Andrei Prigor, Astana
Parliamentary ‘elections’ took place this year on March 20th. In what has become a tradition, the election was held before it was due. In the whole period in which Kazakhstan has been independent, there has not been one parliamentary or presidential election that has gone ahead according to the period laid down by the law. Every time, having elections early has been explained by the need for reforms to be carried through or certain set tasks to be fulfilled early – supposedly to make the parliament and the president himself look super-efficient!
This of course is not a reflection of the real situation as it exists. Such decisions have been taken with the sole aim of holding onto power and to the control over Kazakhstan’s resources by the existing clique of officials and people close to the irreplaceable president, who has, in turn, protected himself by being beyond the law and with life-long tenure of office. The people of Kazakhstan are so accustomed to this behaviour, that no-one questions these things and all interest in this side of democracy – elections – is completely exhausted. It can be said that the Kazakhstan regime has discredited democratic institutions that go back as far as ancient Greece, when the basic principles of democracy were born.
‘A silent boycott’
Just like the previous elections held prematurely, the latest ones went ahead along the usual lines. The Kazakhstan people displayed complete apathy towards what is supposed to be a significant event. The overwhelming majority decided by themselves to adopt a silent boycott, thus consciously protecting themselves from the kind of attack by the state apparatus which they would have suffered if they had adopted open forms of protest.
State employees, under threat of losing their jobs, were made to ensure a turn-out for the election not only from family members but friends and people they know. Naturally, the question of who to vote for was pre-ordained. The ruling party, Nur Otan, has done nothing with its domination in Parliament except approve laws proposed by the government and clarify proclamations from the president. Its MPs are more like a collection of sleep-walkers!
The process of election campaigning was led by officials who are members of the ruling party. The result was predictable. Turnout, on the basis of considerably skilful fraud, ended up at 82%, which in itself looks absurd, because in reality, the turnout was about 25-30%.
‘Victory’ went, according to the now established tradition, to Nur Otan, who got an everwhelming 86% of the vote, graciously sharing 7% with the CPPK (Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan) – a creation of the president’s administration, giving the appearance of the presence of left forces in parliament – and the Democratic Party, ‘Ak Zhol’, representing the interests of business. The result was a new-old parliament, not promising anything new to improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
As expected, after the election the negative attitude in society towards the institutions of state power in general was strengthened – against the ongoing national policies of the government and the ‘representative’ body, the parliament – because a growing number of citizens have come to understand the way the authorities use it to manipulate society.
The social and economic situation has not improved in the country ; it is getting worse by the day. The government has begun introducing a new tax, the pension funds accumulated over the years by ordinary workers are being given to support the second-line banks, meaning the build-up of savings in pension funds exists only on paper. If, tomorrow, there is a need to produce retirement savings in real money terms, the state will not be able to implement it.
Given the difficult economic situation in the world in relation to the fall in oil prices – and the budget of the country depends on the proceeds of its sale – the Kazakhstan government justifiably fears popular discontent. In a deteriorating social situation it has put through a number of laws restricting the trade union movement and have tightened liability for the organisation of strikes and demonstrations, and all forms of public protest. A range of independent trade union organisations have been liquidated for not wanting to join the more or less state-controlled structures with the high-sounding title ‘Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan’.
The question of non-payment of wages has become especially bitter and causes huge discontent amongst workers who have little or no legitimate earnings. In the construction industry, building projects for housing and public sector projects have come to a halt. Those people who have participated in shared building projects are demanding the return of the money they have put in or the handing over of the housing which they have almost paid for. And this is just the beginning of a mood of resistance, as the government has no clear plan for a way out of the crisis.
Corruption in high places
Something which has provoked a particular response from people has been the fact that newly elected members of parliament, while waiting for their service apartments for two weeks, lived in a luxury expensive hotel called ‘Peking Palace’, which cost the public purse a massive 8 million tenge.
The next row followed very quickly. It turned out that the budget for expenses of members of parliament included the cost of purchasing alcoholic drinks like whisky, brandy, vodka and champagne. In the end, it turned out that the amount spent on top class alcoholic drinks was the equivalent of the cost of a railway tanker !
All this behaviour of these officials of the state apparatus is only adding to the build up of pressure and a difficult situation, the result of corruption and irresponsibility.
Protests have begun
After defeating the opposition in the election, the arrogant government obviously considered the most important threat to them is removed – the threat of a change of power. In fact, on the political field, informal leaders have been bringing people together who are active in society, organising protest groups and raising the mood of protest amongst people, uniting them around one aim – to change the existing unjust order of things.
Under cover of the elections, the government proposed to rent out about one million hectares of land to the People’s Republic of China. Legislation was also being considered for the sale of land to foreigners, which arouse an angry reaction in the population. On April 24, in Atyrau there was an un-sanctioned rally against the sale of land to China, which brought out about 4,000 participants. In the near future, similar protests are planned in other cities of Kazakhstan.
So, instead of getting a quiet life as expected by government officials after falsifying the election, the government has found itself with an intensification of the struggle of Kazakhstan people with the false, lying and criminal set-up established during the many years of Nazarbayev’s rule.