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Central Asia Report: December 8, 2005

8 December 2005, Volume 5, Number 46

WEEK AT A GLANCE (28 November-5 December). Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev scored a crushing victory in Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election, with preliminary official results giving him more than 90 percent of the vote amid 70 percent turnout. Leading opponent Zharmakhan Tuyakbai cried foul, alleging fraud and promising legal appeals but stopping short of calls for street protests. CIS observers termed the ballot free and fair, but the OSCE noted that it failed to meet "a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections." For his part, Nazarbaev said that he would use his new seven-year term to push ahead with modernization and reforms.

A Kyrgyz parliamentary commission blamed the 20 October slaying of lawmaker Tynychbek Akmatbaev on imprisoned criminal kingpin Aziz Batukaev, noting that the killing pointed to a significant breakdown in law and order in the Kyrgyz penal system. Meanwhile, Tynychbek's brother, Ryspek Akmatbaev, went on trial on murder charges. And National Security Service head Tashtemir Aitbaev said that the September killing of another parliamentarian, Bayaman Erkinbaev, was drug-related. Former Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva and former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev failed to gain a seat in a parliamentary by-election, while former acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov regained a seat in parliament in another by-election. Parliament confirmed Medetbek Kerimkulov as first deputy prime minister. And Bishkek's central heating plant was forced to lower temperatures throughout the capital because of a gas shortage.

Russian and Tajik lawmakers met in Dushanbe to discuss the implementation of bilateral accords, with Russian legislators vowing that they will soon ratify an agreement on migrant-worker rights. And U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland asked for an apology from "Jumhuriyat" after the state-run newspaper charged that the American Bar Association's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI) is undermining traditional Tajik values with its seminars.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said that he plans to review the price terms of natural-gas export deals with Russia, in line with a recent vow to raise the export price of Turkmen gas to $60 per 1,000 cubic meters for all customers (Russia currently pays $44). With Russia mum in response, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry offered to share an independent audit of Turkmenistan's gas reserves as soon as Russia agrees to begin price talks. Elsewhere, Deputy Prime Minister Atamurat Berdiev visited China, meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing in a bid to strengthen bilateral ties.

Only days after U.S.-based Human Rights Watch alleged that Uzbekistan was holding closed trials of defendants charged in connection with May unrest in Andijon, the Uzbek Supreme Court confirmed that courts in Tashkent had sentenced 25 defendants to prison terms ranging from 12 to 25 years. Other reports indicated that more such trials were under way.

KAZAKHSTAN: NAZARBAEV LANDSLIDE BURIES FUTURE PROBLEMS. What Kazakhstan's 4 December presidential election lacked in suspense, it recouped in symbolic significance. The unsurprising result effectively changed nothing -- President Nursultan Nazarbaev, a hale and hearty 65, augmented a decade and a half in power with another seven-year term. But for all its predictability, the election neatly symbolized where Kazakhstan stands today under Nazarbaev, just as it signaled the problems peeking over the horizon of the next seven years.

Preliminary official results, announced by the Central Election Commission on 5 December, gave the incumbent president 91 percent of the vote. His leading challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, garnered a mere 6.6 percent. The commission put turnout at 6.7 million, or 75 percent of those registered.

'Free And Fair' Or 'Unprecedented Violations'?

Observers' assessments diverged along lines familiar from other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) elections, with Russian-led CIS monitors hailing a free and fair ballot and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rendering a considerably more critical judgment.

Vladimir Rushailo, who led the CIS monitoring group, said of the elections, "We assess them as free, open and legitimate," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The OSCE's preliminary assessment, made available on the organization's website ( on 5 December, stated, "Despite some improvements in the administration of this election in the pre-election period, the presidential election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections."

The candidates offered their own clashing assessments. President Nazarbaev called the election a vote for stability, unity, and modernization. Echoing the central theme of his campaign, he said, "Kazakhstan has voted for me so I can use this mandate in the next seven years to implement the reforms that I have planned, including the economic modernization of the country to help Kazakhstan become one of the world's 50 most competitive countries," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported.

