Jamestown on DCK Shutdown

by Nathan Hamm on 1/11/2005 · 3 comments

Today’s Eurasia Daily Monitor (not online yet) has additional coverage of the shutdown of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. President Nazarbayev’s post-parliamentary election fears about political opposition have grown immensely since Ukrainians took to the streets to demand free elections. The author of the Jamestown article, Marat Yermukanov, claims that Nazarbayev might not have all that much to fear, though.

These incidents hardly pose a real threat to the ruling regime in Kazakhstan. Bigeldy Gabdullin, once a fierce critic of the regime who spent several years in exile in the United States before returning to Kazakhstan with radically transformed views, thinks that Kazakhstan will not follow the Ukrainian example for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Kazakhstan’s opposition does not have the outside financial and moral support that helped bring Yushchenko to power. Furthermore, the opposition in Kazakhstan has only limited access to the media, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in stark contrast to Ukraine’s Leonid Kuchma, enjoys remarkable popular support at home (Central Asia Monitor, December 24). Nevertheless, developments over the last two months suggest that Kazakhstan’s authorities fear a local version of the Orange Revolution. [emphasis added]

While the opposition has less access to media in Kazakhstan and Nazarbayev enjoys more support in his country than Kuchma in Ukraine (though I’m skeptical that he has “remarkable public support”), it’s misleading to suggest that “outside financial and moral support” was the key for Yushchenko. This isn’t to gripe about not giving credit to Ukrainians, etc. Rather, using the level of outside support as our predictor for determining the chances of political opposition groups is putting the emphasis on the wrong variable.

Just to do a quick and sloppy comparison, take a look at the level of US aid to Ukraine and Kazakhstan in 2003.

The $188.5 million budgeted by all U.S. Government agencies for assistance programs in Ukraine in Fiscal Year 2003 is allocated roughly as follows:

  • Democracy Programs $54.7 million
  • Economic & Social Reform $48.0 million
  • Security & Law Enforcement $71.5 million
  • Humanitarian Assistance $ 2.0 million
  • Cross Sectoral Initiatives $12.3 million

In Fiscal Year 2003, the $92 million budgeted by all U.S. Government agencies for assistance programs in Kazakhstan is allocated roughly as follows:

  • Democracy Programs $13.9 million
  • Economic & Social Reform $23.4 million
  • Security & Law Enforcement $49.2 million
  • Humanitarian Assistance $ 0.5 million
  • Cross-Sectoral Initiatives $ 5.0 million

At first glance, the sum of aid given to Ukraine is impressively higher. However, it is twice as high as that given to Kazakhstan while Ukraine’s population is three times as high. On the other hand, the money dedicated to democracy programs is about four times higher. Does this reflect higher costs in Ukraine? Perhaps. Maybe a stronger commitment to reforming Ukraine? Could be.

While this discussion can get into a chicken and egg debate, it is important to remember that, financial support aside, international moral support for Ukrainian democracy was hovering slightly above undetectable until after the fixed presidential election. Why the sudden show of support? Well, my guess is it had something to do with those well-organized protests. And, while I’m certainly one to argue that international financial support helped build the capacity for organizing those protests, it was the organizational capabilities and media access of Yushchenko’s bloc that would have been the best pre-protest indication that the opposition could topple the government.

So, switching focus back to Kazakhstan, what’s the organizational picture look like? Not good. The opposition appears to not be coordinating its efforts across parties, and in the case of DCK, internal strife weakens the party’s chances.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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