Empire vs. Republic

As Marxists used to say, the specific feature of current political moment consists in polarization of Kazakh community and its splitting into two camps: into those who have chosen to build democracy a-la Nazarbayev (like it has been done the entire past decade), and those who would not do so as they consider this pointless.

Any speculations about one's "special position", that one can not divide the world into just black and white, are either demagogy (they call it tactics) aimed to conceal the cowardice of individual politicians who would like to appear democrats without going against the government ("Ak-Zhol"), or the camouflaged apologetics of the regime ("Otan", Civil, Agrarian, and other pro-government parties.) There are also people who just cannot understand what is going on due to their political indifference. They form the majority that always keeps silence and to whom government constantly appeals. Though they form the majority, they do not play any significant role in the nation's political life due to their zero civic consciousness.

They do not have any political position at all safe for the one defined by the phrase "it makes no difference to us, we just need to be paid". A parliamentary republic, presidency, democracy, or despotism is all the same for them. It is our political backwaters, and it is mainly due to its size that we have got our problems with democracy. However, it is a different story.

The tales about the collapsing the SYSTEM from within through cooperation with this very System are not popular today. Even Mr. Svoik, the Chief Ideologist of systemic opposition to the government has at least understood it is impossible to push Nazarbayev towards democracy by talking him into it, advising him, or "entering the government and pushing from the inside." He must have understood this, and has moved from the "soft" opposition into tough.

One might possibly accuse me of radicalism, but unfortunately, the slogan "he who is not with us is against us" reflects the political reality of today. And this thesis is proved by the behavior of Kazakh authorities who automatically consider everyone not on their side to be enemies.

Today one can not rise above the battle in principle (I am speaking about the politically active part of the society). It is like being pregnant: either you are pregnant or you are not. And we have to decide on whose side we are. Clearly, it is extremely difficult for many experienced double-dealers.

On one hand, they would not side with the government's infamous henchmen, while on the other they would not take any risks with their safety and wellbeing. And for the majority the theory of being "above the battle" is the only excuse for the contemporaries and the generations to come. I stand for democracy, but this has nothing to do with Nazarbayev, they say. There seems to be a pregnancy, but not so evident and without any particular author. Some kind of virginal conception.

One of manifestations of the above mentioned polarization is the discussion on a parliamentary or presidential republics. The opinions have divided. There has been no enough space for the discussion in the press, so the discussion spilt out onto the streets where each party has been proving their point at public meetings.

In principle, in a democratic country with fair presidential elections, independent (from presidents) court and free mass media a presidential republic is not something extraordinary that needs our attention from the viewpoint of its potential threat to democracy. But, I will stress it, this is true for DEMOCRATIC countries only. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is not a democratic country.

When the Central Election Commission (CEC), media, courts and parliament depend on the President, he has an opportunity to get himself elected indefinitely through changing the Constitution and laws, if needed. Just totally dishonest people can argue in this situation that Kazakhstan is a democratic country.

Today Kazakh opposition is willing to put the country back on democratic track and proposes that Kazakhstan turn to a republican form of government. It is simply incorrect to brush it aside and accuse the opposition of incompetence. Moreover, we have not heard any reasonable objections yet.

For instance, all we hear is just allegations that too much democracy will destabilize the situation. Russia, where the political situation is allegedly less stable in comparison with Kazakhstan, is cited as an example. But this is just beneath criticism.

The fact that passions run high in Russian parliament, that various parties clash in the process of power struggle and journalists feel free to highlight the darkest sides of political life does not mean that that country is less stable. On the contrary, this political activity proves that in comparison with Kazakhstan democratic institutions do work in Russia. These institutions help solve problems without causing real political antagonism.

May be this is the reason, why there is no opposition block demanding that Russian President resign, while the movement whose slogan is "Kazakhstan without Nazarbayev" is on the rise in Kazakhstan.

When we talk about stability as the government understands it, we have to consider Turkmenistan as the most stable country. There is almost no crime and the society is united in its support of the President. While Italy, with its constant government crises has to be considered the least stable country then.

The logic of those who think that Kazakhstan is following the path of democratic changes is absolutely unclear. Facts testify to the contrary. For a decade, "the democratization process" has been going in the opposite direction.

Dissolution of two parliaments that were inconvenient for the President and abolishment of the Constitutional Court; closing down of all disloyal television and broadcasting stations and newspapers and adoption of the new Constitution that has eliminated the parliamentary republic and has in fact legitimized the President's sweeping powers; extension of the President's tenure through a doubtful referendum, holding rigged presidential and parliamentary elections and persecution of opposition. This is their "democratization" process and the list is far from being complete.

But in spite of the evident facts, the regime apologists and President Nazarbaev himself keep saying that the country is going through democratic transitions. I am sorry, gentlemen, but this is not just a lie, this is a big lie. I believe that Kazakh authorities intentionally deceive the international public and Kazakh people when they declare their commitment to democratization. In truth, everything the authorities has been doing for the recent five or seven years in the political sphere is done just to consolidate presidential power, control the media and harass the dissent.

There are two points of view, two approaches to the issue of polity in Kazakhstan. Some people think that a presidential republic is an optimal solution for the country in its transition period. They believe that the parliamentary form is not suitable for the country at this stage and just looks like "playing at democracy in the midstream." There is no need to take any risks, just let's first get to the shore, they say.

