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Kazakhstan: Opposition Party Faces Official Ban Ahead Of Elections

Lawyers for the embattled Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), the country's main opposition party, failed yesterday to persuade an appellate court to overturn a ban imposed on the party earlier this month. The influential party has been extremely vocal in its short existence and despite a poor showing in last year's parliamentary elections, the DVK seems to still irritate, and threaten, the government. The DVK has not given up hope of having the court-imposed ban lifted. But the moves against it may be part of plans to weaken the opposition ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Prague, 18 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) party moved a step closer to political extinction this week after an appeals court rejected its bid to overturn a ban on the party's activities.

Jumash Kenebay is editor in chief of the Kazakh newspaper "Juma Times-Data Nedeli." He attended the appellate trial and said the court's decision appeared a foregone conclusion. "I was at the trial from the very beginning to the very end. One thing is clear to me. All this is a state orchestrated performance," Kenebay said. "Look! The verdict itself is very long. It was not possible to print it out just in 15 minutes. It looks like the verdict has been printed beforehand. Everything was clear from the very beginning. The whole case is politically motivated."

Officially, the DVK was banned for calling for street protests following September's parliamentary elections, which many in the opposition continue to claim were rigged to favor pro-government candidates.

But since its founding in late 2001, members of the DVK have raised allegations of corruption by top officials, including President Nursultan Nazarbaev's government.
Analysts say the problems the DVK faces now might have something to do with the 2006 presidential elections.

DVK founders Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov and Mukhtar Abliyazov, both former high-ranking officials who turned against the government, were jailed months after the DVK was created. And the party had trouble registering for the 2004 elections.

But yesterday's court ruling does not necessarily spell the end of the party. One of its leaders, Asylbek Qojakhmetov, said the DVK will exhaust all its legal options. "By law, we have two more [higher] courts to appeal to. Today, we have challenged the fact that the case was tried in absentia. Now we are going to challenge the fact that our case was discussed at the Economic Court. What economic misdeed have we committed, I wonder? Our case should have been heard at the Administrative Court," Qojakhmetov said.

Analysts, meanwhile, say the problems the DVK faces now might have something to do with the 2006 presidential elections. Alex Vatanka is the editor of the London-based Jane's Sentinel publication Russia-CIS Security Assessment Binder. He said the appearance of DVK leaders in Kyiv after the recent successful "Orange Revolution" by opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has sparked unease among Kazakh government officials.

"The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan and other opposition from Kazakhstan actually traveled to Ukraine recently to be standing next to President-elect Yushchenko. These are the kind of images that probably made President Nazarbaev panic and his advisrs [also]," Vatanka said.

Other opposition parties have already expressed concern that they might be next. Bulat Abilov, co-chairman of the Ak Zhol party, was recently quoted as saying that authorities are likely to "neutralize" his party in a similar way.

Presidential elections are not scheduled until December 2006. But analysts say the government may prefer ridding itself of potential obstacles to Nazarbaev's reelection well before the polls.

Vatanka believes the government should not be concerned about Kazakhstan's opposition possibly copying the events in Ukraine, or Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in 2003. For one, he said geography played a role in the events in Ukraine that it simply could not in Kazakhstan.

"Ukraine is much nearer to, it's actually bordering the European Union now. Countries like Poland have a massive stake in making sure their man won it [the election]. In Kazakhstan, you don't have that. You don't have that kind of international intense pressure against the regime," Vatanka said.

The situation in Kazakhstan is different in other ways as well. Kazakhstan is enjoying amazing economic growth fueled by the country's booming oil business.

And its political opposition, particularly given these recent moves, is not nearly as strong as it was in Ukraine and Georgia.

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

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