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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07ASTANA2222 2007-08-14 08:37 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

DE RUEHTA #2222/01 2260837
R 140837Z AUG 07

E.O. 12958: N/A 
Ref: Astana 1906 
ASTANA 00002222  001.2 OF 003 
1. (SBU) Summary.  Northern Kazakhstan Oblast (NKO) presents an 
interesting, albeit somewhat extreme, microcosm of Kazakhstan's 
campaign for upcoming Mazhilis [lower house of Parliament] and 
regional legislative elections.  The oblast, which has the 
distinction of having been the strongest supporter of President 
Nazarbayev's reelection in 2005 (over 95% of the votes cast went for 
Nazarbayev, compared to a national average of 91%), is currently a 
pioneer in the nationwide trend of blurring the boundaries between 
the government and the ruling Nur Otan party.  With oblast leaders 
also holding matching leadership positions in the oblast branch of 
the Nur Otan, the NKO is a poster child for the systemic obstacles 
to Kazakhstan's prospects of carrying out free and fair elections 
and becoming a more democratic society.  Kazakhstan's divided, 
resource-hungry, struggling opposition is inconspicuous in the NKO. 
End summary. 
Can You Tear Us Apart?  Oblast Government and Nur Otan 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
2. (SBU) NKO (pop. 658,430), a deputy oblast akim proudly told 
visiting Econoff, has a unique match-up of leadership positions 
between the oblast government and the oblast apparatus of Nur Otan. 
The oblast's akim is the head of the Nur Otan oblast branch, the 
city akim of Petropavlovsk (oblast capital, pop. 193,321) is the 
head of the Petropavlovsk Nur Otan branch, and each and every rayon 
(i.e. county) akim is the head of Nur Otan's rayon branch.  NKO and 
Nur Otan officials did note to Econoff that the akims separate their 
government and party responsibilities.   A rayon akim, they said, 
does his government work in his government office (akimat) and 
engages in party activities at the rayon's Nur Otan headquarters. 
The Tayynshinski rayon akim also stated that his party leadership 
does not detract from his government work.  In any case, this fusion 
of government and Nur Otan leadership in NKO is likely to endure: 
just as oblast akims enjoy unlimited terms (serving at the 
president's pleasure), rayon akims are appointed by the oblast akim 
for unspecified periods. 
3. (SBU) Apart from blurred boundaries between oblast government and 
the Nur Otan apparatus, there are plentiful signs that Nur Otan is, 
in its own right, a very powerful institution.  The party's oblast 
headquarters occupies a newly built, spacious building in 
Petropavlovsk.   Petropavlovsk also has a separate headquarters for 
the Nur Otan city branch.  Likewise, each rayon appears to have its 
own Nur Otan headquarters.  The headquarters tend to have a "public 
services" section, which employs lawyers that hear - and attempt to 
respond to - citizens' complaints and requests, most commonly on 
issues such as housing and public services.  (Comment:  Given Nur 
Otan's stranglehold on NKO's government structures, the party is 
uniquely positioned to offer effective assistance to the local 
citizenry.  End comment.) 
4. (SBU) These institutional strengths contrast sharply with the 
position the opposition finds itself in.  The two mainstream 
opposition parties, the National Social Democratic Party (NSDP) and 
Ak Zhol currently have no elected officials anywhere in the NKO 
government (i.e. no members of oblast or rayon maslikhats [local 
legislatures]).  The two parties do have oblast headquarters: NSDP 
operates in a modest apartment; Ak Zhol rents a small, decrepit 
basement.  For both, these are their only facilities in all of the 
NKO.  Each opposition party is only working in the oblast to promote 
itself in national (Mazhilis) elections.  Representatives of both 
told Econoff that they do not have the resources to engage in 
campaigning for rayon (local) maslikhats.  NSDP does have a "public 
services" section employing one attorney; Ak Zhol - which only plans 
to maintain its headquarters for the duration of the campaign - does 
Campaign is on, Opposition Largely Invisible 
5. (SBU) The signs of the election season are hard to miss in and 
around Petropavlovsk.  Three types of large billboards line the 
city's main arteries.  The first simply announce upcoming elections; 
the second are official campaign posters for Nur Otan, with 
fine-print legal disclaimers at the bottom identifying them as such; 
and the third are "anonymous" posters featuring President Nazarbayev 
and a patriotic slogan or praise for his policies.  (A typical 
example featured a large image of Nazarbayev against the backdrop of 
high-rise buildings with a sentence applauding the president's 
housing policy.)  (Note:  Variations of these billboards can 
normally be found in modest numbers throughout Kazakhstan during 
non-election periods.  End note.) 
6. (SBU) Nur Otan and Ak Zhol focus their efforts in Petropavlovsk 
plastering their leaflets on official, designated "posts" that 
ASTANA 00002222  002.2 OF 003 
provide advertising space to each of the seven parties competing in 
the election.  These "posts" did not appear to feature prominently 
in the city.  Each rayon of the oblast is, likewise, supposed to 
have a "board" divided into seven equal sections for displaying each 
party's campaign information.  In the Kyzylzharskiy rayon, such a 
board was indeed located close to the rayon akimat building and 
featured seven equal sections.  Only two parties, however, had their 
leaflets displayed: Nur Otan and the Auyl (a populist rural party). 
In the Tayynshinski rayon, the board was located rather far from the 
official center, was not divided into sections, and was largely 
covered with Nur Otan posters. 
7. (SBU) In practice, many campaign leaflets adorn private property 
- buildings, shops, fences, etc.  The law allows posting campaign 
materials on private property with the owner's permission.  In 
practice, NSDP activists told Econoff, this provision works 
overwhelmingly in Nur Otan's favor.  Business owners feel pressured 
to satisfy Nur Otan's requests to display the party's materials on 
