“The parliament that we are going to have in the current election campaign will last even less than its predecessors,” said Erkin Irgaliyev, a political consultant and head of the Western Regional Representative Office of the Aspandau Academy. Nonetheless, he gave some advice to those who are still involved in the election race.
- How do you assess the current electoral process? Is it living up to expectations?
- From a post-Qantar perspective, the scriptwriters had a difficult twofold task. The first was to blow off some protest steam and let it escape at the expense of the pre-election race, giving it a little salt and pepper. The second is to keep mazhilis and maslikhats manageability, powdering them a little for outside observers.
But according to the old habit, the campaign was obviously regulated, and became typical under-elections.
If we compare them with the last competitive and unpredictable elections of 2004, then there were 69 single-mandate districts and 10 on party lists. Twelve political parties participated, including four united parties in two electoral blocs. Therefore the struggle in all districts and on party lists was intense, and the ruling parties won only at the expense of manipulation of the votes.
In the current elections, we see the opposite picture: 69 seats for 7 political parties (not in opposition) and 29 mandates for 435 candidates in the districts. The national average of single mandate candidates is 15 per district, and the vast majority of them (78%) are self-nominated, the struggle between them and pro-government candidates is what creates the only intrigue in these elections.
Summary: the 2023 elections will be more flawed than the 2004 elections, there is a setback beyond 2004.
Now in terms of the Future. Most likely, the eighth convocation will be even shorter than the seventh convocation, which lasted two years, due to the inevitable re-election after the victory (more likely) or defeat (less likely) of Ukraine in the war. Therefore it is possible to consider what is happening now as a PROTO-election, a training, a young candidate's school.
- So far, at least, we have not seen much interest from the population in the elections, although it was expected that the appearance of self-nominated candidates would raise interest in them. Why do you think so? Are the election campaigns not interesting or don't people really care?
- It is more productive to view the election campaign through the prism of market logic: candidates and parties as a commodity, the electorate as a consumer, and the organizers as sellers. The client is always right if he is many times more interested in a foreign product, a foreign campaign in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan or the USA. Who is to blame for this? The answer is obvious.
Too long ago there were no sharply competitive elections, the electoral culture both below and above has been lost. Yes, elections to the parliament and maslikhats are always less interesting to the voter than presidential elections (we know about such exotics as election of governors and mayors only by hearsay). Yes, the status of deputies and parties in our country has been devalued during the years of Nur-stagnation. Yes, independent candidates are initially put in disadvantageous conditions: temporal, territorial, and administrative and legal.
To be fair, however, there is also a tinge of guilt of the candidates themselves, who often know very little about the basics of the electoral craft, and even if they have the opportunity, have neither full-fledged headquarters, nor the desire to work "in the field", in the social heart of the electorate.
The only good thing is that the bitter experience of those who have "smelled the powder" of the electoral struggle will be a useful school for all participants in the electoral process.
- What do you think, is the institution of observers ready for the upcoming elections?
- You are absolutely right, putting this question almost at the beginning of our conversation. If there is no public control of the voting process, all the efforts of the independent candidates who are the main protagonists in today's race will be in vain.
So I will say bluntly to your key question: no, this public institution is not ready for this important campaign. There are both objective and subjective reasons for that. The first ones are more clear: the scriptwriters have initially programmed the result they needed at the expense of the well-known electoral technology of "gerrymandering" - arbitrary redrawing of constituency boundaries. The purpose is not so much to make it difficult to campaign for undesirable candidates (in the information age this is not so difficult), as to make any attempts at public observation of the voting process impossible. A favorite principle of any electoral autocracy: "It doesn't matter how people vote, it matters how they are counted. This is what the master plan of the scriptwriters of this campaign is based on.
First of all, the single nationwide constituency for party lists (with 10,000 or more polling stations (PS)) is completely uncontrollable. Secondly, with all the desire, it is almost impossible to fully cover the 23 single-mandate constituencies in the Mazhilis in 17 regions (with 500 or less PSs) with rural areas by public observation. These include enormous distances, bad roads, spring thaw, rural mentality, etc. Third, 7 single-member districts in 3 megalopolises (200 or more PSs in each district) is the calculation of the puppeteers from above for the lack of social cohesion and governability; the electoral illiteracy of the candidates and their disunity.