Tuyakbai, a former Nazarbaev ally who split with the president after the September 2004 parliamentary elections, lambasted the authorities for "unprecedented violations of the constitution," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. His campaign issued a bitterly worded statement warning that "the decision made by the authorities marks a new period in Kazakhstan's history, when the authoritarian system is openly transformed into a totalitarian one." But while Tuyakbai promised to file protests over violations, he seemed to rule out street protests, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "We can, if necessary, bring thousands into the streets...but we have decided not to do this," he said.

Nazarbaev Above All

As the preceding suggests, the underlying reality the 4 December election symbolized is one in which Nursultan Nazarbaev bestrides Kazakh politics like a colossus. All views of Nazarbaev, from the most positive to the most negative, confirm his dominant position. In the former, he is simply beloved of 90 percent of Kazakhstan's population. In the latter, he is a malign mastermind capable of bending the electoral system to his will.

A compromise view would note a preelection poll by the U.S.-based survey group Intermedia finding 70 percent support for Nazarbaev, factor in some skepticism on the basis of a residual Soviet tendency toward political conformity, allow for the manipulations of the democratic process described in the OSCE's preliminary report, and conclude that while Nazarbaev would almost certainly have won a fully free and fair election, the political system he has overseen for the past decade 1) rendered an unblemished ballot unlikely, and 2) ensured long before the election began that the president would face scant opposition. In all three cases, Nazarbaev stands alone at center stage.

It is from his perch that Kazakhstan's long-ruling president will steer his country through the challenges ahead. The most familiar of these challenges is one that Nazarbaev has already negotiated with a significant degree of success -- managing Kazakhstan's transformation into one of the world's leading oil producers and exporters. As virtually every news report in the lead-up to the election hastened to mention, Kazakhstan aims to triple its oil production to 3 million barrels a day by 2015, securing it a place among the world's top 10 producers.

Nazarbaev has won praise for his handling of the energy sector, amid some brickbats for corruption, as a welcoming attitude toward foreign investors, adroit economic reforms, and high prices on world markets have combined to make Kazakhstan the envy of its impoverished neighbors.

Dangers Of The Energy Sector

A number of tasks loom on the energy-sector horizon. The first is the diversification of export routes, with pipelines to China and exports to the West through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline intended to reduce dependency on Russia. Nazarbaev has already proved himself adept at the "multivector" diplomacy required to balance relations with Russia, China, and the West, and while the next stage will surely test his skills, not only is there every reason to believe that he is up to the task, his dominant position in Kazakh politics will likely ease it for him.

The same cannot be said about another energy-sector task -- ensuring that the country's oil potential is used to encourage economic diversification with an eye to including as broad a swath of the population as possible in the windfall. A competitive and representative political arena would create natural pressures for taking such steps. An all-powerful president who faces no competitors of comparable stature, oversees a pliant legislature, and personally controls the appointment of virtually all top officials may certainly take the same steps.

But with benevolence the only guarantee that he will do so, the unquestioned leader may just as easily end up atop a pyramid of patronage, with the issue of succession gradually eclipsing long-promised political reforms as he moves into his twilight years.

Can 'Managed Democracy' Reform Itself?

The real question raised by Kazakhstan's election and Nazarbaev's 90 percent victory is, of course, that of political reforms. For his part, Nazarbaev has consistently promised gradual reform with an emphasis on economics above politics. Now, a paradox prevails. A basic premise of democracy is that, human nature being what it is, a genuinely competitive political system is the only way to keep politicians honest. The paradox in Kazakhstan today is that Nazarbaev's overwhelming reelection, however one explains its causes, demonstrates a lack of competitiveness in the political system, which, in turn, underscores that any impetus for reform will have to come from Nazarbaev himself, and not the system he has thus far labored to create.

The broader question concerns the general thrust of post-Soviet democratization. Political upheaval in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-05 highlighted the risk of catastrophic failure that comes with "managed democracy," in which ruling elites accept elections as necessary for legitimacy but do everything in their power to predetermine the outcome. But what happens when the system avoids catastrophic failure? Does it tend toward gradual reform? Or does it degenerate, ensuring ever more splendid victories for the status quo even as it undermines competitiveness and thus retains the risk of an eventual catastrophic failure?

