What Makes the Opposition’s «Shoot-Outs» Useful?

The presidential election campaign in Kazakhstan continues, however, no one in the country has any doubts as who is to win on June 9, 2019. Therefore, we do not see a point in analyzing and assessing the candidates’ election programs, their slogans and support groups. Nonetheless, the current developments are interesting — albeit not from the point of view of today but in the sense of how they will affect the future.

In view of this, let us draw the reader’s attention to the opinion of publicist Sergey Duvanov who one of the most active «residents» of Kazakh sector of Facebook.

On May 21, 2019, he posted an article called «How have we come to this?». Here are some quotes that we consider the most crucial ones (text in bold by kz.expert).

«The unique feature of the current presidential elections lies in the presence of the protest candidate».

«Akorda would never consent to that had it not been for the protest-oriented part of the society’s unified desire to vote against the continuation of Nazarbayev’s political line personified by Tokayev. However, Akorda has been quick to realize that, with no love lost between Ablyazov and Kosanov, a unified protest front cannot exist in principle.

They have played on the antagonism that has been a part of the protest camp for a long time. It is the antagonism between the radical wing led by Ablyazov and the wing led today by Kosanov — the wing clearly willing to compromise, to cooperate with the authorities. Essentially, the confrontation between these two protest «wings» has become the main suspense of the upcoming elections. When the said antagonism between the leaders had divided the protest electorate into two parts that started to hamper each other’s way, it became clear that the ruling party’s candidate would have no problems at the elections».

«The growth of protest moods that everyone has been remarking upon recently shows that the public conscience has undergone serious changes in regard to the critical assessment of the authorities. The society has become noticeably proactive and, had the opposition been a bit smarter, it could have used this trend to their advantage. But alas! The political engineers had played it beautifully and managed to face off the threats that could have taken place in the event of the consolidation of all the dissidents».

«Nonetheless, the elections suspense continues albeit now it has nothing to do with the results of the elections. Now we have the fight between those supporting the boycott of the elections and those suggesting to vote for the protest candidate. The advocates of either side have got bogged down in debates, mutual reprimands and affronts. With that, it is unclear how many of those (from either side) are there. It is possible that only a handful is engaged in these debates. Whereas the major part of the society that is, traditionally, is not rooting for either the «reds» or the «whites», is absolutely clueless as to how to act. Shall they or shall they not vote at all? If they choose to boycott the elections, how can they do it exactly? If they choose to vote, then for whom?»

Note that Sergey Duvanov is one of the key figures in the history of the Kazakh opposition, its veteran who, for more than two decades, has been a member of most protest structures that, one way or another, existed in the country since the collapse of the USSR and the creation of the independent Republic of Kazakhstan. With that, he is not a politician but a publicist — he writes what he thinks and thinks what he writes.

We will start commenting on his post by analyzing Duvanov’s statement that «the unique feature of the current presidential elections lies in the presence of the protest candidate».

In our opinion, the uniqueness lies in something else — the absence of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s name on the list of the candidates. Everything else is minor. The very fact that Nazarbayev has handed the reign of power over to another person thus letting him take the lead (and it does not matter who this person is) is a shock for the Kazakh citizens used to Nazarbayev being the leader of the nation.

As to the «suspense» personified by the protest candidate, even if it is happening, it is happening for a rather narrow circle of people (say several thousands; tens of thousands at the most) interested in what is going on in the country. Nothing more.

Of course, the mere nomination of Amirzhan Kosanov as a candidate for the Presidency, the fact that his supporters had managed to collect more than a hundred thousand signatures in a matter of days and the Central Electoral Commission had accepted them — all of that is truly astounding. For the proactive citizens, it serves as a reason to, first, work out their position in re the so called protest candidate and, second, to express their position in re the events happening in the country.

To hope that the Kazakh opposition would unite and stand as one at the upcoming early presidential elections was futile from the very beginning. Hence Duvanov’s disappointment expressed in his Facebook posts — yet again, the dreams have not come true.

So, the question arises — can a new opposition emerge in the country and, if yes, them when? The answer to the first part of the question can be nothing but positive, but the second one presents a total puzzle.

It is puzzling if only because, today, the country has many opponents of Akorda and Nursultan Nazarbayev personally. They can be either open or hidden in their manifestation, nonetheless, they are true opponents of all kinds and varieties. However, they differ from the political opposition in that they do not have any aspirations to seize (obtain) the power. So, de-facto, the opposition today consists of Mukhtar Ablyazov only. All the other groups and persons either do not dare to or cannot formulate their own political program (line) and vocalize it. Given this, it is pointless to hope that they will unite even on such an important occasion as electing the new president who will not be Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Meanwhile, in our opinion, the shoot-outs among Akorda’s opponents that are happening today and will happen tomorrow are not simply useful but imperative at the present stage of the development of the internal political process in the country. The fact that not only Mukhtar Ablyazov with his DCK-2, the representatives of the Zhana Kazakhstan movement, the supporters of Akezhan Kazhegeldin and Bergey Ryskaliyev but also the young people who, to everyone’s surprise, participated in the May protests are now active on social media is a big plus for Kazakhstan. In fact, we are observing the start of the self-identification process of those who can become a part of a true opposition in the future.

In this sense, the merits of the DCK-2’s leader to his country and the Kazakh citizens lies in the fact that, by assuming a more radical position towards the authorities and Nursultan Nazarbayev, he represents one of the sides of the internal political spectrum. In doing so, it is creating, between himself and Akorda, an internal political space for all the other potentially protest groups enabling them them to operate inside the country.

As a consequence to their «Brownian movement» when all the participants without exception collide with each other thus striking informational «lightnings», something is now happening which the country has not seen for a long time — the rise of the active stance in the society. With that, one must realize that the other protest groups, the Islamist factions for example, are not expressing themselves openly on social media. 

And, since the country is ruled by the authoritarian political system and the super-presidential vertical (no matter who is in charge of it) and, in theory, anyone whose opinion differs from that of the authorities can be called an opponent, it so happens that practically all the Kazakh citizens can become dissidents (just the way it happened in the USSR).

At the same time, we believe Sergey Duvanov is wrong in his opinion that, even though «the country has a lot of people dissatisfied with the authorities who do not support (perhaps not even know) those calling themselves «the opposition» and that these people «are not yet ripe enough to openly express their dissatisfaction and, therefore, are not ready to join protest organizations and participate in public protests», nonetheless, «all this protest mass of people is already prepared to vote against the continuation of the old reign» that «they are ripe enough to say no to the Nazarbayev line personified by Tokayev». We believe this is not so.

We also cannot agree with Segey Duvanov in regard to his placing all the responsibility for the current election campaign fiasco on the opposition. «I repeat, the protest leaders are to be blamed for today’s unfortunate situation first and foremost for they have not been unable to rise above their own ambitions and personal dislikes. Hence the protest part of the Kazakh society is now disoriented and exists in the state of feud». We do not agree with this because the opposition, as well as the authorities, cannot be that different from the Kazakh people — they are all different projections of the same social organism.

It is for this reason that our reply to the question posed by Sergey Duvanov to himself and others («What is to be done?») is this: the Kazakhs who want to change the country and live to see a better future should start by changing themselves and trying to change those around them. If only to ensure that, in the future, the number of civil activists will exponentially surpass the number of siloviki sent out to suppress them. And then the number of actions, movements, projects, ideas (not only of the protest nature) is certain to grow to such an extent that the authorities will have no choice but respond to them bearing in mind the position of the society. There is no other option we believe.


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