- How can you characterize the quality of parties' electoral platforms? Are there any new bright points in them?
- First of all, for me, as an electoral technologist, in all these programs-platforms-APM (agitation-propaganda materials) two things are interesting: concrete measures-promises with exact terms of execution, as well as fresh proposals for a real way out of the current deadlock instead of outdated stereotypes.
Amanat has the most proposed measures-promises (221) and temporary indicators - 36 of them. However, only 6 of them have an annual link or promise to be fulfilled by the end of this year: 3 measures in both cases. The remaining 30 measures are promised to be implemented by the end of 2037. The catch here is that the party leaders themselves are not sure that they will serve at least half of their term.
It is clear that all the other participants in the inter-party race have exactly the same abstract picture of promises.
The exception is Baitak, oddly enough. If we refine their 6 principles of the "Green Global Charter", they will sound fresh and bright for our realities.
In conclusion, I can not but mention the program of the Aq Jol party: the only ones who have mentioned the word "President" 29 times in their election document. Here and there inserting quotes from Tokayev's Address.
- What do you think of the election platforms of the self-nominated/single-mandate candidates? Which ones do you consider the most successful, or vice versa?
- If the old parties, sitting on the budget, have not given birth to anything successful in three decades, then what can we demand from self-nominated independent candidates? Let's be humane to them.
The only thing I can say as a seasoned electoral technologist: the candidates who have their own "thing" will win the most here. These "one issue" tactics (like Qantar or returning stolen money from abroad, etc.) will help them achieve several of their goals. Even if they don't get into parliament, they solve three problems: increase their visibility, return the candidate fee by getting 5% of the vote and make a good head start on the upcoming re-election.
- At the beginning of this year, you predicted that the old elites will try to get their people into parliament. Do you see signs of "restoration" on the electoral front?
- The forecast remains valid, first of all, at the expense of 70% of seats for party lists. The very principle of closed party lists plays into this: the people cast their votes in favor of fairly neutral "steam locomotives", behind whose backs the nominees of the old elites are hiding.
Secondly, all 5 old parties (together with Auyl and PSDP) are Nazarbayev's maggots. People from Nurotan are at the helm there: Koshanov, Peruashev, Ertysbayev, pupils of Tuyakbai, Bektayev. Hidden reactionaries (for roll-back) and open conservatives (for status-quo) dominate there in affairs.
For the sake of election campaigns, mainly progressive realists (sincere supporters of gradual changes) and even some romantic radicals (believing in fast changes) are temporarily recruited into party ranks. Then they are technically pushed aside and eaten up, and everything goes back to the swamp of Nazarbayev (leaders, servants, plebs).
It's all about soft, camouflaged format of old elites returning to Mazhilis (both directly and through their new proteges, including through single-seat constituencies). In the maslikhats there is a more active "comeback" of retrogrades, hiding behind the clamor of single-mandate candidates for the seats in the majilis.
- There are a lot of business representatives in the list of candidates. What does it mean and what are their aims and chances?
- In the best case we can see the most desperate entrepreneurs who want to change the whole system, in the example of single-mandate candidates for the Mazhilis. There are not so many of them, but it's good that they are there, and this is only the beginning of an objective process of bourgeois-democratic movement in politics.
The last time it was in 2004, by the example of the then Aq Jol and partially bloc of the DCK with the Communists. But already after those elections, Nazarbayev openly delivered a demonstrative ultimatum to Subkhanberdin: either politics or business - one of two. Now, as they say: "The process is started".
Of course, most of the business community is still afraid, out of old habit. Those whom we see under the soffits are just being exposed in the districts, either for the "wedge effect" or for the sake of the electorate. But, nevertheless, in the next, already coming, re-election in the new convocation there will be even more/better business people.
