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Kazakhstan: Most Opposition Parties Eliminated

Kazakhstan yesterday announced the list of political parties that had made it through the process of reregistration mandated last summer by the Kazakh parliament. Only seven parties were reregistered -- all but one consistent supporters of the current administration. The announcement effectively eliminates nearly all legal opposition to the government and makes it unlikely the country will see truly democratic elections anytime in the near future.

Prague, 16 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The news came yesterday that many in Kazakhstan were waiting for and some dreaded hearing. Deputy Justice Minister Jogan Merkel made the announcement about which of Kazakhstan's political parties had been officially reregistered.

"In our republic, the state reregistration of political parties that were registered and active prior to July 19 of last year has been completed. Of the 19 parties that were active in the republic, 11 applied for reregistration. Of these, seven parties made it through the state reregistration process."

Those seven parties are Ak Zhol (Good Journey), Otan (Fatherland), the Patriots Party, Aul (Village), the Civic Party, the Agrarian Party, and the Communist Party. With the exception of the Communist Party, all these parties are considered progovernment.

Aidos Sarimov, a spokesman for the Ak Zhol Party, limited his comments to the party's immediate work in setting up headquarters in all the country's provinces.

"Our party passed the official registration process. Now we have to fully establish our branch headquarters in all of our country's provinces and make sure they are registered in all these provinces. Only after that will our party receive its official documents."

When the Kazakh parliament approved new regulations for registering political parties last July, many opposition parties were aware their chances of survival were slim. Six did not even attempt to reregister. Two others joined forces with Otan, the party that nominated President Nursultan Nazarbaev as its candidate for the presidency in the last presidential election.

Four others did not meet the reregistration requirements. Deputy Justice Minister Merkel said the four had either violated the registration process in some way or violated civil codes.

Jaksebay Bazilbay is the cochairman of the Compatriots Party. He said his party tried to register three times, the last effort coming the day before Merkel made his announcement.

"Our Compatriots Party registered twice. We tried [to register] twice. On April 14, we amended all the papers [the Justice Ministry] required and handed in our application for registration to the Justice Ministry for the third time. They told us some of our [political] programs were written in inappropriate language. They were very picky," Bazilbay said. "What became clear, especially after the second time we brought our papers, was that the Justice Ministry was trying not to register those parties that are really trying to protect the nation of Kazakhstan."

Bazilbay said his party is still waiting for a reply from the Justice Ministry, but he may be waiting in vain. Merkel's announcement of the newly registered political parties came with advice for those parties that were not reregistered.

"Parties that did not make it through the reregistration process, in particular those not accepted for legal reasons or because they did not apply for reregistration, still have, at this time, an opportunity to transform themselves into social groups or any other legally organized organizations -- except a political party."

While it is clear at the moment which parties can continue their activities legally and which cannot, there are several questions remaining for which Kazakh officials do not have answers.

There are a small number of deputies in parliament from parties that are now no longer registered. Their fate remains unclear, although it is doubtful they will be able to retain their seats in parliament as they represent parties that officially no longer exist.

Also, there appears to be no mechanism at this time for new parties to attempt to register. The next elections are those to parliament in 2005, but Merkel's remarks indicate the registration process is over for an indefinite period.

Whatever the future holds, for the present it is certain that the leading opposition parties in Kazakhstan -- The Republican People's Party, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement, and others -- are out of business.

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