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Kazakhstan: Parliamentary Speaker Bluntly Criticizes Elections, But For What Purpose?

Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the speaker of Kazakhstan's Mazhilis, or lower house of parliament, has harshly criticized recent parliamentary elections in the country. Tuyakbai, who is also the deputy chairman of the ruling Otan (Fatherland) party, described them as a "farce" in a newspaper article. What are the motives behind such blunt language? Otan ended up with more than half of the seats, while Tuyakbai is considered to be a loyal follower of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Prague, 15 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- In an opinion piece published in the Kazakh weekly newspaper "Vremya" yesterday, the speaker of Kazakhstan's lower house of parliament, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, said there is every reason to believe the elections were accompanied by what he called "massive violations of the voters' rights."

Tuyakbai said that, owing to help from the authorities in getting elected, newly elected deputies in parliament should be expected to be compliant over the next five years.

Leaders of Kazakhstan's opposition parties have been quick to praise Tuyakbai's outspokenness.

Abdilddin Serikbolsin, an opposition Communist Party member, spoke to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. "He did the right thing. I support the statement. A person who supports justice should behave like this. And the fact that this statement was made by the chairman of the Mazhilis and one of the leaders of the Otan party is very significant.," Serikbolsin said.

Asylbek Kozhakhmet of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) told Interfax that Tuyakbai had fulfilled his role as parliamentary speaker by voicing his concerns.

DVK member Tolen Tokhtasynov expressed hope that Tuyakbai will cooperate with his party in the future. "We fully agree with everything [Tuyakbai] wrote," he said. "We only hope that he will [continue to] speak up about the situation in the country, about the country's future."

Alikhan Baymenov, co-chairman of the moderate opposition Ak Zhol party, said he welcomes what he called Tuyakbai's civic-minded position, which he says has arisen above narrow party interests.

Tuyakbai himself has not been available for comment, but one of his aides said he plans to hold a press conference on 18 October.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe earlier noted what it referred to as "serious shortcomings" in the election, which gave Otan 42 out of the 77 seats in parliament. The elections were held on 19 September, with a runoff election for 22 seats held on 3 October.

Otan deputy Serik Abdrakhmanov says he does not understand Tuyakbai's motives. "Well, I just returned from Europe. I traveled to Western and Eastern Europe and the local deputies there were highly praising the elections," he said. "I don't understand why our speaker spoke so harshly. I wonder why he kept silent until now? Why didn't our speaker say anything during previous elections? We don't know. Maybe there is now something that pushed him to speak up."

The new Kazakh parliament is due to elect a new speaker later this year. Dosym Satpaev, director of the Almaty-based Assessment Risks Group, told Interfax that Tuyakbai might be upset about the end of his term. He has held the post since 1999.
"In one way, one can see that this is an attempt by Otan to try to co-opt support of Ak Zhol because they want Ak Zhol to work with them. They don't want a real opposition."

Bhavna Dave teaches at the Center for Central Asian Studies at the University of London. She told RF/RL that it is not clear why Tuyakbai spoke out now, but offered one possible explanation: "In one way, one can see that this is an attempt by Otan to try to co-opt support of Ak Zhol because they want Ak Zhol to work with them. They don't want a real opposition. It's also trying to preempt Western criticism by saying, 'See, we are criticizing ourselves.'"

Azimbay Ghaliy, an independent political observer in Astana, holds a similar view. "This is a major crisis. There might be changes," Ghaliy said. "The president might address the Constitutional Court to clarify the situation. If the Constitutional Court officially finds that the elections did not follow democratic norms and Kazakh laws, the president will dissolve the new parliament and will announce new elections. He would then present himself as a democrat."

Nazarbaev dissolved parliament in early 1995 after the Constitutional Court declared the 1994 elections invalid due to irregularities.

After Otan, the pro-presidential election bloc AIST came in second in the September poll with 11 seats. The Asar party led by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, came in third with four seats. The opposition Ak Zhol party and pro-presidential Democratic Party of Kazakhstan each claimed one seat.

Tuyakbai's critical remarks came after the resignation of Grigorii Marchenko, a presidential economic adviser and an Ak Zhol member. Marchenko stepped down on 12 October to protest government decisions that he said were being made for the sake of clan and other special interests.

(Merhat Sharipzhanov, director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, contributed to this report.)

[For more on the Kazakh elections, see RFE/RL's dedicated "Kazakhstan Votes 2004" webpage.]