LONDON (Reuters) - Disgraced former cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken has written a glowing biography of Kazakhstan’s autocratic President Nursultan Nazarbayev, saying it was an attempt to highlight the achievements of a man treated unfairly by the West.
Aitken, who was jailed for perjury in 1999 after lying under oath in court during a libel action against a newspaper, said Nazarbayev deserved credit for building a successful economy, fuelled by oil, and ridding his country of Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
Critics of Kazakhstan’s record on democracy and human rights ignored the changes Nazarbayev has made, said the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury in Prime Minister John Major’s 1992-1997 Conservative government.
“He has moved a lot because he does understand the importance of getting along well with, and being in harmony with, the Western world,” Aitken told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a Kazakh business conference this week.
In the book, titled “Nazarbayev and the making of Kazakhstan,” Aitken said “domestic public opinion with its conservative traditions” limited the speed at which Nazarbayev could implement democratic reforms.
Kazakhstan has never held an election judged free and fair by the OSCE, Europe’s top security and rights group, and only the president’s party is represented in the country’s lower house of parliament.
Nazarbayev has been in power since 1989 and tolerates little dissent. Democratic reforms have been only cosmetic, rights groups say.
“Torture and other ill-treatment by members of the security forces remained widespread and continued to be committed with virtual impunity,” Amnesty International’s 2009 Report on The State of the World’s Human Rights said of Kazakhstan.
However, Aitken said Nazarbayev was a popular and compassionate leader who “does have a real heart for society’s most vulnerable people.”
The president co-operated with Aitken on the biography, giving him almost 28 hours of interviews.
Aitken also enjoyed hospitality courtesy of the government when he visited Kazakhstan for research, but said he had not received any payment from the government and that Nazarbayev had not sought to vet the book.
Aitken said he was also a consultant to Abermed, a provider of healthcare services which works in Kazakhstan.
Aitken’s book was not the first published this year on Nazarbayev. The president’s former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliyev, who fled the Central Asian country in 2007 after falling out with Nazarbayev published “Godfather-in-Law” in May.
Aliyev has said in his personal blog that the book sheds light on high-level corruption in Kazakhstan and crimes including murders of opposition politicians. Kazakhstan said it would prosecute anyone caught buying, selling or reproducing Aliyev’s book.
Aliyev receives harsh criticism in Aitken’s book. Allegations from Aliyev’s trial in absentia for crimes including planning a coup and running a criminal gang, for which he was sentenced to 40 years, are published at length and several critics cited.
Aliyev said the case against him was politically motivated.
During his time in prison, Aitken said he rediscovered his Christian faith. His reputation has been partially repaired in recent years by speaking at religious meetings and membership of a Conservative Party task force on prison reform.
Nazarbayev was born into a family of peasants in 1940. He started his career as a steelworker, quickly rising through the ranks of the Communist Party to become prime minister in 1984.
He became Kazakh Communist Party First Secretary in 1989 and has led Kazakhstan since independence in 1991.
“Nazarbayev and the making of Kazakhstan” will be officially released next month.
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