Why Does Nazarbayev Need a New Security Council?

The Kazakhstan Parliament has approved the Constitutional draft law “On the Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan”. Soon, the document is to reach the President and, after he signs it, will come into force. We believe it will happen before July 6, the Leader of the Nation’s birthday.

By our estimates, the separation of the Security Council from the Presidential Administration and its transformation into an independent constitutional agency with a rather vast functionality, tasks, and responsibility zone, separate financing and direct subordination to Nazarbayev (even if the latter is to resign from the Presidential chair) does not signify the start of the preparations for the power transit in the country.

We believe the logic of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s actions, in this case, is a totally opposite one. In our opinion, the strengthening of the Security Council and its transformation into the third real center of power in the country (alongside the Presidential Administration and the Government) will ease the completion of Nazarbayev’s key task – to remain on the top of the political system and the super-presidential vertical by any means possible. It will also help him preserve the balance in the ruling elite.

The matter is that, as any autocrat, Nazarbayev constantly finds himself under the pressure of his circle. With that, each of his allies, close and subordinate to him, is pursuing their own goals that, as a rule, do not coincide with each other. Therefore, to guarantee the stability in the country and the ruling elite, the Leader of the Nation must always keep his balance and ensure a temporary compromise between all the opposing forces and not to allow for a critical aggravation of the matters.

Next year, it will be a 30 year anniversary of Nazarbayev’s successful efforts of keeping the more or less sustainable balance in the elite (among other things, these efforts include playing the competing groups off against each other, supporting the weak against the stronger, bringing people close or, on the contrary, pushing them away, redistributing between them the zones of influence in the state apparatus and the economy, appointing, firing, or reshuffling officials). However, each year, it is becoming increasingly harder to achieve simply due to the President’s age issues.

In a civilized world, such a task is usually solved by the institutional means – via dividing the power branches, intensifying the political competitiveness between political groups and introducing a system of elections during which those parties and personas that turn out to be the most convincing in the eyes of the voters win.

In Kazakhstan, even given the formal presence of all the necessary democratic institutes, the situation is completely different. Under the conditions of the authoritarian system and the super-presidential power vertical, the democratic institutes and procedures have been bowdlerized to the limit. There is only an imitation of democracy.

Therefore, as an autocrat who is not ready to give away his power to anyone and to share it more than he finds necessary, Nazarbayev had to find a different solution albeit a partial and less effective one that would be safe for him personally. And he had found such a solution. Now the Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan and its head are to become the third center of power in the country that is practically equal to the Presidential Administration and the Government.

So, Nursultan Nazarbayev is simultaneously solving several tasks that are crucial for him. For example, the task of lessening the risk of the involuntary power transit that was the downfall of the Soviet system. Indeed, it would be harder for his three allies to reach an agreement than it would be for two of them. And, by our estimates, the President has more than enough reasons to be concerned about such a situation.

It is enough to recall the most famous conflicts of the past when, one way or another, Nazarbayev’s closest allies tried to push the future Leader of the Nation out of the head of the state’s chair:

  • the conflict with Erik Asanbayev that ended in the elimination of the Kazakhstan Vice President position, Asanbayev’s resignation and his unofficial exile via appointing him to a third-rate diplomatic post in Germany;
  • with Akezhan Kazhegeldin that ended in his resignation from the Kazakhstan Prime Minister position, an attempt to participate in the Presidential elections, creation of the Republican People’s Party of Kazakhstan, an absentee trial and guilty verdict, emigration to the UK where he first received political asylum and then the British citizenship;
  • with Rakhat Aliyev that ended in removing the latter from the position of the Ambassador to Austria and at the OSCE, several absentee trials and guilty verdicts, an absentee divorce with Nazarbayev’s daughter, the long-standing legal wars in the West, the murder in the Viennese prison that was officially declared suicide.

We do not include the 2001 creation of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) when a part of the Kazakhstan elite openly made a stand against Nazarbayev because the movement insisted on the cardinal political reforms but did not demand Nazarbayev’s resignation. We also do not include the DCK-2 movement since is Mukhtar Ablyazov is Nazarbayev’s public opponent and not his ally or confidant.

In our opinion, the main domestic political threat for Nazarbayev lies in his closest relatives and allies including:

  • eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva;
  • Chief of the National Security Committee Karim Masimov;
  • Head of the Presidential Administration Adilbek Dzhaksybekov;
  • Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev;
  • Akorda’s behind-the-scenes architect Bulat Utemuratov;
  • his ally, Head of the Department of Presidential Affairs Abay Bisembayev, and so forth…

We are not saying that they secretly hate their suzerain and are preparing a coup to overthrow him or are going to pension him off. It is simply that the aggravation of the political situation in the country that is a result of the strengthening of the external risks and the authorities’ impotence to improve the state of the affairs in the non-resource economy and to significantly raise the level of life of the Kazakh citizens does not simply concern Nursultan Nazarbayev but forces his allies to search for a solution simply to survive and preserve their assets. This is nothing personal, just business.

In such conditions, any authoritarian ruler will suspect his circle of the desire to overthrow him. For Nazarbayev, it is all the more likely since he had formed as a politician during the last years of Nikita Khruschev’s reign and must vividly remember how and why the latter was forced to leave the power. Therefore, the norm that the new Security Council will be headed by the Leader of the Nation durante vita is, in our opinion, just a counter-insurance for the highly unlikely event of Nazarbayev’s losing his Presidential post.

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