WASHINGTON – Kazakhstan's democratic opposition wants a peaceful change of the current regime.
Alikhan Baimenov,co-founder and chair of the Ak zhol Democratic Party,spoke Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was in town asking Western experts to analyze the current political situation in Kazakhstan.
“Ak Zhol party tries to convince current state authorities in the need for the reforms. And we are interested in a peaceful overthrow,” he said.
It is still unclear,however,when a change could happen,as presidential elections have not been scheduled,even though the current president's term expires in December. Kazakhstan's election authorities say that the vote should be taken in December 2006.
“However,it is a matter of Kazakhstan's legal system to finally work out the next presidential elections to be held,” said Askar Tazhiyev,a counselor of the Embassy of Kazakhstan,in a phone interview.
Tazhiyev noted that Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council will release the voting schedule next month.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been ruling the country for 16 years,since 1989. After the events of August 1991,when a group known as State Emergency Committee attempted to seize power in Moscow,15 republics declared their independence that fall.
Nazarbayev became the first president of the post-Soviet Kazakhstan on Dec. 1,1991. Twice,his term was extended.
During Nazarbayev's time in office,international observers have recognized Kazakhstan as a Central Asian leader in the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,in the fight against terrorism and in social stability.
However,Baimenov said the country is now flawed by corruption: “Most of the country's financial resources are in the hands of a small group of people,and there are no mass media that is not politically engaged.”
“Corruption is accompanied by government limiting people's freedom and rights,” he said.
Baimenov was not satisfied with the most recent parliamentary elections held in September. He said the parties were given only three minutes during televised debates to present their program,answer questions and receive comments
Intending to hold fair elections,Kazakhstan hosted 900 international observers. They included representatives from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,a wide range of international nongovernmental organizations and individual experts.
The elections embodied an obvious victory for the ruling Otan party chaired by President Nazarbayev,which won 42 seats of the 77 contested in the elections. The Asar party,founded and led by the President's daughter,Dariga Nazarbayeva,won four seats. Baimenov's democratic opposition party Ak Zhol took a solitary seat. Nine other parties split the remaining seats.
Frederick Starr,chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an individual observer during the election,said he appreciated the outcome.
In an interview Monday,he said the elections were unproblematic and that the country was moving slowly to be more open. Even without a lot of power,the parliament includes independent voices,he said.
Starr noted that Kazakhstan's economic and social base is different from that of its neighboring states.
“The economy is doing very well. Kazakhstan has become a middle-income country,far outstripping its neighbors,” he said.
Starr added that another indication that makes Kazakhstan different from other CIS states is the legal opposition.
“It is a sign of health if opposition leaders are traveling around,” he said,referring to Baimenov's travel to the United States.
Baimenov said he expects to see a democratic candidate running for president and that Nazarbayev does not want the opposition to gain international support.
“You could say that Nazarbayev is afraid that opposition might have international financial resources,” he said. Last week the prosecutor's office demanded that the Ak zhol party disclose its recent financial transactions.
“Of course,I want to see a democratic majority to run for the office,and as a citizen,I want a first change of the government to go peacefully. We have to take into account that we are also setting certain traditions into the historical heritage of our young state,” Baimenov said.
Starr said it is impossible to say how smoothly the elections will go; however,“There are still reasonable prospects for many small crises rather than one big one.”
He said it seems unlikely that Kazakhstan would follow the path of Ukraine and Georgia,where democratic forces ousted the governments and took over.
“If any country in the former Soviet Union has a chance to evolve without crisis,it is Kazakhstan,but only time will prove whether they seize that chance,” Starr concluded.