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Central Asia Report: October 31, 2003

31 October 2003, Volume 3, Number 37

KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER ELECTED TO HEAD NEW POLITICAL PARTY. In the city of Almaty on 25 October, which is Kazakhstan's Republic Day, a congress of the social movement Asar (Mutual Help) transformed itself into a political party and unanimously elected Dariga Nazarbaeva, eldest daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the party's leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003). The move inevitably triggered fresh questions about Nazarbaeva's long-term political ambitions. Those questions were sharpened by the spectacle of the recent presidential election in Azerbaijan, where the political machine created by veteran President Heidar Aliyev, backed by a loyal security apparatus, has successfully installed his son Ilham to replace him. It was striking how many commentators described Ilham Aliyev's elevation to the presidency as the first post-Soviet dynastic succession, evidently taking it for granted that more will follow. Thus for Kazakhstan, since Nazarbaeva's formal entry into the political arena certainly did not happen without her father's tacit support, the $64,000 question is whether the launch of the Asar party represents step one of the regime's own strategy for an eventual dynastic succession.

Asar was founded by Nazarbaeva as a social movement in April 2003. It has 16 offices in Kazakhstan's largest cities and members of the movement have been traveling around the country for the last two months acquainting people with its platform. Some 1,300 delegates attended the congress that changed it into a political party, approving its charter and by-laws and adopting a party platform, Interfax reported on 25 October. Nazarbaeva said her new role as the Asar party's chairwoman would not interfere with her current jobs heading the Khabar state news agency and the Congress of Kazakh Journalists, and she would occupy all three posts simultaneously. The congress also elected a seven-person leadership council. Among its members are Raushan Sarsenbaeva, head of the Republican Association of Businesswomen; political scientist Yerlan Karin; and Aidar Zhumabaev, director of the Kazakh branch of the Mir television and radio company, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev's said the party would be financed by a combination of her own personal income, political donations, and party membership fees.

Asar member Dulat Abish told RFE/RL on 25 October: "The party will serve the masses, especially the common people. The party declared that it would devote special attention to the social problems on the common people." Its manifesto says it is a centrist party that believes in moderation, dialogue, and "pragmatism." It calls for a democratic Kazakhstan that balances modernization with respect for historical values and national traditions. "That is how President Nursultan Nazarbaev is leading the country. Along the way we must give him strong political support. To this end it is necessary to unite all forces that are not afraid to take responsibility for the country's future," the manifesto said. ITAR-TASS commented that Asar's platform was identical to the strategies contained in the "Kazakhstan-2030" program adopted by the president several years ago. Nazarbaeva told the congress that Asar had hard work ahead of it, "as positive changes do not take place at once." She added that one had to go into politics "with an open heart and clean hands."

The manifesto's commitment to unite the country's patriotic forces raises the issue of Asar's relationship to Kazakhstan's pro-presidential parties, as well as its stance towards the opposition. At a press conference following the congress, Nazarbaeva was at pains to explain that Asar would stand apart from other loyalist parties. It would not "start setting up blocs for the sake of elections in order to survive and help one another, no," she said according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. She acknowledged that pro-presidential parties were Asar's natural political allies, yet assured journalists that Asar would vigorously compete against them in the elections to the Mazhlis (lower house of parliament) in October 2004.

Incidentally, she was running a little ahead of herself with that last statement. Although Nazarbaeva began saying last month that the Asar movement would become a political party in time to field candidates in next year's parliamentary elections, the party must now prove it has 50,000 members from around the country in order to be eligible for registration with the Ministry of Justice. Since that arduous requirement was enacted in 2002, many parties far more established that Asar have failed to secure registration and been forced to disband. Therefore some commentators might raise their eyebrows slightly at Nazarbaeva's obvious assurance that registration will not be a problem. Moreover, the Justice Ministry will have to rush through registration pretty smartly. As Murat Auezov, co-founder of Asar, reminded RFE/RL on 25 October: "According to the law, if a party is not registered one year before elections it cannot take part in parliamentary elections with the status of a party. It [the party] does not have that right, or that possibility." Consequently Auezov said he did not see how Asar could legally participate in elections next October, although his pessimism was apparently not shared by the party's chairwoman.

Pro-presidential parties lined up to echo the assertion that Asar was a competitor. Azat Peruashev, head of the Civic Party of Kazakhstan (CPK), told a press conference on 29 October that his party regarded Asar as a rival yet welcomed its emergence on the political scene because "we regard rivalry as a normal process," Interfax reported. It was unclear what Asar and the CPK might disagree about, especially after Peruashev noted that his party looked to the president (and his Kazakhstan-2030 strategy) for ideological direction. Meanwhile, presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbaev, who attended Asar's constituent congress, also said on behalf of the authorities that "we will have to reckon with it" as a new political force. Nevertheless he defended Nazarbaeva's decision to form a party as "a very brave and courageous step," and implied that to some extent she was forced into it. "There were a lot of attacks [in the press] on Dariga. I have a feeling that they even got her involved political activity, so she picked up the gauntlet," Yertysbaev said as quoted by Interfax-Kazakhstan on 25 October.

