Scenarios of Transition

Discussing Nazarbayev’s successor is becoming one of the most topical issues in Kazakhstan. There is no surprise here – the elite clans fear a new property redistribution after the power transit and are trying to cushion the blow by working out different schemes and scenarios ahead of time.

In the article Summer will be hot in Akorda, we suggested that, this year, Nazarbayev’s summer vacation, traditionally used by him for holding unofficial consultations, will be complicated by the pressure put on him by his closest relatives as well as by his allies.

We believe this development is inevitable due to several objective and subjective factors – Nazarbayev’s age, the ruling elite’s realization of the fact that only one position in the state vertical guarantees personal safety, the worries about the new redistribution of the property and the spheres of influence after the transition, etc.

Surely, the attempts to influence the president will be carried out in different ways but always under the pretext of caring about Nazarbayev himself and his younger children. And, regardless of what his closest relatives, friends, and allies are going to say, they will have to address the successor issue.  Therefore, directly or indirectly, they will lobby their own schemes of power transition in Kazakhstan.

Obviously, the president will not be able to deny discussing this sensitive topic completely. Moreover, one can assume that such an experienced and ruthless politician as Nazarbayev will, in fact, consent to it in order to learn more. However, only Nazarbayev knows what he really thinks and what he plans to do. This is why making prediction on this subject is so difficult yet, at the same time, easy.

Easy – because, practically, Nazarbayev has only two feasible scenarios – either to sit in the presidential chair till he draws his last breath or to retire to the position of the leader of the nation.

Difficult – because, by the first scenario, Nazarbayev will have to solve the successor problem which is extremely hard to do considering he will not be able to amend the situation if his choice is a mistake. And, by the second scenario, a risk of double power arises which, in the framework of an authoritarian political regime, is nonsensical.

By the look of it, the scenarios suggested to the president by his closest relatives, friends, and allies seem much more feasible. On the other hand, all of them can, essentially, be reduced to the two alternatives – the presidential title is inherited by a closest relative or by a person not directly related to Nazarbayev.

Regarding the first alternative, Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter may be chosen as such a relative.

Currently, Dariga Nazarbayeva is serving as a senator. Therefore, she has to make only one little step to become the president of the Senate of the Parliament and the person who can assume the presidency after the acting president retires.

Regarding the second alternative, the list of the potential candidates is wider although not to the extent that we have thought it would be. For instance, based on our estimates, Tasmagambetov has practically no chance and we have much doubt about Tokayev and Nigmatullin.

Note that, apart from having a desirable bio and satisfying certain requirements, the candidate must possess a number of the important qualities –

  • first, they must have the support of Nazarbayev’s family or at least of a part of it;
  • second, they must have a significant influence on the state vertical and be supported by it;
  • third, they must be acceptable for Kazakhstan’s international partners, first of all, Russia, China, the US, and Europe;
  • fourth, they must possess certain personal qualities to keep the power and retain the political stability in the country.

Therefore, the fact that, lately, two young politicians – Governor of Almaty Bauyrzhan Baybek and Governor of Astana Aset Isekeshev – have been actively promoted in the Kazakh information space seems to be important. Based on our information, they are the figures lobbied by different influential groups in Nazarbayev’s circle as possible candidates for the presidency, albeit only as the “transitional” ones.

To this list, we may add Akhmetzhan Esimov who, as a representative of the intermediate generation between Nazarbayev and the governors of the two capital cities, is also a member of the president’s family.

The other candidates, we believe, have much weaker chances to be deemed “acceptable”.

Our conclusion is valid unless Nazarbayev decides to support a non-relative candidate who is nonetheless regarded as the very figure that guarantees the political continuity, the acknowledgement of Nazarbayev’s role as the founder of the Kazakh statehood, and the immunity of his family and its property. In this case, obviously, any scenario is possible.

As the Russian experience teaches us, the road from the position of a minister, a head of an agency, or a Kremlin’s chief property manager to the prime-minister and, then, the president can be travelled in, literally, one year. Then, everyone can only lift their hands in dismay and wonder about their own shortsightedness.

So, all we can do is wait for what Nazarbayev decides and for how his family and the ruling elite will react to his decision. And it is obvious that the Kazakh people will participate in the process of the power transition only as an actor with a non-speaking part. Nonetheless, as a spectator they are guaranteed to get a show of the historic scale.


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