Parties in Polls Lost Interest in Media Celebrities

1st March, 2023

The so-called media personalities in the parliament or at least in the candidate lists with which political parties go to elections - is there any need in them? I have in mind not so much the practical use for society, as image benefit, from the point of view of attracting votes of electors. At one time in Kazakhstan there was a tendency to use "star" names for electoral purposes, but now, by all appearances, it is no longer relevant.

During the Soviet period it was considered (and probably it was, if we remember how much interest people had to literature, theater and cinema) that representatives of the so-called creative professions - especially writers and poets have the greatest influence on the society's mindset. And power in every possible way tried to use them in the political purposes: it is possible to list the names of those who were included in lists of delegates of party congresses, deputies of Supreme Soviet of the USSR and union republics. Kazakhstan was not an exception in this regard.

This attitude was maintained during the first years of Kazakhstan's independence and was reflected in the composition of the Supreme Council, which was elected in 1994. Back then, 177 people were elected to the unicameral parliament, 42, or nearly a quarter of them on the "state list", which was formed by the presidential administration. Four out of those 42 seats were given to literary men - Olzhas Suleimenov, Gerold Belger, Engels Gabbasov, Ivan Schegolikhin. Ualikhan Kalikhanov can also be referred to the same circle. Another two, Abish Kekilbaev and Sherkhan Murtaza, who had sat in the previous convocation, were elected in single-mandate districts, and the first, in addition, became the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, i.e. formally the second man in the country.

But in a year the Supreme Soviet was dissolved and instead of it a two-chamber parliament was created: the Senate supposed to have 38 deputies, Majilis - 67. In total it was 105, i.e. much less than before. Nevertheless, writers and poets were not ignored. The same Gabbasov and Schegolikhin got into the upper chamber (the voting results were predictable in advance, since both were nominated by the then main pro-governmental party PNEK). The already mentioned Kekilbayev and Fariza Ongarsynova were elected to Mazhilis through single-mandate constituencies, and they ran in their home regions - Mangistau and Atyrau oblasts, where they were provided with necessary support, including administrative support.

By the end of the 1990s, however, it was obvious that times had changed and that literary figures were no longer so popular with the population. No, some of them, particularly those who positioned themselves not so much as writers as socio-political figures, continued to be elected in regions where they were well known and respected: Murtaza and Ongarsynova in 1999 and Mukhtar Shakhanov in 2004. But they were the last of the Mohicans. For example, during formation of the party lists, which were used to elect deputies to Mazhilis since 1999, the preference was given to representatives of other creative professions, first of all, pop singers, who were considered to have the greatest influence on mass consciousness.

For example, the Otan party of that time included Roza Rymbayeva and Nurlan Onerbayev in its lists at the end of last century and beginning of this century. The short-lived Asar bloc involved Alibek Dnishev, the Opposition Union of Communists and DСK - Makpal Junusova, at that time the wife of still alive Zamanbek Nurkadilov, and Auyl - the popular pop singer Nurgali Nusipzhanov, since the Soviet times. But AIST bloc, which united Civil and Agrarian parties, chose Rustem Abdrashev, a film director, the future author of pathos films about the first president of Kazakhstan and the history of Kazakh khanate. Besides, the famous sportsmen of the past, such as boxer Serik Konakbaev, wrestler Daulet Turlykhanov, began to appear in party lists (here it is worth reminding that they were short then, as only ten deputies were elected)...

After the refusal of the majoritarian system of parliamentary elections and transition to proportional representation, the "application lists" of political parties have greatly expanded, and more and more stars started to appear in them. For example, before the 2012 elections Nur Otan had an artistic bloc consisting of singers Alibek Dnishev and Nurlan Abdullin, pianist Zhania Aubakirova (she was already the head of the Kazakh National Conservatory by that time), and a sports bloc consisting of Olympic champions Yermakhan Ibraimov, Yury Melnichenko, Olga Shishigina and Alexander Vinokurov who won the title a few months later. The Akzhol party also included Bakhyt Sarsekbayev, an Olympic gold medalist at the 2008 Olympics, in its list. None of them became a member of the Majilis after the elections, but a year later Shishigina replaced one of the withdrawn deputies, after which she spent a long time in the lower chamber. How useful was her stay there is another question.

However, the richest list of famous media personalities was the Nur Otan party list before the 2016 parliamentary elections. In addition to Shishigina, it included violinist Ayman Musakhodzhaeva, TV presenter Artur Platonov, and chess player and 1999 world youth champion Darmen Sadvakasov. But most telling was that for the first time the ruling party attracted a large group of young "stars" under its banners. Among them were singers Kairat Nurtas and Zhanar Dugalova, actor Nurlan Alimzhanov, TV hostess and actress Maya Veronskaya, very popular sportsmen - professional boxer Gennady Golovkin and weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, Olympic champion of 2012 Serik Sapiyev...

Apparently, those who orchestrated Nur Otan's election campaign decided that in this way they could lure the politically passive youth electorate to the polling stations, and that they would vote for their idols, hence for the ruling party. However, it is difficult to say whether this trick worked. The turnout, if it has increased in comparison with the previous elections, then only a little; Nur Otan got the same 80 percent.

As for the young artists and athletes themselves, at first none of them were included. A year later Serik Sapiyev became a member of the Majilis and later became head of the Committee of Physical Culture and Sports of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, but in the fall of 2021 he left this post on the wave of negative assessments caused by the failed performance of Kazakh athletes at the Summer Olympics. It was probably not his personal fault for that failure, but he was not remembered for anything special in his leadership position either.

In early 2019, Nurlan Alimzhanov, who owed his promotion to the role of the young Nursultan Nazarbayev in the movies "The Sky of My Childhood" and "The Way of the Leader", took the vacancy vacated after Sapiyev resigned from the parliament. Then he was entrusted with the chair of the head of department of culture of Akimat of Astana. But as an actor, they began to forget about him - whether it is not interesting for him today, or directors lost interest in him.

Perhaps after his sports career was over, Ilyin would have found a place in the Majilis, but just three months after the 2016 elections it was found out that both of his Olympic golds were won by doping. Although both the Kazakhstani public (at least most of it) and the authorities were lenient about this, it would not be good for a man with such a tarnished reputation to enter parliament. Now Ilyin is trying to become president of the Weightlifting Federation of Kazakhstan, which is unlikely to meet understanding in the international sports organizations, where the principle of zero tolerance to doping operates.

In any case, at the next Mazhilis elections, which were held in early 2021, no media figures (except for those very few who can already be called parliamentary old-timers) were on the lists of either the main pro-governmental or other parties. It is the same now. Aitys singer Rinat Zaitov and former gymnast Aliya Yusupova nominated by Amanat can be considered as such only conditionally. The first one is perceived today more as a public figure (a few years ago he even made some opposition statements), in addition, he heads the state theater of traditional art Alatau. The second has been a sports functionary for many years.

It seems that attempts to involve "stars" in election campaigns are a thing of the past. Perhaps this is for the best...