Wednesday, 10 April 2002

OPPOSITION LEADERS ARRESTED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Published in Field Reports

By Karim Sayid (4/10/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement, which emerged at the end of the last year is a very irritating eyesore for the government of Kazakhstan for at least two reasons. First, the opposition movement has been launched by top officials in the government, an unprecedented case in the history of the post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Second, being former government officials, the leaders of the Democratic Choice (DCK) knew the weakest spots of the rulers of the country very well.

The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement, which emerged at the end of the last year is a very irritating eyesore for the government of Kazakhstan for at least two reasons. First, the opposition movement has been launched by top officials in the government, an unprecedented case in the history of the post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Second, being former government officials, the leaders of the Democratic Choice (DCK) knew the weakest spots of the rulers of the country very well. And last but not least, unlike other democratic forces, the ‘oligarchs’ who joined the opposition ranks possess practically inexhaustible financial means coming from their own business networks. That makes them the sole real opposition force able to finance its activities.

Since the appearance of the Democratic Choice on the political scene, the government officials have never ceased attempts to discredit the movement in the public eye, using the state-run servile press. The opposition media was not slow to answer. A sensational announcement about the secret Swiss bank accounts of the president was spread through independent media. That produced quite a stir in parliament. Member of Parliament Serikbolsyn Abdildin, a vociferous communist leader, demanded that a parliamentarian hearing be held on this scandalous report.

However, it was not the president but the prime-minister Imangali Tasmaganbetov who appeared before the deputies. He went out of his way to shield the president Nursultan Nazarbayev from the “slanderers”. Assuming an imperious tone he said that the president had never had a personal bank account in any foreign bank. At the same time, he admitted that that there was a secret reserve fund in foreign currency created on instructions from the president in 1996. The money, according to the prime-minister, came from the sale of 20% of the shares of the “Tengiz” oil field to a foreign company. He said that money from the $1 billion reserve fund was used to take the country over the economic crisis after the 1998 devaluation of the Russian ruble.

Apparently, far from dispelling the doubts, the clumsy explanations of the prime-minister provoked new questions. Why, if the mysterious reserve fund was to be used for the benefit of the people, does such a large section of the population live in poverty? Why are food prices soaring so high that the wages and pensions can never catch up with them?

But the primary concern of the government seems to be the opposition. On March 27, one of the leaders of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement, the former energy minister Mukhtar Ablyazov was summoned to the tax police office and was detained there. Ablyazov, now held in custody, is accused of embezzlement of public money during his years in office and when he was the president of the joint-stock power company “KEGOK’. Another leader of the DCK, Galimzhan Zhakyanov, was charged with abusing his power, lobbying for private companies and squandering away public money when he was governor of the Pavlodar region.

The same day, Zhakyanov appeared at the French embassy and refused to leave the premises, saying that he was being persecuted. His wife told the press he was not seeking political asylum abroad, but was just trying to draw public attention to the injustice done to him. The situation, awkward both for the French embassy and for the government, ended up with Zhakyanov being handed over to law enforcement bodies of Kazakhstan. The refuge seeker was then immediately placed under house arrest.

Although the president this time demonstrated his will to rule with an iron hand, the opposition can no longer be easily intimidated into silence. To all likelihood, the story of top-level corruption known here as “Kazakhgate” will have its sequel.

Karim Sayid
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