Joshua Kucera has a very good article at EurasiaNet on the deflection of election criticism by Kazakhstani officials and a handful of DC analysts. They argue that the deficiencies in the parliamentary election are less important than overall progress toward democracy.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in particular have argued that they are on gradual, managed path to democracy. While Kazakhstan’s claims are always more plausible than Uzbekistan’s, where the strings are clearly visible, the case that democracy is being prepared low and slow is harder and harder to make on anything but faith. Like so:
Critiques of the election held Kazakhstan to an inappropriately high standard, Idrissov complained. “The OSCE … was expecting Jeffersonian democracy to fall on Kazakhstan on the 16th of January. We were not that naïve and we were telling our partners and our critics, please do not expect that situation,” Idrissov said.
“Kazakhstan is an evolving democracy, and many things are a work in progress,” the ambassador continued. “We have made a very significant step in our growth.”
Surely defenders of Kazakhstan will say it is unfair to characterize this as a faith-based argument. Yes, democracy is difficult to build and maintain. Nobody expects Kazakhstan to break out with a sudden case of pristine democracy. What, however, are the indicators that steps really are being made?
Democracy is not easy to quantify, but neither is it judged by a vague equivalent of the Miller Test, as defenders of Kazakhstan’s progress seem to be doing. Last April, Kazakhstan’s presidential election provided a good jumping off point for a discussion of backsliding throughout the region, and the more recent vote provokes some of the same reactions.
Kazakhstan has elections, true. It has a nice, new capital. It is the wealthiest and most tolerant of the Central Asian states. It does a better job of providing opportunities for its citizens than its southern neighbors. It has multiple political parties and a not-entirely-suppressed political opposition. But these tell us almost nothing about its progress toward democracy. That elections or multiple parties or dozens of newspapers exist are all meaningless if the state’s relationship to society is that of a shepherd to his flock.