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LOOKING AHEAD

August 01, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov

THE STEPPE TO REIGN OVER THE DESERT

Kazakhs are going to dominate in Central Asia

On August 18, Kazakhstan is going to elect its Majilis (the lower chamber of the parliament) and the maslikhats (municipal bodies). The incumbent Majilis was elected in late 2004 for a term of four years. However, the reform of the Constitution, initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, reduced its tenure by one year.

The key point of the reform, introduced by Nazarbayev, was retraction of the presidential term from 7 to 5 years, restriction of the presidential tenure to two terms, and expansion of the parliamentary duties, particularly in approval of the Government and supervision of the executive power. At the same time, the Majilis – ostensibly on its own initiative adopted one more amendment, allowing the first President to run for an unlimited number of terms. Soon after all the amendments were passed, the president used his right for a pre-schedule dissolution of the Majilis, by agreement with the speakers of both chambers.

For the first time in the independent Kazakhstan’s history, 98 MPs will be elected from party lists, contrary to the earlier system of elections. They will represent eight parties, whose participation in the race is permitted by the Central Election Commission. Nine more majilismen are going to be elected from the Assembly of Kazakh Peoples.

The success of Nur Otan (Bright Fatherland) Party, chaired personally by the President, is beyond doubt. Kairat Kelimbetov, Nur Otan's deputy chair, recently claimed that the party is going to win 80% of the vote. This result appears to be quite attainable. A year ago, Nur Otan had a strong rival Asar ("Together") party, chaired by President's daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva. But the President put an end to the "daughter party" game in September2006, when Asar merged into Otan (consequently renamed into Nur Otan).

The President's will was not quite shared by Dariga's spouse Rakhat Aliyev. In spring 2007, Rakhat underwent criminal persecution. Charges against him were brought soon after the approval of the abovementioned constitutional amendment, clearly indicating Nazarbayev's reluctance to entrust his succession to members of his family. It is noteworthy that he made a special emphasis that none of his probable successors is supposed to enjoy the same scope of power than his own.

Nazarbayev's decision is probably the only possible option for the young state. The leader of Kazakhstan obviously suspects that excessive presidential powers may become a subject of a heated feud among his sons-in-law. To substantiate his decision, Nazarbayev refers to historical traditions of his land, where supreme power had not been concentrated in the hands of one person. The Kazakh Khans used to share their power with the elders of tribes, consulting with them in every issue, significant for the Kazakh people. For himself, Nazarbayev makes an exception, substantiated with his role of the founding father of present Kazakh statehood. It is clear that there is no figure comparable to him in the national history. Therefore, no successor could be vested with a similar scope of authority.

At Nur Otans congress, the Kazakh leader was trumpeting victory. His optimism was substantiated not only with his success in overcoming intrigues around the presidential post. It is true that during recent years, Kazakhstan's achievements in both economic and social spheres were impressing. In 2007, budget funding of education and health care 2.3 times exceeded the amount of 2004, while scientific research is financed 2.2 times better than three years ago. Construction of living quarters was 4.5 times larger in 2006 than in 1998. The last year's surplus of GDP reached 10%.

Almost three fourths of the Kazakhs 73% are satisfied with the level of life, a figure comparable with EU's 81%. On of Kazakhstan's strategic objectives is to overcome the fuel export orientation of economy. Last year, over one half of the national GDP was provided by the sector of services.

The snap elections of the Majilis are supposed to serve as a crucial factor in stabilizing Kazakhstan's political system. Nazarbayev decided to undertake this effort before 2009, in order to guarantee continuityof his political line through elevation of the political role of the parliament. The present political system of Kazakhstan is even not a "one and a half" system, as it was in the post-war Japan but a "one and a quarter" which does not except the possibility of its democratic evolution.

Economic achievements, domestic stability, and the successful resolution of the problem of succession by means of "cutting the Gordian knot" enable Kazakhstan to consider itself the leading nation of Central Asia. The mood of the Kazakh leadership, as well as its ambitious geopolitical plans, is well reflected in a recent article of Adil Toygonbayev, [the Kazakh son-in-law of ex-Kyrghyz President Askar Akayev]. His analysis runs as follows:

"Russia intends to establish a Eurasian energy empire, by means of monopolist control of generating and transmitting energy facilities, as well as transport systems and complementaryindustries. In this direction, Russia is likely to outflank the Americans, challenging states of Eastern Europe, excessively playing on their own political field, and facilitating ascent of pro-Russian leaders, as it happened in Hungary and Bulgaria. Other policy directions are not significant for Moscow or significant to the extent of efficiency of instrumentalizing them in the game with the US, as a compensation for the Big Energy Game in Europe.

"What is Kazakhstan going to achieve from the latest agreements between Nazarbayev and Putin? Kazakhstan concedes an independent access to Europe, along with involvement in the Odessa-Brody transport route, as well as the possibility to make use of the conflict between delivering companies in its own interests. Thus, Kazakhstan rejects advantageous contracts which Eastern Europe primarily could offer for the sake of diversification of the fuel market. Kazakhstan has unilaterally played to Russia's interests, and exactly to Russias major game. As a result, Kazakhstan's fuel is going to be shipped to Europe under the colors of Russia, actually as a Russian commodity.

"By supporting Moscow's European project, Astana acquires political capabilities for its own unique leading role in the region of Central Asia, and in the long run, in a broader dimension. This perspective is determined with the present scheme of relationship. In case Kazakhstan agrees for a close alliance with Russia, this concession should be exchanged for the consent of the sides for a Kazakh-led community of Central Asia nations, i.e. for Moscow's recognition of Astana's leading role in the region. Regarding Russia's interest in strategic presence in the region, it would be fair to admit that only Kazakhstan is able to secure this influence, due to its self-interest. Projects of support of Russian language in Central Asia could become not only a Russian but also a Kazakh national project. They correspond with the role of Kazakhstan as a mainland integrator of European and Asiatic civilizations. As a result, we achieve our own continental priorities, multiplied to the Russian potential."(italics mine Y.B.).

Thus, the Kazakh establishment does not doubt that the commonwealth of Central Asia states, supported by Russia, is likely to be headquartered in Astana. It is true that Russia is interested in "ordering" its underbelly. Kazakhstan has actually started to implement the plans of achieving regional domination. In spring 2007, the Presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan agreed to establish the Supreme Inter-State Council, thus making a step towards special relations of the two countries. In late August, the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will discuss the concept of a newly-established Union of Central Asian States. In 2006, Kazakhstan allocated $136mln for direct investments to Kyrgyzstan, the amount 3.5 times exceeding that of 2005. For the unstable Kyrgyzstan, cooperation with Astana is going to become a crucial factor of economic and political stabilization.

In late July, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov visited Tashkent, and signed a document entitled Strategy of Economic Cooperation until year 2015. Last year, the commodity turnover of the two countries reached $703mln, exceeding the 2005 figure in 2.9 times. Only during the first five months of the current year, the commodity turnover totaled $525mln.

Playing to Russias ambitious plans of acquiring the role of the major energy supplier of Europe, Kazakhstan is slowly but steadily moving towards its own objective a real dominance in the expanse of Central Asia.


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