Leaders and would-be delegates of the founding congress of an opposition party have been arrested in Kazakhstan ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections, raising concerns about democratic participation in the Central Asian nation.
The crackdown started last week with a reported arson and the arrest of three activists who were heading to the largest city – Almaty – for Saturday’s congress of the nascent Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (DPK) led by former journalist Zhanbolat Mamai.
The move was seen as an attempt to sabotage the assembly of delegates, as Kazakh law requires the participation of at least 1,000 people in the founding congress of a political party for it to be officially recognised.
Mamai, who cancelled the event scheduled for February 22 over the arrests and held a protest rally on Saturday instead, was also detained for three days along with his pregnant wife and dozens of other demonstrators.
Doomed to failure
Dimash Alzhanov, a prominent member of the Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake Up, Kazakhstan) civic movement, which calls for a parliamentary republic and fair elections, told Al Jazeera that any attempt to create a genuine opposition party was doomed to fail in the current political system.
“There is only one way of getting registration. You have to make a deal with the regime. If you just follow the registration procedure and bring all the documents to the Ministry of Justice, they will just not register you. They will have one hundred reasons not to do so,” he said.
Kazakh law mandates at least 1,000 people, representing two-thirds of the regions and major cities, participate in the founding congress of a political party. It is also required that the party have 40,000 members.
Once a party is registered, it receives funding from the state.
Alzhanov said “Kazakhstan is a very well-sustained autocracy” with the government using a combination of “repression, cooptation and patronage system” in order “to fake a democratic process”.
“We have one dominant party, the party of the president – Nur Otan – and the other five are technical parties who receive more than $1m annually from the state budget,” he said.
“You don’t have people behind them, you don’t have a serious structure behind them. They are registered by the authorities to have some sort of multi-party system.”