On the contrary, others are convinced that in transition period a republican form guarantees "success ij getting to the shore" for countries with marginal psychology. They think that concentration of power in the hands of one person will inevitably make us get stuck midway or sink in the waters of social cataclysms. There is some logic in either forecasts. But we have to choose the lesser of two evils.

So, on the one hand we run the risk of getting into a sopor of Asian authoritarianism or dictatorship and forget about socio-economic sustainability and political freedoms. On the other hand, we run the risk of democratic ochlocracy, when society is divided into parts by different political preferences and does not feel like indulging in creative processes.

The main argument of the opposition is that relatively good socio-economic indexes in Kazakhstan are a result of natural resources sell-off in general and the high oil prices in particular. It's not the achievement of the authorities. Especially, as the ruling elite: a) has proved unable to use effectively the favorable economic situation caused by high hydrocarbons prices to reanimate the Kazakhstan industry; b) has allowed and in to some degree even initiated the robbery of a greater part of the national riches; c) for a decade has been killing the national business by creating unbearable conditions for its legitimate existence; d) has created the system of pervasive corruption; e) has failed to preserve favorable and attractive investment climate for foreign investors.

To complete the list of presidential government successes, I shall mention the impoverishment of Kazakh people, the wave of crime, the outrage of judiciary and law-enforcement authorities, deepening crisis in healthcare and educational systems.

With such service record, you cannot pretend to be a father and benefactor of your nation. Moreover, it is high time to bring up the issue of responsibility for such material and social damage. It is impossible to calculate how many million dollars Kazakhstan has lost as a result of this wise rule. Kazakhstan has lost this money, however. You can not say now that "he is lifeless who is faultless". All the above mentioned is not just the government's sad miscalculations and mistakes but a purposeful national policy proceeding from the very nature of the authoritarian presidential rule.

The slogan of the opposition "Kazakhstan without Nazarbayev" is somewhat incorrect. Many people are taking it literally, as if the opposition intends to put somebody from its ranks in place of Nazarbayev. It is all the same for them, they conclude. However, Nazarbayev serves here as a symbol of and represents the political system that he has designed. The slogan underscores that the existing political system is so personified that we have every right to repeat after the poet just slightly changing the words: "When we say Nazarbayev we mean the System, when we say the System we mean Nazarbayev."

However, Nazarbayev's resignation would change nothing today. A new president will automatically become a Nazarbayev if the political system is not changed.

Whatever honest and fair President we will elect in the conditions of (a) actual monopoly on power (under the presidential republic); (b) creeping and crouching officials (which is in principle unable to change their attitude toward bosses), he will inevitably follow the previous course. He will be forced to do so by the SYSTEM, which is resting on the two whales: the first is the presidential republic, and the second one is the mentality, or, more precisely, Soviet feudal traditionalism of the people in general and the ruling class in particular.

It is obvious today, that Nazarbayev is a hostage of his System. In fact, it is not the President who rules the state but the System controls him and makes him satisfy its fancies going against the state and social interests. This is proved by the pervasive uncontrolled corruption, the power making no bones about the impoverishment of Kazakh people, unreasonable sell-off of the national natural resources, talentless staffing policy, and reluctance to promote our national entrepreneurship.

Though the arguments of the presidential republic advocates may sound logical, their scheme is flawed in its most important part - they do not take the System into account, and the System will break all their schemes.

If to weigh on one scale the efficiency of resolving national problems, decision-making and absence of barriers on the part of other branches of power (everything that concentration of power provides), and on the other scale - the maturity of decisions taken, the complexity of pushing personal interests when adopting state programs, the absence of voluntarism of government agencies (everything that the parliamentary system entails) it is obvious that democracy will outweigh.

It should be realized that the government has entirely discredited itself. The decade was enough to realize this. During the whole period, President had at his disposal all the necessary powers to resolve major national socioeconomic problems. No one – the parliament, opposition or external forces - could have prevented him from doing this. Oil prices were at their highest point - petrodollars flooded the country (nobody knows, though, in which direction), foreign investors flocked to Kazakhstan. Western countries gave many loans.

The result has been minimal.

However, President Nazarbayev has succeeded in amassing sweeping powers and silencing dissent. This is the first consideration to be taken into account. The second consideration is that due to the mentality of Kazakh nation, any concentration of power in the hands of one person will inevitably affect the political institutions, and finally result in this person's alloying with power, or, in other words, in privatization of power by this person.

Without taking into account these two considerations, the discussion on this topic will automatically turn into a debate about the advantages of parliamentary and presidential systems based on the experience of democratic countries. Whether the system is parliamentary or presidential, they are both good when we speak about DEMOCRATIC systems. Today, the mechanisms are urgently needed to stop the authoritarian trends in the absence of democracy.

Opposition proposes to choose a parliamentarian variant with its clear-cut division of powers, fair election, real instead of declared independence of the judiciary, press freedom as a way to self-regulate and defend democratic institutions.

However, the authorities do not want to change anything. The power is quite happy with the present state of affairs.

Moreover, it has been convincing everyone that there is no problems with democracy in Kazakhstan.

These are the poles of today's political confrontation. All the opposition's attempts to prevent the confrontation through organizing a nation-wide dialog have failed. The authorities refuse to sit at the negotiation table with their political opponents.

As a result, the poles have become even more apparent. The painstaking, ideological, stationary warfare for people's minds has started. What lies ahead for Kazakhstan? In many ways, this will depend on whose side the public will take.

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Author`s name Editorial Team