Nursultan Nazarbayev is clearly an extremely popular guy. Why, only last April, he secured 95% of the votes in Kazakhstan’s presidential elections. And just to underline how much his people love him, the name of the party which holds every single seat in the country’s parliament loosely translates as ‘Ray of Light of the Fatherland’, in honour of the big N himself.
Personally I am at a loss to fathom why Nazarbayev should feel the need to retain an expensive western public relations outfit. But inexplicably enough, he has done just that. The Financial Times reports that a firm by the name of Tony Blair Associates has landed a contract worth $13m a year to help tidy up Kazakhstan’s image in the West. If you don’t have an FT subscription, read the rewrite in the Daily Telegraph here.
In case you are wondering who is in charge of Tony Blair Associates, the clue is in the name. Helping the former Labour leader on this project are Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, two of his key sidekicks from his stint in Number Ten.
‘His advice is priceless,’ one unnamed Kazakh official commented. ‘Kazakhstan will get the best advice possible from him on issues connected with policy and the economy. . . We could not have a better adviser.’
There are some tiresome individuals who insist on pointing out that Kazakhstan is a one party petrostate whereawkward journos and human rights campaigners routinely get banged up. But let me stress right now that this stance is still streets ahead of Uzbekistan, just down the road, where dissidents are routinely subject to death by boiling.
Surely the team at TBA will use the wealth of experience acquired in the New Labour years to bring about a climate in which Kazakhs feel free to express political opinions that dissent from the leadership, and in which probing media coverage is positively encouraged. These guys are worth every penny, Mr Nazarbayev.