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Kazakhstan: A Young Country on the Threshold of Maturity

29 Apr

Thanks are due once again to Lord Venal who has contributed this opinionated piece to Kazaxia.

This December will see the twentieth anniversary of the epic struggle of Kazakhstan to gain its independence from the Soviet Union. In just 20 short years the country has managed a truly amazing turnaround to become the economic powerhouse of Central Asia and the undisputed champion of democracy in the region.

I feel that it is high time that the world stood up and took notice of these achievements. Kazakhstan, which likes to describe itself as a ‘young country’, should be recognised as the mature country it has bloomed into and inducted into the ranks of GoGUN (The Group of Grown-Up Nations) without any further ado. Then Kazakhstan’s politicians can stop banging on about it being a ‘young country’ and start taking some responsibility for their own actions.

Like any adolescent, Kazakhstan has spent hours in front of the mirror agonising over its image. It has lavished considerable sums on brushing up this image with glossy spreads appearing in international media outlets and is now seen around the world as a maturing, go-ahead nation with a very bright future.

Kazakhstan’s politicians often talk about it being a ‘young country’ but this should not mask the remarkable steps that have taken place in its short lifetime. From inauspicious beginnings, the economic miracle led by President Nursultan Nazarbayev has helped ensure the country’s smooth transition to a market economy.

On the political front there has been unprecedented stability with one leader occupying the highest office in the land for all those 20 years and as the recent elections showed his popularity is in no way diminished after he received an amazing 95.55% of the popular vote in April 2011.

Let’s compare this with other ‘young countries’ that emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union. If we look at Lithuania we will see it has had a chaotic transition with no less than seven presidents since 1990. One of those, Rolandas Paksas, was impeached and removed from office in 2004. Estonia has fared little better with three presidents thus far.

Kazakhstan is a founder member of the up-and-coming Customs Union with Russia and Belarus, in stark contrast all that Lithuania and Estonia could come up with is membership of the debt-ridden European Union.

Kazakhstan is increasingly being seen as a leader on the world stage. It is lucky for the Organization of the Islamic Conference that Astana will chair this august body from late June. With the Arab world torn asunder by rebellions, Kazakhstan’s valuable experience as head of the OSCE in 2010 will hold it in fine stead here. After successfully dealing with the crisis on its doorstep in Kyrgyzstan last year, there is no better choice to lead the Islamic world on the path to reconciliation and stability.

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Lord Venal’s Election Day Snaps

20 Apr

Students eager to vote despite bad weather

Babies for Nazarbayev!

Pie seller at polling station ponders how to cast her vote

Lord Venal exhausted after a hard days observing

Kazakhstan: Diary of an Election Observer

12 Apr

Kazaxia has received the following contribution from Britain’s Lord Venal, who was recently in Kazakhstan to observe the presidential elections.

I have just returned from observing the elections in Kazakhstan’s marvellous new capital Astana and I feel compelled to put pen to paper to extol the great steps this young nation has taken in building a vibrant democracy in just 20 short years.

On election day I was kindly provided with a car and driver by the authorities so I could visit as many polling stations as possible. From what I observed in these polling stations, there is a great deal that my own country could learn in how to run an election.

At each polling station I was greeted by officials and was allowed to observe close up how free and fair these elections were. There were presents on offer for the first people to arrive – I myself was given a rather fine pair of rose-tinted spectacles. It was truly heartening to see so many bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students queuing up to vote at seven in the morning. Can you imagine our lazy teenagers in Britain getting up so early on election day – and on a Sunday at that?

After watching a few people cast their votes, we were treated to a splendid feast with a table groaning with horsemeat sausage and the national dish besbarmak, a delightful combination of choice cuts of meat and sheets of pasta. This was washed down with some vodka shots that left me quite bleary-headed.

It wasn’t all feasting, though. My government-provided interpreter worked selflessly to give me the views of her fellow citizens, who all told me unanimously how pleased they were with the stability and prosperity their leader had brought to the country. She herself was a volunteer from the Nur Otan party, the only party that is represented in the country’s parliament.

