Parties of Kazakh president and his daughter merge, creating mighty ruling party
ASTANA, Kazakhstan – The parties of Kazakhstan’s leader and his eldest daughter announced a merger Tuesday, a move that tightens President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grip on power.The merger appears to be part of Nazarbayev’s recent move to cut down on Dariga Nazarbayeva’s growing political clout in this oil-rich ex-Soviet republic following a dispute triggered by the killing of an opposition leader that she tried to use to attack some of her father’s allies.The merger of Nazarbayev’s Otan party with his daughter’s Asar party creates one with 700,000 members.”Tell your Asar members that … you are returning to your father,” Nazarbayev told his daughter in announcing the merger at an Otan congress in the capital Astana.Nazarbayev stays the chairman of the new party that will keep Otan’s name. His daughter will be one of his three deputies.Analysts said the creation of a single party marked a loss for Dariga Nazarbayeva in a political struggle with her father and would diminish her power.”Dariga was forced into this merger by her father, because she became too independent. … She was forced to lower her head and join Otan,” said Petr Svoik, a senior opposition official.Nazarbayev, 65, has ruled the nation of 15 million for 17 years, resisting democratic reforms. His re-election in December was criticized by Western observers as flawed.Dariga said the merger of the parties was “hard to overestimate.””Society needs a strong ruling party that would share with the president the responsibility laid on him by the people,” she told the congress.Nazarbayeva, 43, who is also a lawmaker and media mogul, appeared to have angered her father by demanding the resignation of powerful Senate speaker Nurtai Abykayev after his subordinate was accused of masterminding the February killing of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, a leader of the opposition Nagyz Ak Zhol party.Rival groups in the Central Asian nation’s political elite sought to blame one another for the slaying of Sarsenbayev along with his driver and bodyguard.Nazarbayev rejected the call for Abykayev’s dismissal. Instead, in May he moved against his daughter’s media group, which is the country’s most powerful, with the announcement of a government plan to take over her group’s biggest television channel and threatening to close down another.Authorities say Sarsenbayev’s killing was masterminded by the Senate administration chief because of personal enmity, but Erzhan Utembayev pleaded not guilty at his trial, which opened last month. He is facing trial with nine other defendants, including five security officers.The opposition says the killing was political, and it has accused authorities of covering up for the real perpetrators.