Was That Kazakhstan’s Opposition I Heard?

Was That Kazakhstan's Opposition I Heard?

Among the many interesting aspects of the recent coal miners’ strike in Kazakhstan’s central Qaraghandy region was the reappearance of Kazakhstan’s opposition Nationwide Social Democratic Party (OSDP).

The OSDP has been quiet for many months.

The OSDP participated in Kazakhstan’s March 2016 parliamentary elections but took only 1.18 percent of the vote in a poll dominated by, and some say organized to favor, pro-presidential parties.

After that, media coverage of the OSDP practically vanished.

The recent coal miners’ strike to demand higher wages and better working condition from manager ArcelorMittal Temirtau gave the OSDP an opportunity.

Starting on December 11, the miners chose to stay underground in protest, which prevented the authorities from moving to quickly break up the strike, as would likely have happened if the protest took place on the surface.

The protest lasted about four days and was increasingly covered by Kazakhstan’s media.

With so much attention on the event, the OSDP released a statement of support for the striking miners on December 14.

The statement said the OSDP “considers the socioeconomic demands of the striking miners of ArcelorMittal Temirtau to be absolutely fair and expresses our full support for them.”

The statement called on the management of ArcelorMittal Temirtau to “listen to your miners and meet their just demands.”

It also urged Kazakhstan’s government to “cease the habit of serving the interests of big business and under no circumstances resort to repressive measures regarding the striking [miners].”

Kazakhstan’s state media did not report on the OSDP statement but curiously, Russia’s Interfax did.

The OSDP website shows the party is active and apparently the party’s youth wing is increasingly responsible for party activities, a sign, perhaps, that the opposition party will not soon simply fade away, at least anytime soon, as other Kazakh opposition parties already have.

There is reason to believe the OSDP could become, if not a big player, at least a player in Kazakhstan’s politics.

In the 2007 elections to the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, the OSDP received nearly 5 percent of the vote, coming in second to the ruling Nur-Otan party that won all 98 seats available.

The OSDP’s chances in elections were reduced after 2007.

In the 2012 and 2016 Mazhilis elections the pro-government Democratic Party of Kazakhstan Ak-Zhol and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan won a small number of seats.

The two parties’ presence in the Mazhilis creates a facade of a multiparty parliament. Both parties, despite one being nominally a “democratic” party and the other nominally a “communist” party, completely support the president’s policies.

Judging from its website, the OSDP has not given up hope that it could participate in future elections.

Back in 2004, and prior to that, Kazakhstan’s parliament did have opposition parties represented in parliament, so there is precedent.

And change is coming to Kazakhstan in the not-too-distant future. President Nursultan Nazarbaev will turn 78 in July and many groups are already making preparations for what happens after Nazarbaev, including, it seems, the OSDP.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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