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Kazakhstan: Politician Argues For Democracy

Washington, 17 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A former prime minister of Kazakhstan who hopes to run for president has just published a book in English, titled "Kazakhstan: Meeting the Challenges Ahead" that calls for freedom of choice in both the voting booth and the marketplace.

But the Kazakhstan government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev has disqualified Akezhan Kazhegeldin as a presidential candidate in the elections scheduled for January.

The government's justification for barring Kazhegeldin is that he took part last month in a meeting of an unregistered political group, the Movement for Honest Elections, an action prohibited by a Soviet-era statute still on the books.

(According to news reports, Kazakh election officials have also barred another politician -- Asylbek Amantai -- from competing in the country's presidential election because he had been jailed for organizing an illegal meeting. Under Kazakh law, anyone charged with crimes within the last 12 months cannot run for president.)

Kazhegeldin, the son and grandson of Communist Party members, now views Nazarbayev, his one-time friend and ally, as a post-Soviet autocrat. He decries in his book the present lack of parliamentary controls on executive power and finds that the government's meddling in the economy causes corruption to flourish.

And Kazhegeldin says in the book that while the constitution proclaims democratic principles, it does not promote their fulfillment. The media are not free, he notes, as those in power either try to suppress or co-opt publications.

Kazhegeldin fears that as Kazakhstan's economy continues to stagnate and the budgetary crisis becomes constant, "the system forces itself to become a dictatorship." Then that dictatorship will seek internal scapegoats, play the nationalist card, and then generate secessionist movements in areas with non-Kazakh majorities.

To avoid such an "anti-utopia," Kazhegeldin calls for the immediate establishment of democracy and the rule of law. He is especially critical of those who want to get rid of the non-Kazakh minorities. He says he is for a multiethnic society, and praises the virtues of what he calls a "vibrant mix of different ethnic groups and cultures."

At a press conference in Washington last month -- organized by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty -- Kazhegeldin spoke about the many months he spent in the West as having had a large influence on his thinking. In his book, he concludes that "democracy is analogous to a market economy." He suggests that the market economy is "an every-man-for-himself game in which everyone wins, including those who don't rush into battle."

Kazhegeldin, who still hopes to run for president in Kazakhstan, concludes that without democracy a market economy is worthless.