As the polls closed, I was relieved to be driven back to my $500 a night suite at the Rixos Hotel as I was ready to burst and a bit tired and emotional after all that exemplary Kazakh hospitality.

The next day I was taken on a tour of Kazakhstan’s breathtaking new capital and saw a spontaneous display of support for President Nazarbayev in a local sports hall as he celebrated his astounding victory with hundreds of students.

The turnout, at around 90%, was phenomenal, which shows how successful Kazakhstan has been in creating its democracy. The huge majority for the President illustrates how popular Mr Nazarbayev is with the electorate. In Britain we can only dream about such turnout figures and levels of support for our politicians. I heartily endorse my fellow observer Daniel Witt, who put it thus:

Kazakhs turned out in droves on April 3 to re-elect President Nursultan Nazarbayev to another, five-year term. The overwhelming, 95.54 percent vote for him was not only an affirmation of Nazarbayev’s popularity but an indication of the electorate’s satisfaction with the direction of the country. Turnout was extraordinarily high with 89.9 percent of registered voters participating, up from 76.8 percent in the 2005 presidential election.

I would like to point out that, like my colleague Lord Waverley, we were in no way sponsored by the Kazakhstan government during this observation mission. My travel and accommodation were generously paid for by a group based in Northern Cyprus that is bidding for oil concessions in Kazakhstan.

Therefore, in my unbiased view, I can say that Kazakhstan is a true beacon of democracy in this troubled region. The Kazakhs can be proud of both their leader and their democracy.


Five More Years!

8 Apr

Nursultan Nazarbayev was today sworn in for five more years at the helm of Kazakhstan after his crushing victory in last week’s election where he swept up 95.55% of the vote.

A huge crowd had been bussed in to cheer the President as he made his way into an arena filled with the great and good of Kazakh society. Politicians and officials  gazed on solemnly as “The Leader” hailed the stability and progress he has brought to the country in his 22 years in charge.

In the audience were the three stooges who had ostensibly run against the incumbent in the election. After taking the oath of office, Nazarbayev extolled the prosperity that the country had enjoyed in the 20 years since it emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union.

Now the task for the administration is to work on the 4.45% who didn’t vote for “The Leader” and to get the 10% of voters who stayed away from the polls to see the error of their ways and ensure 100% turnout and support in 2016.

Kazakhstan Election Guide

25 Mar

With just over a week to go until the presidential elections in Kazakhstan on April 3, there is little sign that the poll has caught the public’s imagination. With the main opposition party representatives either boycotting, refusing to take part or disallowed from the election, the electorate has been left a choice between four men of varying shades of grey.

Here’s Kazaxia’s guide to who’s taking part with a look at their campaign posters that are on display in the centre of Almaty. Hot favourite to win the poll is the incumbent Nursultan Nazarbayev – he’s joined in the vote by eco-warrior Mels Yeleusizov, diehard commie Zhambyl Akhmetbekov and the joker in the pack Gani Kasymov.

The Leader

The sitting president looks serious in his campaign poster that appears all over Almaty. In office since 1991, he doesn’t need any catchy slogans – his poster merely reads: “We’re voting for the Leader”. His posters are placed apart from those of his opponents as he maintains an aloof position above the rough and tumble of politics.

Mels gives commuters a hard stare

Trying to win the green vote is long-term environmental campaigner Mels Yeleusizov. Often to be found clearing up his compatriots’ litter and planting trees, Yeleusizov looks down sternly at motorists from his pedestal on a flyover in the centre of Almaty. Maybe he’s trying to prick the consciences of the jeep-driving masses as they sit in traffic on their way home.

Kazakh workers of the world unite!

The Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan, as opposed to the Communist Party of Kazakhstan which is not fielding a candidate, is presenting a gritty, working class image to the voters with blue-collar workers posing in their mines and factories.  Somewhat appropriately, their billboard is attached to the side of a building site.

The joker in the pack

The joker in the pack is Gani Kasymov, head of the pro-Nazarbayev Party of Patriots. Earlier in the campaign, he shied away from an interview with Radio Free Europe when he realised he would have to answer questions about what he stood for. His campaign poster reads cryptically “My way is the way of the people”. Is he being secretive or is it just that he doesn’t have any ideas?