The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly convenes in Astana this week, foreshadowing Kazakhstan's stint as OSCE president in 2010.
Kazakhstan lobbied hard for the chairmanship, but its quasi-authoritarian government -- President Nursultan Nazarbayev amended the country's constitution so he can remain in office indefinitely -- makes it an unusual choice to head an organisation known for promoting free and fair elections.
- Superficial reforms. Kazakhstan values the international prestige it will gain as OSCE chair, and the organisation now has some leverage to improve the regime's least savoury practices. At the OSCE's behest, Astana will probably hold early elections within the next year. Nazarbayev's Nur Otan bloc currently controls every seat in parliament, but early elections could allow some small opposition parties to enter the body. However, changes will probably prove superficial. Kazakhstan's highly centralised system of clan politics will not be dislodged easily.
- Credibility gap. The real challenge for the OSCE will be to ensure that Kazakhstan's chairmanship does not undermine the organisation's credibility as a sponsor of regional security and human rights. Kazakhstan is a key ally of Russia, which has rebuked the OSCE for allegedly fomenting 'colour' revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine and for criticising Moscow's own human rights record. In the past two years, Russia has made a concerted diplomatic effort to undermine the organisation. It remains to be seen whether the Kremlin's friends in Astana will do the same.