Tag Archives: Lord Venal

Kyrgyzstan: Diary of an Election Observer

31 Oct

Kazaxia is honoured once again to link up with Lord Venal as he returned to the region to observe Kyrgyzstan’s presidential election on 30 October.

Greetings from Bishkek, a pleasant little city with a smattering of good bars and restaurants. I’m staying in the centrally-located Hyatt hotel which gives me a chance to explore the city and meet some of the electorate in person.

I had been warned in advance about rising anti-foreigner sentiment in the country, but I am pleased to report that my experiences with the Kyrgyz were all positive. I found the hotel staff to be most helpful and friendly. In Metro bar I saw that the locals, especially young women, were going out of their way to interact with foreigners of all ages in a most friendly manner.

On election day itself I unfortunately missed the early start as I was feeling a bit under the weather after the Halloween shindig in Metro. However, I made up for it later in the day and visited a few voting locations in Bishkek. The polling stations were doing a brisk trade by late afternoon.

The election was quite an open affair with 16 candidates vying for the top job – this was the first election in Central Asia where the result was not a foregone conclusion. The voters I spoke to had either voted for Almazbek Atambayev, the frontrunner, or an unfancied candidate called Protiv Vsekh.

The presents on offer in the polling stations were not as good as those in Kazakhstan, but still I came away with a very fetching Kyrgyz hat and some bottles of vintage Kyrgyz congac. Fortunately, I had brought my rose-tinted specs with me from my visit to Kazakhstan in April.

I spent the evening with my new buddy, Boris, a first-time observer from Washington DC. Boris is finishing up his doctoral thesis ‘Incipient Manasism in the post-Soviet Kyrgyz Space’, a most interesting topic which he described to me at length over a few bottles of the local blackcurrant wine he’d brought back from his visit to Osh.

The result when it came took us both a little by surprise as the victor, Almazbek Atambayev had only managed to amass a paltry 63% of the vote. In my previous experiences of observing elections in this part of the world, this was quite a poor result as 80% + is the norm for wannabe presidents.

This result means that there will be no run-off, which is a shame as there are a few more restaurants I would have liked to have checked out with Boris this time round, such as Smokie’s Bar B-Q and the Obama Bar and Grill, as the next election is not until 2017, but such is the life of an election observer.

Editor’s note: Lord Venal’s observation mission was funded by the Centre for Reporting and Analysing Politics

Kazakhstan: WordPress still blocked

29 Oct

Kazaxia has been experiencing some problems posting in recent weeks because the WordPress platform continues to be sporadically blocked in Kazakhstan.

WordPress was blocked by ISPs in Kazakhstan earlier this year following a court ruling targeting two websites.  Access can be gained sometimes via Megaline, but WordPress remains blocked to AlmaTV subscribers.

Now here’s the good news – WordPress is not blocked in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. Kazaxia is in Bishkek for the presidential elections so normal service can – temporarily – be resumed.

Look out for Lord Venal’s take on the elections in Kyrgyzstan later this week when he has had some time to collect his thoughts after a busy observation schedule.

Thunderbird flying in to Kazakhstan?

30 Sep

When Kazaxia spotted this intriguing headline ‘Thunderbird expands to Kazakhstan‘, it immediately invoked distant memories of teenage parties and getting hammered on the notorious American drink Thunderbird. Described politely as ‘a low-end fortified wine’ this noxious mix of chemicals was well-known as a quick fire route to oblivion.

A bottle of Thunderbird in its natural setting (image taken from bumwine.com)

It was with interest that Kazaxia clicked on to the link to the headline – was this really an attempt by E&J Gallo Winery, the makers of this interesting drinking experience, to break the stranglehold of vodka and cheap port wine as the drink of choice for Kazakhstan’s down and outs?

Alas for Central Asia’s winos, it was not to be as this Thunderbird turned out to be merely a management training company. Or maybe not …

The bumwine website describes Thunderbird wine as

If your taste buds are shot, and you need to get trashed with a quickness, then “T-bird” is the drink for you.  Or, if you like to smell your hand after pumping gas, look no further than Thunderbird.  As you drink on, the bird soars higher while you sink lower.  

Kazaxia contacted Lord Venal on the subject of Thunderbird and he waxed lyrical about his misspent youth spent on park benches drinking the wino’s favourite tipple.

I vaguely remember climbing out of the window of my boarding school and making for the village shop where I’d buy a bottle of Thunderbird and proceed to get well and truly ratarsed.

recalled the sometime election observer.

When my eye started twitching, I decided it was time to call it a day and moved on to more respectable tipples.

The good lord expressed surprise that it was actually a training organisation and wondered whether it would be interested in funding a trip to monitor the upcoming elections in Kyrgyzstan, maybe in a tie-up with the E&J Gallo Winery?


Kazakhstan Bank Boss for IMF?

24 May

Lord Venal is back with this contribution on the head of the National Bank of Kazakhstan being put forward for the top spot at the IMF recently vacated by Dominique Strauss-Kahn in controversial circumstances. 

It is no surprise that Grigoriy Marchenko,  a name that is highly respected in international banking circles, has been chosen by that august body the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as its man for the top job at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Under his skillful stewardship as head of Kazakhstan’s central bank, this oil-rich nation has successfully rode the choppy waves of the global financial crisis to emerge as a real contender to join the elite GoGUN club.

In the light of the sex scandal that has engulfed the former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, many observers feel that a wholesome family guy is needed to fill this key post and who better than Mr Marchenko, who according to this site has already got the job.

Mr Marchenko  has told reporters that he does not plan to bother any maids if he makes it to the hot seat.  I can personally vouch for his good character – last summer I was pottering about the Med in the Venal family pedalo when I spotted some familiar faces on board a splendid-looking yacht.  Some Kazakh bigwigs invited me to join them and we all had a great time partying until the wee small hours. I cannot recall seeing Mr Marchenko on the yacht, in fact I cannot recall much of anything.

Back in the UK, it seems Dave and Nick are backing France’s Christine Lagarde for the post – I really must have a word with them about Grigoriy as I feel he is definitely the right man at the right time.


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.