Family conflict with a political tinge
As usually, everything started from the banal fight for property and financial resources. Later the conflict included information war, and gradually acquired a political tinge. Each of the phases of the conflict brought its own questions: the initial phase – “What actually happened?”, later – “Who won?” And after criminal case had been opened on Rakhat Aliev, we could more often here the questions “Why?”, and “What will happen next?” Many answers have already been given to the question “Why?”, many of which contradict to each other. There is even a hypothesis that all this fuss is a political technique used in order to divert public pinion away from the constitutional changes. It is a strange political technique, considering the fact that it brought more costs are greater than benefits, even to the government. Another hypothesis is that somebody, taking the occasion, has added fuel to fire of the conflict to weaken the too strong son-in-law of the President. It appeared that it was not too difficult. As they say, the client was ready for the run on the razor’s edge. The latter hypothesis has two reasons to be true. Firstly, the President might have been disappointed in Rakhat Aliev, because he was the reason for new conflicts within the elite. It has happened in 2001, and happened again in 2006 after the death of Altynbek Sarsenbaev. If keeping the balance of power among the influential groups is considered to be the key factor of political stability in Kazakhstan, breaking the balance decreases the ability of the President to control the situation and gives opportunity to one of the groups to strengthen enough to put a claim for expansion of its political and economic interests. Of course, in Kazakhstan the President has always been powerful and kept the elite under control, unlike in Russia, which had a period of strong influence from the oligarchs on the process of political decision-making. Any attempt to break out from the Presidential guardianship has usually led to a firm punishment in our country. Let’s remember the President’s unambiguous hints made to all “shadow players”. For example, on the opening of the Parliament’s first session of the third convocation the President has mentioned “ten mega-holdings” that control 80% of Kazakhstan’s GDP and hinder transparency and competition on the local market. According to the President, some of the holdings crave for power. Notice that the President, almost for the first time, pointedly called them oligarchs, purposefully putting a negative meaning in the word. Most likely, the statement of the leading banks of the country on the IV Congress of Financiers of Kazakhstan is the reaction to the President’s speech. The key point of the statement is that the banks consider it inadmissible to take part in the actions of political parties or finance them. At that time the government wanted the large businesses to publicly define the boarders of its competence, which included only economic sphere, and preferable made it voluntarily. Most likely, the President’s son-in-law didn’t understand that the boarder also applies to him. Secondly, immediately after the changes to the constitution Rakhat Aliev spoke against the amendment, which lifts time constraints for the first President, in the interview to one of foreign mass media. Taking into account that he planned to take part in presidential elections in 2012, such reaction to the amendment is understandable. It seems that the amendment destroyed his future plans. We could assume that this story wouldn’t have had such consequences for Rakhat Aliev, if he had followed the unwritten rules; one of the main rules is not to wash the dirty linen in public. He seems to have made five major mistakes. First, he’s used law enforcement bodies in solving his personal problems. Second, through foreign mass media he publicly accused B. Mukhamedzhanov and I. Tasmagambetov in acting unlawfully. While these people are not members of the opposition and not ordinary businessmen, they are loyal to the President. Third, he went too far in using own mass media for discrediting the mayor of Almaty, Minister of Internal Affairs and all of the law enforcement system, this indirectly hits the whole executive branch. Fourth, he forgot that his conflict situation can be used against him by other enemies, of which he has more than allies. Fifth, he made a careless statement about his disagreement with the amendment to the constitution that lifts in-office time constraints for the first President. I think that the latter mistake became fateful. This was his attempt to correct own image using the unfolding situation. Usually, when you are called a criminal, it is better to position yourself as a victim of the political regime. However, it was strange to hear such statements from the person who only last year said that a monarchy would be good for Kazakhstan. It is not clear whether he was honest now or earlier. It appears that from the elite’s point of view and, more importantly, from the President’s point of view the political ambitions of Rakhat Aliev became dangerous for political stability of the country in general. Here we observe a strange consistency. Last year Dariga Nazarbaeva caused a sensation by announcing that there was an opposition within the President’s apparatus. According to the President’s daughter, most members of Kazakhstan’s political opposition are officials of the state apparatus; like moles, they undermine the political system of the country and threaten the President’s power. There was another announcement stating that the opposition is supported by part of the clan’s based bureaucratic system, which is in a tactical union with the financial and industrial groups and oligarchs. The latter converse in whispers the topic of a