Kazakhstan’s political system continues to be structured by informal power networks that revolve around President Nazarbayev’s ability to maintain stability.
As the political environment in Kazakhstan becomes increasingly tense due to the government’s recent plan to privatize land unused for investment, it appears that once again, a free and open political dialogue will not be successful. option for a dissatisfied audience.
Instead, the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev is carrying out a soft crackdown on the protests. It started with the April 28 notification that spreading land reform disinformation is a crime. Then the government went further on April 29 by arresting the organizers of a press conference and public debate to be held at the National Press Club in Almaty.
Following the crackdown on the Zhanaozen oil workers’ protests in 2011, it appears that while the protests may signal popular discontent, the government will halt any momentum surrounding the land privatization campaign. In Kazakhstan, political freedom comes after political stability which is considered vital for the administration of the nation.
Stability or chaos?
For the Kazakhs, after witnessing the chaos resulting from the democratic upheavals and civil unrest that hit Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, the stability offered by the political regime of Nazarbayev provides a sense of security. As one opposition candidate in last year’s parliamentary elections (Mazhilis) said in the Diplomat: “In Kazakhstan you give up certain rights in exchange for security. You give up pluralism and the right to say whatever you want, but that’s how it is, and we’re doing fine.
But there is little strength in Kazakh political institutions. The super-presidential system means that the political structure is weak and ineffective, with parliament being a rubber stamp to the president’s wishes and the judiciary being similarly controlled.
Clan and patronage policy
Kazakhstan is a product of its own birth, as it is formed from the ashes of the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union nomenklatura system and a clan society. Kazakhstan has long used secondary political channels such as identity (clan) or patronage networks for genuine political dialogue and decision-making.
The risk is that these networks operate only for their own interests rather than for the good of all. This creates little flow of wealth and political power to those outside the networks. This is a potential cause of dissatisfaction with the powers that be.
The president’s response to this problem has been the appointment of members of his patronage network to positions of power, such as regional governors (Akims), who then act as intermediaries to solve problems. The most recent use of this system emerged during protests for the privatization of land where Governor of Almaty Bauyrzhan Baibek, former deputy director of the Nazarbayev administration, offered to negotiate with the detained protesters over the issues.
Nazarbayev, on the whole, is a popular leader. Called by the incumbent Elbasi (father of the nation), he collected in the last presidential elections 97.5% of the vote with a participation rate of 95.22%. Despite valid skepticism around these numbers by many political observers, Nazarbayev’s popularity is genuinely high among a large part of the population because of the continuity he offers. As another member of the opposition party, Ak Zhol, said, “Like it or not, Nazarbayev is our future, (…) we live in a dangerous world, and Kazakhstan has known no terrorism. nor civil war, thanks to Nazarbayev. “
So, despite this lack of political pluralism and entrenched authoritarianism, the Kazakhs are not rushing to force political change. This had the unexpected side effect of giving Kazakhstan the best chance to weather the recent economic downturn.
President Nazarbayev’s micro-management of the country’s economy has enabled him to orchestrate a variety of changes that will diversify the country’s financial system away from its origins as an energy-based rentier economy and make it marketable. the strongest in Central Asia.
From initiating measures during the 2014-2015 period that facilitate the ability to do business in Kazakhstan for small and medium-sized investors, to securing much sought-after WTO membership, Nazarbayev has managed the economy of his country to allow him to attract lucrative deals with competitors big powers and multinationals. This is evidenced by the advance of major Western brands in Kazakhstan in 2016, from Starbucks and MacDonald’s to the French supermarket company Carrefour.
Kazakhstan is seen as a promising investment opportunity for newcomers, despite the fact that the economy is expected to contract in 2016 for the first time in two decades.
In addition, President Nazarbayev has also successfully navigated the complex international diplomatic waters surrounding Russia and China, its most powerful neighbors over the past 4 years. This has been achieved by diversifying Kazakhstan’s economic projects with other great powers such as Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Europe.
Reform? May be later!
Kazakhstan has a fairly relaxed attitude to the pace of political development. Currently, Nazarbayev’s management of the country places it in an enviable position, which will only strengthen its legitimacy in the eyes of the nation. This fact is well known to his opposition. Thus, with the majority of the population reluctant to agitate on a large scale for political reforms and the current economic crisis being at the forefront in their minds, development will instead be focused on maintaining the stability and security of the country. .
This attitude, along with the president’s absolute control over the political system, will lead to political change in the near future. Considering that Nazarbayev is 75, it might not be as long as many might think. The danger then lies in the power vacuum that would follow the death of such a strong leader.
Currently, with an undeclared heir, the country may face a difficult transition and a messy power struggle between those at the top of the clan and patronage networks. In the meantime, the reform will be an afterthought.