Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Kazakhstan's first daughter fuels dynasty talk

ASCENSION She can speak four languages and is a trained opera singer but it's Dariga Nazarbayeva's veiled pretensions to her father's throne that have the rumors flying


She's a media mogul, she has a doctorate in political science and she learned to sing opera in secret because her father -- Kazakhstan's president -- disapproved.

Now, Dariga Nazarbayeva has formed a new political party, setting off speculation she is grooming herself for what could be the second dynastic succession in the countries that emerged from the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

It has already happened in Azerbaijan, and what unfolds in Kazakhstan, a resource-rich giant four times bigger than France, could influence the succession in its four smaller Central Asian neighbors.

Nazarbayeva's party -- Asar, or All Together -- was due to hold its first party congress yesterday in Almaty. She claims it will win half the seats in parliament in fall elections. On Tuesday, before getting a single member into parliament, Asar announced it had formed its own parliamentary faction with 10 sympathetic independents.

Nazarbayeva has said she won't seek a parliamentary seat herself and denies her party is a launch pad for her to succeed her father, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

"I'm not seeking office in the top echelons of so-called big politics," she said in a statement announcing the party's founding in October.

Alikhan Baimenov, co-chairman of the opposition Ak Zhol party, doesn't see a "high probability" of the 40-year-old Nazarbayeva becoming president.

"She's just only entered the political stage," he said. "We shall see."

Petr Svoik, head of another opposition party, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, says, "It will take more calculation and complicated maneuvering," because Kazakhstan has a multiparty system and experienced politicians.

But he believes the Nazarbayevs are "definitely" preparing a family succession.

Such speculation is growing in the region as its longtime leaders get older and increasingly resistant to democratization. Most are former communist bosses who have clung to power through controversial constitutional changes or questionable votes.

Talk of dynasties was fueled when Azerbaijan, a Caucasus state with close ties to Central Asia, elected President Geidar Aliev's son as his successor in October.

In Uzbekistan, rumors of dynastic politics are so rife that officials had to deny the president's daughter had married the foreign minister to keep the presidency in the family. In Kyrgyzstan, rumor has it that the country is actually run by the president's wife, and that she wants his job.

All this gossip and speculation, if nothing else, is testimony to the secretive, clannish politics in these states, whose efforts toward democratization are young and who are struggling for credibility.

Nazarbayev, 63, came to power in 1989 as the country's communist leader. Since the 1991 Soviet collapse, he has twice been elected president and also extended his term in a referendum.

He has no known health problems and enjoys the support of many Kazakhs who credit him for successful market reforms. He is eligible to run for another seven-year term in 2006.

But the opposition has grown more active and Nazarbayev has begun to show signs of jitteriness, jailing two opposition leaders and cracking down on opposition media.

Sergei Duvanov, an opposition activist, said Nazarbayeva needs her new Asar party to make her political name and be ready to take power.

"Aliev's example has shown that one needs a backup, who can take over when it's needed," he said.

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