possible change of power and discuss the candidates for the successor, thus increasing the tenseness within the elite. Maybe at that time the elite already was already intense about 2012, and the fact that Rakhat Aliev seemed to prepare for presidential elections allowed some members of the elite to throw a switch to others, accusing them in a “conspiracy”. And the hint of the President’s daughter about the “conspiracy” was most likely a preventive defence rather than an assault. About the prospects of this conflict situation, we can say that there will be no less answers to the question “what will happen next?” that to “Why?” Anyway, four conclusions can be drawn. First, this conflict is different from the one in 2001, because for the first time a member of the “family” has challenged the head of the “family” because of the desire to replace him. The only thing that unites these two situations is the main hero and that in 2001 they showed to the eldest son-in-law of the President who is the boss. Second, Rakhat Aliev’s position among the elite has considerably weakened, because he hasn’t gained any allies within the country but acquired many enemies. Third, the situation benefits those members of the elite who will fill in Aliev’s influential niche, including the prospects of taking part in the “successor” project. Fourth, the President has shown again that for the sake of keeping political stability and order within the elite he is ready to take serious actions, regardless of any relations or connections. This is a good lesson to other members of the “family”. However, it is early to speak of any political crisis, because it was just a conflict with some members of the elite. It was also showed by the recent changes to the constitution, which strengthened the power of the President; who reacts to any attempts to diminish his power, even made by relatives. Nevertheless, the events of 2001 were the warning of the fact that the traditional mechanism of keeping balance of powers among the elite started to malfunction. What happened now is a logical consequence. The President cannot foresee the actions of elite groups but he still can react and neutralize the aftermath of their actions. This reaction will become tougher every time. Thus, we can assume that after dealing with Rakhat Aliev the President will deal with the other party of the conflict. If we look at the conflict from the President’s point of view, the novel “Autumn of the patriarch” by Gabriel Garcia Marques springs to mind. The novel is about the loneliness of a person with absolute power. Indeed, if even the members of your own family are against you, how can you trust other elite members? Maybe that’s why the President decided to create for himself more space for manoeuvres by lifting the time constraints for his presidency. This way he will have more time to prepare a successor. The President’s “old guards” didn’t disappear, and Nurtay Abykaev probably can return to Kazakhstan after the situation with Rakhat Aliev. Though, the younger members of the elite have become stronger and more ambitious. Of course, this conflict and the changes made to the constitution can ruin our plans of becoming the chair-country of the OSCE in 2009. On the other hand, with a skilful PR approach even the criminal case of Rakhat Aliev can be presented as the one destroying the myth of permissiveness for the members of the “family” and as the triumph of the principle “everybody is equal in front of the law”. Strangely enough, the viewers of this political action among the society also benefit from it. It appeared that the large amount of competing oligarchic groups, which form some king of oligarchic pluralism, has not only disadvantages but also a significant advantage. Constantly fighting for a place under the sun, they gradually come out from the shadow and sometimes even appeal for public opinion. The last conflict within the elite has shown that the era of lobby negotiations and hidden decisions is over. The fact that some elite members proactively use mass media in their activities shows that the previous instruments of settling conflicts are not very effective. Besides, the members of the elite, including our oligarchs, should understand that sooner or later moving the conflicts into public domain will become the only way against arbitrariness. Though, most of the Kazakhstan’s oligarchs, as well as the rest of the elite, absolutely de-ideologized. There are no classical “liberals”, “right-wing”, “left-wing”, “social-democrats”, “conservatives” or “national-patriots”. Their credo is “political loyalty” to the President, because without it they can easily loose the ground. However, it seems that this credo is starting to diminish. Sooner or later the “oligarchic pluralism” will grow up into a political pluralism. Then the question “Who are you with, Mr. oligarch?” will become very urgent for them. Naturally, some of them will not want to answer this question and will just run away to their villas abroad and Swiss bank accounts. Others will maybe understand that a strong civil society, which would defend democratic principles, is in their interests. After all, it is a guarantee of the stability of the businesses; it is economic and political certainty about the future. Objectively, in case of a fight between the bureaucratic groups and the businesses, the society should support the latter. Otherwise, between a bad government and bad oligarchs the society will choose the government. Moreover, government cannot be destroyed or imprisoned, while an oligarch can. Besides, not only could the criminal case against Rakhat Aliev give hope but also alert somebody. Because, if the President didn’t feel sorry for his son-in-law, he wouldn’t do it for other members of political and business elite outside the “family”.