US embassy cable - 09ASTANA2148

KAZAKHSTAN: PARTY POLITICS INSIDE AND OUT: TWO POLITICIANS VIEWS

Identifier: 09ASTANA2148
Wikileaks: View 09ASTANA2148 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Astana
Created: 2009-12-14 10:53:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PHUM PINR KDEM KZ
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
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O 141053Z DEC 09
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6988
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 2244
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RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 002148 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR SCA/CEN, DRL 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2009 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PHUM, PINR, KDEM, KZ 
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN: PARTY POLITICS INSIDE AND OUT: TWO POLITICIANS 
VIEWS 
 
Classified By: DCM Pamela Spratlen:  1.4 (b), (d) 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  The Charge met on December 5 with the Secretary of 
the Nur Otan party, Yerlan Karin.  In the surprisingly frank 
three-hour meeting, Karin readily admitted that Nur Otan's monopoly 
on power tarnishes Kazakhstan's democratic credentials.  In his view, 
single-party rule is not sustainable, and Nur Otan will eventually 
split into several parties.  Karin wants Nur Otan to develop a solid 
party platform and resolve citizens' concerns, rather than simply 
serve as President Nazarbayev's "propaganda machine."  Karin 
acknowledged that the Presidential Administration sets policy, but 
asserted President Nazarbayev's openness to suggestions from his 
liberal advisors.  The leader of the opposition Ak Zhol party, by 
contrast, sees little opportunity for input on the policy process. 
END SUMMARY. 
 
2. (C) On December 5, the CDA met with Nur Otan party Secretary 
Yerlan Karin on his invitation.  The 33-year-old Karin, a political 
scientist by training, came to the President's Nur Otan party in 
November 2008 from the Internal Policy department of the Presidential 
Administration.  In Nur Otan's hierarchy, he is one of two 
secretaries reporting to the party's deputy chairman, who in turn 
reports to President Nazarbayev.  Although he usually keeps a low 
public profile, Karin is believed to be the party's policy strategist 
and is credited with Nur Otan's recent push to cement its credentials 
as a bona fide political party.  Further bio details reported septel. 
 
NUR OTAN DEVELOPING TIES TO CIVIL SOCIETY 
 
3.  (C) During a three-hour meeting and lunch, Karin freely and 
frankly discussed his views of the Nur Otan party, decision-making in 
the Presidential Administration, and the future of democratic reform 
in the country.  Karin readily admitted that Nur Otan's monopoly on 
power tarnishes Kazakhstan's democratic credentials, but "it is a 
fact of life for the moment."  He aims to compensate through the 
creation of greater democracy within the party itself and increased 
responsiveness to citizens' concerns.  Karin described his initiative 
for Nur Otan to establish consultative councils with pro-government 
opposition parties and leading NGOs.  The "radical" opposition 
parties declined to participate, because they feared being seen as 
abandoning their principles, he said. 
 
PARTY AS A "DEMOCRACY SCHOOL"? 
 
4.  (C) In his relaxed and frank way, Karin told us that he does not 
consider single-party rule sustainable, and that Nur Otan will 
eventually split into separate parties -- "It's a question of time." 
Nur Otan's weakness is that "it's trying to be all things to all 
people" and avoiding taking a committed stance on tougher issues, 
like the question of Kazakhstan's identity as a multi-ethnic state 
versus Kazakh nationalism.  At the same time, he sees the party as 
"good democracy training.  The government (executive branch) works in 
isolation.  It sets its own priorities without consulting" with civil 
society or the electorate.  "As a party, you are constantly exposed 
to criticism, forced to defend your policies," he said.  He conveyed 
his initial ambivalence when "asked" to leave the administration for 
the party.  However, he now believes he can "still make a 
difference."  He believes Nur Otan must evolve from a "propaganda 
machine" for President Nazarbayev to a party that uses its political 
power to resolve "real issues.  You cannot wait for the system to 
reform itself," he asserted, "you must push it forward."  At the same 
time, he readily acknowledged that "policy is set at the Ak Orda (the 
presidential administration)" and not by the parliament or political 
parties. 
 
PRESIDENT OPEN TO LIBERAL IDEAS ... 
 
5.  (C) The CDA asked whether others in the Nur Otan establishment 
share Karin's liberal-leaning views.  Karin joked that convincing 
others in the party leadership is "extremely delicate work." He 
underlined the comparative openness of regional party leaders to 
Karin's ideas, specifically because "they hear the criticism" from 
the population.  However, according to Karin, President Nazarbayev is 
willing to hear such views.  He highlighted a two-hour audience with 
the President during his tenure at the Presidential Administration 
when Nazarbayev explicitly solicited his views.  Karin apparently 
told Nazarbayev that Nur Otan would benefit from greater openness, 
transparency, and accountability.  He suggested that Nazarbayev give 
 
ASTANA 00002148  002 OF 002 
 
 
up his position as the head of Nur Otan, as a sitting President, and 
serve instead as the arbitrator of the whole political process. 
Karin said he was elated after the meeting, because "the President 
really listened."  He admitted, however, that one "must be around the 
President all the time" to translate ideas into policy.  When he 
moved to Nur Otan, Karin lost that access.  (NOTE: Karin did not 
indicate that a connection existed between his frankness with the 
President and his subsequent move away from Ak Orda to Nur Otan.  END 
NOTE.) 
 
... BUT OPPOSITION SEES FEW OPPORTUNITIES 
 
6.  (C) On December 7, the CDA met with the Alikhan Baimenov, leader 
of the Ak Zhol opposition party.  In contrast with the free-flowing 
conversation with Karin, Baimenov was reserved and careful in his 
comments.  He told the CDA that President Nazarbayev and his Nur Otan 
party tightly control the political space in Kazakhstan, leaving 
little room for input from opposition parties.  Asked about potential 
avenues of influence in such a constricted political environment, 
Baimenov did not have an answer readily available.  He said, however, 
that Ak Zhol is focusing on the issue of Kazakh language and identity 
due to the growing frustration among some Kazakhs at the government's 
perceived slow progress in elevation of the use of Kazakh language. 
He noted opposition to the recently-announced Doctrine of National 
Unity, which calls for a development of a "civil" -- rather than 
ethnic -- Kazakhstani identity.  Baimenov asserted that many Kazakhs 
consider this policy a threat to the future of their language and 
culture.  Ak Zhol supported an open letter to President Nazarbayev 
from approximately 200 Kazakh leaders and intellectuals, which asked 
him to reconsider the doctrine and threatened an Independence Day 
(December 17) hunger strike unless he changes course. 
 
7.  (C) COMMENT:  The difference between these two politicians' 
perception of Kazakhstani politics and the role of political parties 
is striking.  Those on the outside, like Baimenov, see a monolithic, 
top-down process, in which President Nazarbayev unilaterally sets 
policy with little outside input.  However, the conversation with 
Karin shows the variety of views within the Nur Otan party itself, 
some of which are quite liberal.  Karin impressed us with his 
frankness, openness, and liberal mindset, especially if one considers 
that he is one of the chief strategists of the President's ruling 
party.  END COMMENT. 
 
HOAGLAND 

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