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Kazakhstan: Nazarbaev Expecting Obedience From Newly Elected Parliament

Kazakhstan's newly elected Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, held its first session yesterday. President Nursultan Nazarbaev addressed the deputies, setting a policy agenda for the next few years. Nazarbaev made it clear what he expects from the Mazhilis in the coming years -- no opposition to his proposed reforms. And the man chosen to be speaker seems ideally suited to implement the president's will. Notably absent from the first session was the Mazhilis's only opposition deputy, who had resigned in protest the day before.

Prague, 4 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- When the Kazakh president addressed the Mazhilis deputies yesterday, he was speaking to, arguably, the most obedient parliament that Kazakhstan has had since its days as a Soviet republic.

More than 50 of the 77 deputies elected to the Mazhilis in September and October are from the ruling Otan party, the party created specifically to get Nazarbaev re-elected as president in 2006. The remaining deputies, with one exception, are also from parties that support the president's policies.

Bhavna Dave is a specialist on Kazakhstan who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She says the Mazhilis may in future prove more challenging to the Kazakh president's reforms than can be imagined now. For the near future, however, she says parliament will be concerned with one issue.

"Certainly, until the presidential election takes place, we are unlikely to see any kind of major effort by the parliament to legislate key social and economic issues, policy issues. It is not at all unlikely that [there would be] amendments to existing laws in the constitution regarding the powers of the president and issues of succession. Obviously, there lots of uncertainties surrounding Nazarbaev's next presidential election bid," Dave said.
"Democracy is not developing in our land. Our laws are not being implemented. And the main reason for this is the lack of the rule of law."

Nazarbaev is currently serving his second term as elected president. Although a two-term limit was removed by parliament in 1998, questions still remain about his eligibility for a third term.

In his remarks to the Mazhilis yesterday, Nazarbaev felt it necessary to explain to the deputies what he wants from them in the coming years. The Kazakh president said he is "convinced" that any confrontation among the branches of state power will only slow the process of reform and hinder the country's prosperity.

Nazarbaev may have wanted to make clear from the start that he would not tolerate any more comments like those from the former speaker of the Mazhilis, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai.

After quitting the Otan party in mid-October, Tuyakbai used his last days as speaker to criticize the elections. He made this comment in Astana on the eve of the first session of the new Mazhilis.

"Democracy is not developing in our land. Our laws are not being implemented. And the main reason for this is the lack of the rule of law. If our laws were respected, if our constitution were respected, the situation would be different. Our leaders, those who are today's officials, are those who most of all disrespect our laws," Tuyakbai said.

In his opening speech to the Mazhilis, Nazarbaev hinted that he wants such talk to cease.

"You have heard and you are hearing all the thoughts and opinions regarding parliamentary elections. You know how they went, and you understand the situation. I believe that from now on, you will be responsible yourselves for your words and deeds," Nazarbaev said.

Nazarbaev also warned business leaders in Kazakhstan to stay out of politics. In a likely reference to Russia's oligarchs, Nazarbaev said some of the business elite in Kazakhstan has been "amassing money and becoming power thirsty." He was probably alluding to Ak Zhol, the only opposition party to win a seat in the Mazhilis and a party led by some of Kazakhstan's most influential business leaders.

Nazarbaev's choice for a new speaker of the Mazhilis seems further proof that the Kazakh president is looking for a parliament guaranteed to support his policies. Ural Mukhamedzhanov has worked in the presidential apparatus and administration for the last 10 year but was a virtual political unknown prior to his nomination.

Some returning deputies pointed this out and have requested time to consider Mukhamedzhanov for the post. Mukhamedzhanov's response to such concerns seemed to validate the view that Nazarbaev selected him based primarily on his loyalty.

"No matter what part of the power structure I work in, or with, I prefer working through discussion and mutual agreement. My nature is such that I don't like clashes and quarrels. But if need be, I will try to be tough," Mukhamedzhanov said.

Analyst Bhavna Dave says Mukhamedzhanov had been mentioned as a possible candidate for Mazhilis speaker.

"I had seen in the Kazakhstani press and the opposition-controlled press his name being mentioned, together with a possible two other names. All three names were mentioned as people who are among the foremost loyal supporters of the president. They can be counted upon to be reliable and basically not to really oppose the presidential policies. Based on these criteria, [Mukhamedzhanov's] choice makes sense," Dave says.

Mukhamedzhanov was elected easily by a vote of 64 to 9, with three deputies being absent.

One of those absent deputies was Ak Zhol member Alikhan Baimenov, the parliament's sole opposition deputy. Baimenov surprised many when he announced just prior to the Mazhilis' first session that he would not sit as a deputy, alleging that the government had rigged the polls to steal the election from the opposition.

"I shall not take part in this parliament's activities. At the fourth congress of our party, held on Saturday [30 October], I have made an official statement. With that statement, I announced that I rejected my party's deputy mandate, even though my name appeared first on the party's list," Baimenov said.

Presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbaev called Baimenov's decision "utterly unwise, short-sighted and erroneous."

Baimenov's refusal to sit in the Mazhilis deprives the body -- and the Kazakh president -- of being able to claim the Mazhilis represents the various interests of the country's electorate.

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