Opposition protest movements call for boycott of dictator’s fake poll
In early February, in a surprise decision, the Constitutional Court of Kazakhstan declared the proposal to organize a referendum to cancel the 2012 and 2017 Presidential elections unconstitutional. This apparently “unexpected decision” is a retreat by the regime, reflecting how uncertain President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev is of his position, pressure from the US government and undoubtedly by the events in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
Just before the New Year a “group of citizens”, backed by the president’s party and the parliament, launched a campaign to hold a referendum, arguing that an election set for 2012 was not necessary and too costly. Despite Nazarbayev’s statements saying he was against such a move, it is clear that his cronies were behind the campaign. Within days, 5 million signatures (one third of the population) were “collected”! The issue provoked an increase in political discussion across the country. It became clear that the authorities wanted to avoid an election so that they could get on with their economic “reforms”, including an increase in housing charges, a new devaluation of the tenge and a number of other attacks on the living standards of ordinary Kazakhs.
The social protest groups and a large part of the working class reacted very sharply to the referendum proposal. There are already plans for a number of strikes and protests in the spring over wages and jobs. New groups sprung up to organize campaigns against the president and the idea of boycotting the referendum was taken up by practically all serious oppositionists. Whatever the authorities said, the proposed referendum was seen as a further step in strengthening the dictatorship, and that just met with deep distaste amongst the masses. The successful wave of revolution sweeping the Arab world only strengthened these feelings.
But by backing off from the referendum, the regime has demonstrated its weakness and instability and caught a section of the bureaucrats off their guard. While Nazurbayev was in Astana, directing the Constitutional Court, his supporters in the West of Kazakhstan were still organizing demonstrations of “people’s love” for the President and idea of the referendum.
The truth is that Nazarbayev is afraid to wait until 2012, for fear that what support he has left will plummet even further. Already workers are discussing what place he will take in the queue of collapsing dictatorships. But by deciding to go ahead with an early election (on April 3rd), Nazarbayev gains the advantage of presenting a “democratic face” to keep his friends in the West happy, while at home his cronies continue to whip up a general fanfare proclaiming him as the “great guarantor” (of the constitution and stability). Nevertheless, Nazarbayev has now demonstrated his animal fear of the people and shown his ambition of being recognized as “SuperKhan 2012”. These manoeuvres over the last couple of months may well prove to have been a fatal mistake, demonstrating that the “all powerful” leader is in fact quite weak.
April’s election, however, will not be democratic. So far, 16 candidates have applied for official recognition to stand, some are either lackeys of the regime, who openly state they will vote for Nazarbayev, others just clowns and eccentrics. The liberal bourgeois opposition has no individual party that has enough support to stand on its own, and they have not been able to find agreement on a united candidate. No serious opposition candidate is being allowed to register, some possible opposition candidates have been ruled out – for example by failing the “language exam”, a test of Kazakh language abilities which is part of the registration process. Not that anything dramatic would change if there was a serious bourgeois opposition – the main demand of the “All Kazakh unified social democrats”, for example is “For a new Kazakhstan”, with proposals fully in line with the proposals of the “Democratic Coalition “Kazakhstan 2020” headed by Nazarbayev’s Nur-Otan party.
The key sections coming to the fore in struggle, the working class, the dissatisfied students and unemployed youth and social movement activists – the real forces capable of providing real opposition to the ruling regime – have not yet formed a political party and mass organization. This process is just beginning, with the unification of these campaigns around the socialist ‘Kazakhstan 2012’. The regime is concerned that by next year, ‘Kazakhstan 2012’ will have grown sufficiently to provide real opposition in an election. This undoubtedly is another reason why the regime has decided to go for an early election.
If the election was genuinely democratic, even with no serious opposition candidates, Nazarbayev would only gain a minority of votes with a low turnout. This is hardly surprising given that even in the early part of this century, during the oil fuelled boom, wages and living standards for the majority of the population continued to suffer. Now, the phenomenon of “ghost cities”, in which cities literally die due to the closure of their main industry and which was prevalent in Kazakhstan in the nineties, has returned.
But few doubt that in this election, the official result will give Nazarbayev the largest number of votes.
The actual process of voting and counting of the votes will remain in the hands of the ruling party. It will make sure that the “leader of the nation” gains enough votes. He will do this by, on the one hand, threatening all those who work for the state, students and many working for private companies that if they do not vote for Nazarbayev, they will lose their jobs. On the other hand, they will make sure that there are enough “votes” to ensure a respectable turnout and the ballot boxes will be stuffed with extra ballots. Independent observers, who can check the misuse of the election, will be kept away from the polling stations.
In these circumstances, the participation of the opposition and workers’ movement in this dishonest farce, by campaigning for a ‘vote against Nazarbayev’, will not have any effect, except to increase the turnout, thus helping to legitimise fake elections. Therefore, as with the referendum, the only option for the opposition is to organize a mass boycott campaign. By refusing to recognize the validity of these elections, and by actively campaigning to reveal the nature of this farce, the turnout can be undermined and therefore the ruling party’s claims of “victory”.
Socialist Resistance (CWI-Kazakhstan), together with Kazakhstan 2012, and independent trade unions calls for the organization of a campaign to boycott this unfair and illegitimate election, which is, in effect just a plebiscite to prolong for another five years tyranny and oppression and the ravaging of the country’s resources by the multinational company vultures. We call on all workers and activists in the social protests to organize public protests, refuse to participate in the voting and to publically campaign for others to do the same.
We call on students and workers in corporations, whether state or private, whose lecturers and bosses insist on them going to vote under threat of expulsion or sacking, to organize to oppose these threats. The mass spoiling of manifestos or destroying of voting slips will indicate that we are not prepared to let them use our vote.
The call for a boycott needs to be backed by an active campaign, by uniting a coalition of social protest, worker and youth groups under the slogan, “Defend electoral rights”. We need to fight every attempt at falsification, by challenging the regime at every breach, calling for electoral lists to be publically checked and using every possibility to further the call for a boycott. Where possible, we should insist on genuine observers at the polling stations, to collect information on how many people vote, and where possible to survey how people actually vote, so that the false claims of the regime can be challenged using facts.
In conducting our campaign with leaflets, stickers and video footage, we need to explain how we see the development of a genuine democratic Kazakhstan, which is only possible if it is part of a struggle to achieve a socialist Kazakhstan. This would see a dramatic change in the structure of society, so that the masses, through their own organisations, whether trade unions, protest committees and other democratic bodies, can decide their own fate. We say no to this plebiscite, reject the personality cults organized by the ruling clique, call for a speedy end to this regime, and call for the convening of a genuine constituent assembly, made up of elected representatives of the working class, rural poor, student and youth and other oppressed groups, to decide on how society should be changed in the long-term interests of the majority.
The regime wants to use this election to legitimize its rule for a further five years, to avoid the inevitable growth of discontent at its economic policies, enriched by the experience of the revolutionary wave sweeping the Arab world. But it will not succeed. On the contrary, by campaigning for a boycott, and presenting our democratic socialist alternative, we are preparing for the struggles on wages, living conditions and against corruption and oppression that will inevitably follow the election thus enabling us to turn Kazakhstan 2012 into a powerful socialist political force capable of fighting for real political change.
Boycott the one-man, Nazarbayev election
For genuine and free elections in 2012, with a socialist candidate
For a genuine democratic constituent assembly – For a majority government of the working class and rural poor
For a democratic, socialist Kazakhstan