At the start of today, Otan had nearly 500,000 registered members in a country with a population of 15 million. At a party conference in Astana today, delegates quickly voted in favor of a proposal to allow the Civic Party and its 160,000 registered members and the Agrarian Party and its 102,000 members to merge with Otan. The Civic Party was the second-largest party before the merger.
The Swiss Model?
Bakhytzhan Zhumagulov, the acting deputy chairman of Otan, said a large political party is a necessity for a country with big plans, and he said the example of other countries proved this.
"World experience shows that when a country is faced with massive economic and social tasks only a very strong party can provide an effective strategy of development," he said. "The examples of Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, and other countries are well known and have been often cited."
And as Zhumagulov noted at the party congress, the addition of the two parties gives Otan a vast majority in parliament. "Our faction -- which after today's merger now holds 90 percent of the seats in parliament -- has significantly improved its work in recent years, both in the quantity and the quality of its contributions to the legislative process," he said.
'Ray Of Light'
But with these new parties now being part of Otan, there were some who felt it was time for the party to have a new name. The name chosen was Nur-Otan, which in Kazakh could mean "The Fatherland's Ray of Light," though Zhumagulov offered a different interpretation.
"This name symbolizes the nationwide character of our party, its democratic ideology, its orientation to the future, and the party's recognition of [President] Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbaev as the leader of the whole nation," he said.
Those on very familiar terms with the Kazakh president may indeed refer to him as Nurege, or Nur-Agha, so the addition of the word "nur" appears to suit the party in several ways.
There was some dissent among party delegates today. Eleven delegates voted against the name change. The Kazakh president's eldest daughter, Darigha, who brought her Asar party into Otan last summer, said the dissenting votes are a healthy sign.
"I am glad at least that not everything went smoothly and according to the scenario," she said. "There were people who were not afraid to express their opinions against the party's line which had been predefined."
There may be room for different opinions within Nur-Otan, but the creation of this megaparty leaves Kazakhstan's opposition parties in a bad position. No genuine opposition party in the country has even 100,000 registered members, so Kazakhstan seems set to live with the ruling party and no other for some time to come.
(Merhat Sharipzhan and Bauyrzhan Shayakhme of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report.)
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