their property.  Conversely, NSDP representatives said, business 
owners are often terrified when faced with the same request by the 
NSDP.  Moreover, "permission by owner" seems to be a rather flexible 
concept when it comes to Nur Otan.  For example, a large post office 
building in the Tayynshinski rayon prominently featured Nur Otan 
leaflets.  "The post office, the building owner, gave its 
permission," gingerly explained a deputy rayon akim.  (Note: The 
Post Office, KazPost, is a state-owned company.  End note.) 
8. (SBU) NKO's NSDP representatives stated that they do intend to 
campaign by means of posting and leafleting in rural areas.  A 
significant obstacle, they said, was a bureaucratic delay in getting 
its activists accredited as official party campaigners.  Only 
individuals with such accreditation, NSDP explained, may legally 
take part in "campaigning" activities.  However, party officials 
stated, even though official campaigning had only started on July 
18, they were only receiving some of the requested accreditations in 
the first week of August. 
Voting Irregularities Ahead?  Opposition is Worried 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
9. (SBU) The biggest concern for the NSDP and Ak Zhol appears to be 
over the voting and counting processes.  A key factor here is the 
opposition's absence from the local election commissions (reftel). 
The head of the oblast election commission told Econoff that his 
seven-member commission consists of representatives from Nur Otan 
and two small parties (not including NSDP or Ak Zhol).  In theory, 
each party nominates to the commission one person, who is then 
subject to confirmation by the oblast maslikhat, which is dominated 
by Nur Otan and lacks a single member from the two mainstream 
opposition parties.  Without having its representatives on the 
election commissions, the NSDP and Ak Zhol have a limited 
opportunity to participate in election observation.  (Note:  A 
recent law, however, gives political parties without election 
commission representation the right to non-voting participation in 
the commissions (reftel).  End note.) 
10. (SBU) Another potential problem, Ak Zhol representatives told 
Econoff, centers on state institutions, such as universities and 
hospitals.  In the past, they alleged, there have been instances of 
what they termed "envelope voting," where universities "submit" the 
votes of their students, and hospitals "submit" the votes of their 
patients.  Introduction of Saylau (the optional electronic voting 
system) may, Ak Zhol said, help alleviate this problem.  Still, the 
Ak Zhol representative stated, "we do not trust the computer 
system," adding that in the last election, the authorities often 
refused to provide voters the option of casting a paper ballot 
despite a legal requirement to do so. 
11. (SBU) The Ak Zhol representative also stated that fears of 
oblast authorities' interference have caused Ak Zhol-allied 
candidates for the Petropavlovsk city maslikhat to run as 
independents.  "The fact," he added, "is that the oblast Akimat 
already has lists of winners in all the maslikhat elections."  The 
Nur Otan official also remarked that the opposition is competing for 
the city maslikhat but expressed bewilderment at the opposition 
candidates' decision to run as independents. 
The Long, Hard Slog to Pluralism 
12. (SBU) The split of the mainstream opposition was quite palpable 
in Econoff's discussions with the NSDP and Ak Zhol.  NSDP 
representatives stated they did not recognize Ak Zhol as 
"opposition."  In response to Econoff's question as to whether they 
were cooperating with any other political parties, the NSDP cited 
Communists.  The Ak Zhol representative laughed when Econoff asked 
him about the ideological gaps between Ak Zhol and NSDP, calling 
ASTANA 00002222  003.2 OF 003 
this a "very western" question.  "Here," he said, "it's not about 
ideology; it's about personalities...  It's about competing 
ambitions and irreconcilable personality conflicts."  Even so, he 
acknowledged some differences of opinion between Ak Zhol and NSDP. 
"We are centrists, and we support the president," he remarked, 
pointing to a small photograph of Nazarbayev pinned above his desk. 
13. (SBU) A reporter with an independent local weekly newspaper, 
present at the meeting, talked about political pressures faced by 
the local media and the resulting self-censorship.  Tough 
requirements for television stations (which she described as an 80% 
local content requirement and a 50% Kazakh-language requirement) 
provide the authorities with leverage over the stations, since "no 
one complies."  The authorities also have leverage over newspapers, 
she continued, thanks to the registration requirements.  Any 
publication with more than 100 issues, she explained, requires 
registration; registration is also required when a newspaper changes 
its editor or shifts its focus.  (Note:  As far as we are aware, no 
paper has been denied re-registration since the requirement was 
imposed.  End note.)  The journalist added that since local 
newspapers lack a national profile, they are particularly 
vulnerable.  Threat of litigation or prosecution for libel and 
slander, she continued, is also a problem.  However, she noted, 
courts have been coming down on the side of the papers, fearing a 
possible "domino effect" of legal actions against the media. 
14. (SBU) Comment.  The Northern Kazakhstan Oblast (NKO) exemplifies 
the blurring of boundaries between the government and the Nur Otan. 
This institutionalization of the ruling party fuels skepticism on 
the part of the opposition in the government's resolve (a
nd ability) 
to conduct free and fair elections.  Also highly problematic is the 
"vertical of power" by which the Kazakhstani government operates 
(the president appoints the oblast akims; the oblast akims appoint 
the rayon akims).  Under these circumstances, Astana's stated call 
for free and fair elections may be affected by a regional official's 
desire to please his boss.  This may be particularly true in the 
NKO, whose akim won the 2005 "competition" among oblast akims to 
provide the president with the greatest support possible.  End 


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