Wednesday, February 27, 2008
People have got to know whether their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.
— Richard Nixon, Press Conference 11/11/1973
Herewith an introduction to Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan.
Mr. Nazarbayev was elected president of Kazakhstan by the Supreme Soviet on April 24, 1990. On December 1, 1991, Kazakhstan being on the verge of independence, he was elected by Kazakh citizens with 95 percent of the vote and most recently was elected in 2005 with 91 percent of the vote. The 2005 election was only slightly marred by the observation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an organization he now chairs, that there were “numerous and persistent examples of intimidation by the authorities” and an “overall media bias in favor of the incumbent.” One month before the election Zamanbek Nurkadilov, an opposition leader, was said by authorities to have committed suicide. He did it by shooting himself once in the head and twice in the chest. Two months after the election, Altynbek Sarsenbayev, one of the opposition leaders was killed, reportedly by state security officials.
In May 2007, satisfied with the way he’d been performing, President Nazarbayev signed a constitutional amendment that permits him (and only him) to seek re-election indefinitely beginning in 2012 when his current term expires.
Mr. Nazarbayev presides over what has been called one of the most corrupt regimes in central Asia. He has closed newspapers, banned or refused to register opposition parties and permitted harassment of advocacy groups. Mike Marschall, the regional director of Transparency International, an anti-corruption organization said of the president: “You don’t have free elections, and the press is pretty much controlled by his family and a significant portion of assets in Kazakhstan are directly or indirectly controlled by his family.” Although Mr. Marschall went on to say that the president was making some step-by-step reforms, on the Transparency International Scale of corrupt countries, Kazakhstan is ranked 2.6, 1 being the most corrupt and 10 being least corrupt.
In 2006, Mr. Nazarbayev was a guest of Mr. Bush at the White House. Welcoming Mr. Nazarbayev 9 months after Mr. Nazarbayev had been reelected with 91 percent of the vote, a slightly envious Mr. Bush said: “I have watched very carefully the development of this important country from one that was in the Soviet sphere to one that now is a free nation . . . . And I welcome you here to the White House, and I’m looking forward to buying you lunch.” After lunch Mr. Nazarbayev went to Kennebunkport to visit the first President Bush.
The visit to the White House was preceded by a visit to Kazakhstan in 2006 by Dick Cheney who in response to Mr. Nazarbayev’s welcome said: “I think all Americans are tremendously impressed with the progress that you’ve made. . . in the last 15 years. . . . I’m delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with you here in Astana. We met 10 years ago. . . and it’s a pleasure to renew our friendship.”
An even more prominent visitor than Mr. Cheney, however, was Bill Clinton who visited Mr. Nazarbayev in 2005. He arrived in a private jet owned by Frank Giustra of Canada who accompanied Mr. Clinton on the trip. All that happened when Dick Cheney visited was a friendship renewed. According to a story in the New York Times, three important things happened as a result of Mr. Clinton’s visit.
The first was that Mr. Clinton voiced support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to lead OSCE (that had been critical of the 2005 election) notwithstanding the Bush administration’s lack of support for that bid, saying: “I think it’s time for that to happen, it’s an important step, and I’m glad you’re willing to undertake it.” Then the next important thing happened.
Mr. Giustra’s small company, newly interested in uranium mining, signed agreements enabling it to become partners in three state-owned uranium projects, agreements that are described as worth tens of millions of dollars. Then the last good thing happened.
The William J. Clinton Foundation got a $31.3 million gift from Mr. Giustra. That gift was only publicly disclosed in December 2007. More recently the foundation received another $100 million from Mr. Giustra.
When interviewed on Fox News and asked about the Clinton visit to Kazakhstan and praise for Mr. Nazarbayev, Hillary Clinton said: “He went to Kazakhstan to sign an agreement with the government to provide low cost drugs for HIV/AIDS, a growing problem in Central Asia. . . .” Asked about his praise for Mr. Nazarbayev she said that Dick Cheney also had good words for Mr. Nazarbayev when he visited the country. That is one of the few times any Democrat has used Dick Cheney as justification for a bad decision. Should she become president one can only hope she doesn’t use Mr. Cheney as a role model for other bad decisions. That would bode ill for us all.