Nazarbaev provided a clue to his own vision of the future in remarks he delivered in Astana on 5 December. Addressing his supporters, he said that he harbored no ill will toward the 9 percent of voters who cast their ballots against him, Interfax reported. "I know they have problems," he said, promising to "help them find jobs, supply drinking water, and protect our children and those not able to work." More to the point, the president affirmed his faith in the disgruntled 9 percent, as "Kommersant-Daily" reported. "I'm sure that in time these Kazakhstanis will support me as well," he said. (By Daniel Kimmage. Originally published on 6 December.)

KAZAKH OFFICIALS DECLARE NAZARBAEV WINNER OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has been elected to another seven-year term in a landslide victory. Preliminary results show he received more than 91 percent of the vote. His main challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, received only 6.6 percent. Many observers predicted an easy Nazarbaev victory, but the overwhelming majority, as well as the high turnout, 77 percent, came as a surprise. The victory was tarnished by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) conclusion that the presidential election did not meet international democratic standards.

Central Election Commission Chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov said preliminary results indicated that President Nazarbaev won 91 percent of the 4 December vote, while his main challenger, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai of the For a Just Kazakhstan bloc, finished a distant second.

"For Nursultan Nazarbaev, 6,694,000 voters or 91.01 percent of the electorate cast ballots. Zharmakhan Tuyakbai received 445,047 or 6.64 percent of the votes," Zhumabekov announced. He added that final results will not be available for another 10 days, but they are not expected to differ significantly from the preliminary results. He declared the election valid.

Nazarbaev�s victory was more decisive than most observers had predicted. Shortly after the announcement of his victory, Nazarbaev told a rally in the capital Astana that his reelection to another seven-year term is "a victory for the country, for all Kazakhs."

"The people voted for our country's stability, for our nation's unity, for our state's modernization, for the improvement of people's lives, for the future of our children and grandchildren. I consider it a victory for the Kazakh people. I thank all those who voted for me yesterday," Nazarbaev said.

Nazarbaev, who has ruled the oil-rich nation since 1989, said the victory was recognition of his work in recent years. He promised to double salaries and pensions during his next term and to raise per capita income to the level of Eastern European countries.

However, the OSCE declared that the 4 December election failed to meet international democratic standards. This conclusion has taken some of the sheen off the victory.

In a statement, the OSCE noted that there was some improvement in comparison with previous elections. But its 465 monitors reported that the remaining flaws "limited the possibility for a meaningful competition." It noted restrictions on campaigning, and reported intimidation, interference, and ballot-box stuffing.

Over 1,600 foreign observers monitored the election to ensure it wasn't rigged.

Among them was the Russian-led CIS election monitoring group headed by Vladimir Rushailo. In the past assessments by CIS monitors of elections in the former Soviet republics have clearly differed from those of the OSCE. This election was not different.

Rushailo announced that his team determined that the Kazakh election was fair. "The state electoral bodies that organized elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan ensured the realization and protection of the electoral rights of citizens in the presidential elections of Kazakhstan," he said. "International observers from the CIS concluded that Kazakhstan�s presidential elections of 4 December 2005 were held in accordance with the country�s legislation. We assess them as free, open, and legitimate."

The opposition was taken aback by the official results. Several of Nazarbaev's challengers, including Tuyakbai, disputed the results, complaining of numerous election irregularities.

"The preliminary results of yesterday's election announced by the Central Election Commission are a result of unprecedented violations of the constitution by the authorities during the election campaign and on election day. We consider this extremely dishonest and unjust, although Mr. President [Nazarbaev], who is an organizer of this farce himself, promised the Kazakh people before [the election] that the vote would be open and fair. But they were nothing like that," Tuyakbai said on 5 December.

Tuyakbai went on to say that his supporters would not take to the streets but would collect information about Electoral Code violations and file cases against the election authorities. Authorities have banned street demonstrations before the vote counting is complete and final official results are announced. (By Gulnoza Saidazimova. Originally published on 5 December.)