Friday 27 January 2012

Opposition enjoys some ‘political reform’ in Kazakhstan

It was easy to believe that, after all the troubles last year in Kazakhstan, the deadly clashes in Zhanaozen in December and the Parliamentary elections this month – that came together with the promise of more democracy in the Central Asian giant – things might be quiet for a while there. Then, this week, the Kazakh police raided the headquarters of an opposition party and its leader’s home. stroke the perfect tone with its headline: “Kazakhstan 'political modernisation' opens with opposition raid”. The excuse for the raids was the suspicion that the Leader of the Alga Party, Vladimir Kuzlov, was involved in fomenting the protests in Zhanaozen, in which 16 people died. Besides him, two other well-known members of the opposition were this week sent to two months behind bars – a former presidential candidate (Serik Saparghali, who is now in hunger strike) and the editor of an independent newspaper.

Of course, it would be too much even for the most faithful supporter of the Government to believe that everything that happened in December was just an evil plan of opposition forces, so one official enquiry also blamed heavy-handedness of the police for the violence – three mid-ranking officers were arrested, although most of the security forces were praised for their actions. Likewise, local authorities in Zhanaozen were accused of (surprise! Who would guess?) funnelling money bound for job creation around the city into their own pockets. This prompted Kazakhstan long-time leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to promise (surprise! Who would guess?) a new strategy to tackle corruption. Anyway, Nazarbayev is clearly taking advantage of what happened last year to send a message to those who criticise him, so certainly the instability was politically quite useful for him. The problem here is that, more and more, there is a risk that, again, things might go out of control – and then, again, no one knows what the consequences would be. As a theatre director who was in Zhanaozen said, “they are looking for enemies…” and the more violent they are against the opposition, the more violent the opposition’s response might be. In Zhanaozen, under heavy surveillance of the security forces, there is now a tense calm (the current curfew expires at the end of the month). However, not far from there, workers started a new strike like the one which set the stage for the unrest in December. Nazarbayev troubles are far, far from over.

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