As for her attitude towards the government's opponents, Nazarbaeva rather nonplussed journalists on 25 October by saying that it was "most favorable." She elaborated that the opposition "helps improve society and never allows the present authorities to relax," ITAR-TASS reported. She added that she welcomed criticism: "It's good because it means you're as a person who is capable of doing something.... That means they are afraid of you, it means that you are a fully developed personality."

But she was scathing in response to claims that she had presidential aspirations herself, and dismissed comparisons with Ilham Aliyev as "invented" and "funny." Serikbolsyn Abdildin, head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, charged on 21 October that the Azerbaijani election had set an example for Nazarbaeva and said the general assumption that she intended to try to succeed her father was fully understandable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). Complaining that this had become "a favorite topic for all journalists," Nazarbaeva retorted on 25 October that "there is no alternative to the president." And she offered her father's opponents some chilling advice, which perhaps offered a truer picture of her appreciation for democracy and the role of the opposition than what had gone before: "[The president's] political opponents should not be spending their financial resources [on presidential election campaigns] over the next 10 years. They will lose. The president himself will decide what will be in 10 years' time," Interfax quoted her as saying. Kazakhstan's next presidential election is scheduled for December 2006.

TAJIKISTAN STRUGGLES WITH TYPHOID. As of 29 October, some 800 people had been hospitalized with typhoid symptoms in the Tajik capital Dushanbe since the beginning of the month. Davron Pirov, chief of the Health Ministry's epidemiological department, told Asia-Plus on 28 October that 373 typhoid cases had been confirmed. Deputy Health Minister Ziyovuddin Afghonov told Interfax the same day that the number of abdominal typhoid patients in the capital was 564. Children make up half of the reported cases in Dushanbe so far. At least one man has died from the disease.

Whatever the exact numbers, the outbreak seems to be the largest to hit Tajikistan in years, prompting the government to apply to the local United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for assistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003). Paul Handley, head of OCHA's Dushanbe office, told IRIN on 24 October that he expected the number of infected patients to go over 1,000.

Nina Kravchenko, chief of the Dushanbe Health Department, denied to journalists on 24 October that the city was experiencing a typhoid epidemic, RFE/RL reported. Three days later the authorities were saying the outbreak had been contained and was subsiding. The number of suspected typhoid patients entering municipal hospitals had fallen from a high of 60 per day last week to about six per day, Asia-Plus reported on 29 October, citing a local doctor. Nevertheless, special isolation hospitals were "bursting to capacity with patients, and municipal health authorities have ordered every available medical facility to find room for new patients," noted in its 21-27 October week-in-review report.

Tajikistan has suffered an outbreak of typhoid fever almost annually for the last six years. In 1997, over a six-month period almost 9,000 people were hospitalized and 95 died, noted on 24 October. An outbreak in 2002 reportedly made over 500 people sick and killed three.

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection, usually of the intestinal tract, and is most commonly transmitted by drinking contaminated water. This month's incident has been blamed by the authorities on a lone individual: "Negligence of the person in charge of disinfecting water with chlorine," according to Interfax on 28 October. A complementary version blames pollution swept by recent rains into the Varzob River, which supplies half the capital's population with water.

A failure to adequately chlorinate the municipal water supply does appear to be the most direct cause behind the outbreak, according to experts, but responsibility for the situation needs to be spread around more widely than scapegoating a single bureaucrat. Both and describe Dushanbe's crumbling water infrastructure with clogged pump stations, cracked pipes allowing sewage into drinking-water supplies, and a total lack of filtration. The authorities have reportedly stinted on purchases of chlorine and either diverted or squandered foreign assistance grants earmarked for this purpose. The typhoid outbreak is especially embarrassing for the government since Dushanbe hosted the International Water Forum at the end of August, at which President Imomali Rakhmonov called for improved management of regional water resources. Moreover, the United Nations declared 2003 the "International Year of Fresh Water" following Rakhmonov's subsequent presentation at the 55th UN General Assembly session in New York.

The Tajik government also deserves blame for withholding information every time a typhoid outbreak occurs, preferring to exacerbate the situation than owning up to it with timely health warnings. Despite some reports that this latest outbreak began in mid-to-late September, according to foreign news sources the Health Ministry waited until the third week of October to mobilize doctors to conduct awareness campaigns in Dushanbe or to issue health advisories over the television and radio, warning residents not to drink unboiled tap water or eat unwashed fruit and to practice personal hygiene. added that health officials reportedly opted not to publicize the outbreak until the Central Asian Games, which Dushanbe hosted until 20 October, had ended.

Meanwhile, Asia-Plus on 29 October cited the opinion of local doctors that an immunization campaign could have prevented the outbreak but the Health Ministry "doesn't have money for purchasing vaccines." A typhoid vaccine shot costs $10-$12 on the black market, the news agency commented.

Typhoid, once infection has taken hold, can be successfully treated with antibiotics. said the average cost of treating a typhoid patient in Tajikistan was approximately $100.