I have already said about their goals, the chances to win do not depend on them (if there is no normal supervision, I repeat), but here is more important the process itself, participation, trying out their strength, electoral testing.
- Candidates are removed, they sue, they are reinstated. What is this? Candidates fight among themselves, but so far there is no special war of compromise. Are these growth mistakes?
- About the forced removal of already registered candidates - this is a known "black technology", a radical form of administrative resources, since the prudent times. It is a pity that this Mailibayev innovation is still alive. It is clearly a desperate move by the puppeteers from above, on the one hand, and an attempt to shoot away at random against undesirable self-nominated candidates, on the other hand.
In the first case, it is probably a forced measure, a forbidden "blow below the belt," used in the most extreme cases. Apparently, according to closed opinion polls, the self-nominated candidates have big problems, since they are forced to turn on the "heavy artillery" in the form of tax committees and courts.
In cases of desperate resistance from dissenting candidates, we also see them being forced back into the districts. If, on the contrary, the victim of this arbitrariness surrenders, he drops out of the race, much to the delight of his weaker competitors, the authorities.
As for the not-so-explicit war of compromise, that is good: there is a common opponent in the person of the state-machine, so why help her?
- What advice would you give to candidates in the time remaining?
- In political consulting, these seven days are the peak, decisive days when the last words and actions of the campaign are best remembered. Hence, here are two practical pieces of advice I have for independent candidates and their campaigns:
The first advice. Let's call it "Smart Surveillance.
In order to combine efforts for joint observation in a district, for example, Almaty, an informal coalition of independent candidates is created. They would have common headquarters for observation: gathered observers and proxies, trained them, registered, distributed to polling stations, monitored the voting process and vote counting, collected copies of protocols, jointly consolidated the results in a single document, congratulated the winner, together went to defend the results.
So it would be a mistake to rely only on the institution of independent observers this time. There are not enough of them across the country (I mean the checked up structures): it is "Echo" of Maria Lobachyova and Danil Bekturganov, "Youth information service" (YIS) of Irina Mednikova and Vasilina Atoyants, Public fund "Erkindik Kanaty" of Elena Shvetsova and Roman Weimer, Public Association "Independent observers" of Araylym Nazarova. In Uralsk, these are the public association "Zhariya" of Beknur Srazhanov and public associations "Abyroy" of Isatay Utepov and Lukpan Akhmedyarov. Most of the activists are either already candidates themselves or help them in campaigning in the districts. The only thing they can help with is to register observers through them and conduct training seminars.
The second recommendation: "Smart canvassing" to achieve two goals. The first is an appeal to come and vote at the polling stations. The "smart principle" here is not the usual manner of abstract appeal, such as "pay your civic debt". After all, the topic of "debt" is always an irritant to anyone. Rather, a cry in the spirit of "The enemy is at the gate of your house!" is appropriate, awakening the ancient instincts. This argument comes in handy: "25% of the conservative and loyal electorate always vote for pro-government candidates and parties," so don't let this backward minority dictate your will. "All in defense of the interests of the people, their Future!", "Let's not give anyone else our home district!".
In the post-Kantar conditions such mobilization for increase of protest turnout is quite real, especially in all three districts of Almaty.
The second thing is that in the last week the bad publicity and discrediting of competitors always starts. This is objective, but it can and should be used with two smart steps. First of all, agree within your informal "Coalition for Fair Voting" that you will not smear each other. And also agree to jointly attack the other opponents: "Don't vote for those and those who are proxies of the old clans!" If a lot of people say that, there will be more faith.
All this applies to single-mandate candidates. As for the party list, you certainly can't be advised to vote against all of them. There's a lot of negativity in this message that could boomerang back to self-nominated candidates. About 25% of conservative voters always vote for the "party of power" and a smart approach is needed here - to choose the lesser of evils as a counterforce, even if it is the Baitak.
So, the goals of this election week: increasing turnout to the maximum possible, joint protection of the votes from theft. "Our district is a territory of honest voting!", "These elections are continuation of Qantar, all honest citizens should vote for him, for his sake, in his memory!".