevich [Nazarbaev] are not good," Kozhakmetov says. "She's sort of under pressure now -- I mean [regarding] the situation around Khabar and the new draft legislation on media. This is her answer, her political response, to that situation. She calls for being united, for being together -- which might be a way to temper pressure from the president's office."

Serious Offer?

There are 12 registered political parties in Kazakhstan -- nine of them are firmly inside the presidential camp. It is unclear how many might sign on to a project to unite them formally. The ruling Otan party is a question, in particular, as it already enjoys a huge majority in both houses of the Kazakh parliament and its membership is more than twice that of any other party. Some of Otan's senior members might also harbor presidential ambitions.

Has a rift opened between father and daughter? (RFE/RL)

Some observers in Kazakhstan and abroad think Nazarbaeva has political ambitions of her own, and might be eying a run at the presidency in 2013, when her father's current term expires.

After all, Nazarbaeva argued on June 19 that her vision of a united party could rule virtually unrivaled "for the next 50 years." Analyst Satpaev notes that Nazarbaeva has made such calls before -- but she has never elaborated on them to such an extent.

The leader of the pro-presidential Civic Party, Azat Peruashev, has expressed interest in Nazarbaeva's overture. But he also says any decision by his party on such a union would have to made at a party congress.

"The statement by Darigha Nursultan Kizi was no accident," Peruashev tells RFE/RL. "If we officially get a recommendation, we will have to discuss it. But under the [election] law, this kind of decision may only be made by an all-party congress."

A parliamentarian from the ruling Otan party, Serik Abdrakhmanov, suggests that Nazarbaeva's statement is actually part of preparations for early parliamentary elections.

"Possibly next year, elections to the Mazhilis [the lower house of parliament] will be held by party list," Abdrakhmanov says. "There might be more seats in the parliament. Maybe [Darigha's statement] was made with that in mind."

'Dear Father...'

But analyst Satpaev argues that -- in the end -- the message was directed at her father, the president. "I think this speech was directed and first and foremost at the head of state -- and not, let's say, at the people of Kazakhstan," he says.

If nothing else, Nazarbaeva's speech served notice to political parties and the Kazakh public that she has no intention of a quiet exit from political life -- despite setbacks for her powerful media group and her Asar party.

(Merhat Sharipzhan of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)
Media In Central Asia

Ukrainian journalists trying to cover Kazakhstan's presidential election being expelled from the country in December 2005

MUZZLED MEDIA: Below is a brief overview of key media issues in each of the five Central Asian countries. (prepared by Daniel Kimmage)

Although Kazakhstan has seen the harassment of journalists and media outlets that fall afoul of the state, the larger problem is one of access -- both to sensitive information and to the larger public.
Asked whether freedom of the press exists in Kazakhstan, Darigha Nazarbaeva -- the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and a media magnate in her own right -- said recently that one need walk only five minutes in Almaty to find a publication that elaborates "what a bad president we have and how I've monopolized the entire press." And she's right -- an opposition press exists.
But national television, with its enormous potential to shape popular opinion, remains either state-controlled or subordinate to allied interests -- as witnessed by a strict taboo on investigations of alleged corruption in the Nazarbaev family.

Nowhere in Central Asia has the fate of the media reflected political upheaval as strikingly as in Kyrgyzstan of late. The true fall of President Askar Akaev in March 2005 took place not when he fled the seat of government before an advancing crowd, but when opposition leaders later made an impromptu appearance on state television. A heady period ensued, with revelations of Akaev-era skullduggery suddenly front and center in national media. But the honeymoon proved short-lived.
A post-Akaev political morass deepened through 2005 and early 2006 amid high-profile contract killings and frustrated expectations of political and economic reform. And the media environment followed suit, with initial gains eroded by renewed state interference in television, salaried partisanship in the print media, and the rising influence of organized-crime groups.

Tajikistan's media environment has seen no such political upheavals. President Imomali Rakhmonov could rule through 2020, as long as he continues to secure reelection. He has consolidated his power in recent years -- seemingly with that aim in mind.
The media have also felt the consequences. As the country nears the end of its first decade since the 1992-97 civil war, the state maintains a firm grip national television and politically relevant print outlets. Meanwhile, a handful of tiny independent newspapers fight an increasingly uphill battle for access to printing facilities and readers.

The case of Turkmenistan speaks eloquently of a total stifling of media under blanket state control. News outlets trumpet the cult of President Saparmurat Niyzov and tout the purported glories of Turkmenistan's golden age under his rule. This reduces them to little more than a peephole on an otherwise sealed regime.
The media unfailingly broadcast Niyazov's pronouncements and feast on the latest official to fall from grace. On April 24, for example, former Prosecutor-General Gurbanbibi Atajanov, who recently stepped down after a decade of dispatching onetime colleagues to unenviable fates, begged for mercy on the evening news as the president vilified her for corruption. Those same media outlets ignore whatever fails to fit the script of the decreed golden age.

President Islam Karimov insists that Uzbekistan's media are at war. What foreign media reported as evidence of a massacre in Andijon in May 2005, the president and officials have described as an "information attack" intended to undermine Uzbekistan's stability and sovereignty. Print and broadcast outlets, controlled either directly or indirectly by the state, are required to fight off this alleged assault by detailing extremist threats and foreign plots. They are also tasked with explaining the country's shift of geopolitical allegiance to Russia and China.
What space remains goes to a sanitized portrayal of Uzbek reality, with some warts left in -- local corruption and economic difficulties -- to lend credence to the grand official narrative espoused by slogans such as "Uzbekistan, a country with a great future."

Of Related Interest:

Turkmenistan: RFE/RL Journalists Given 15-Day Sentence

Uzbekistan: New Media Resolution Tightens The Screws

Central Asia: Internet Fills Void Left By Media On Religious Freedom Issues

Central Asia: RFE/RL Speaks With Media Monitor About Press Freedom

THE COMPLETE STORY: To view an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of media-related stories, click here.

For regular news and analysis on media issues throughout RFE/RL's broadcast area by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Media Matters."