Economic and ethnic differentiation in Kazakstan has led to
the appearance of more than 2,000 social organizations, movements,
political parties, and social action funds across a broad political
spectrum. Although Nazarbayev prevented electoral participation
by many opposition parties, the formation and reformation of parties
and coalitions have occurred at a rapid pace in the postindependence
years. In the parliamentary election of December 1995, thirty
parties and other organizations registered candidates.
The President's Party
Significantly, the one type of party that has failed to thrive
in Kazakstan is a "presidential party" that would serve as a training
ground for future officials, as well as a conduit for their advancement.
Nazarbayev lost control of his first two attempts at forming parties,
the Socialists and the People's Congress Party (NKK). The latter
particularly, under the leadership of former Nazarbayev ally Olzhas
Suleymenov, became a center of parliamentary opposition. Nazarbayev's
third party, the People's Unity Party (SNEK), remained loyal to
the president, although it was unable, even with considerable
government help, to elect enough deputies to give Nazarbayev control
of the 1994-95 parliament. SNEK formally incorporated itself as
a political party in February 1995.
With the exception of SNEK and some smaller entities, such as
the Republican Party and an entrepreneurial association known
as For Kazakstan's Future, most of Kazakstan's parties and organizations
have little or no influence on presidential decision making. Because
privatization and the deteriorating economy have left most citizens
much worse off than they were in the early 1990s, most of the
republic's organizations and parties have an oppositional or antipresidential
The Communist Party of Kazakstan, declared illegal in 1991,
was allowed to re-register in 1993. Kazakstan also has a small
Socialist Democratic Party. Both parties made poor showings in
the 1994 election, but two former communist organizations, the
State Labor Union (Profsoyuz) and the Peasants' Union, managed
to take eleven and four seats, respectively.
At least four large Kazak nationalist movements were active
in the mid-1990s. Three of them--Azat (Freedom), the Republican
Party, and Zheltoksan (December)--attempted to form a single party
under the name Azat, with the aim of removing "colonialist" foreign
influences from Kazakstan. The fourth movement, Alash (named for
the legendary founder of the Kazak nation, as well as for the
pre-Soviet nationalist party of the same name), refused to join
such a coalition because it advocated a more actively nationalist
and pro-Muslim line than did the other three parties. In the March
1994 election, Azat and the Republicans were the only nationalist
parties to run candidates. They elected just one deputy between
Four exclusively Russian political organizations in Kazakstan
have nationalist or federative agendas. These are Yedinstvo (Unity),
Civic Contract, Democratic Progress, and Lad (Harmony). Party
registration procedures for the 1994 election made places on the
ballot very difficult to obtain for the Russian nationalist groups.
Although Lad was forced to run its candidates without party identification,
four deputies were elected with ties to that party.
The Russian group most unsettling to the Nazarbayev government
was the Cossacks, who were denied official registration, as well
as recognition of their claimed status as a distinct ethnic group
in the northeast and northwest. Not permitted to drill, carry
weapons, or engage in their traditional military activities, Kazakstan's
Cossacks have, in increasing numbers, crossed the border into
Russia, where restrictions are not as tight.
In 1994 parliament's success at countering presidential power
encouraged the legislators, many of whom were connected with the
former Soviet ruling elite, to use their training in the political
infighting of Soviet bureaucracy to form effective antipresidential
coalitions. Ironically, these coalitions were the only political
groupings in the republic that transcended ethnic differences.
The Respublika group was elastic enough to contain both Kazak
and Russian nationalists, and the Otan-Otechestvo organization
forged a coalition of Kazaks, Russians, and even Cossacks who
desired a return to Soviet-style political and social structures.
Data as of March 1996