Why Nazarbayev Needs Early Elections

We can see at least four reasons for holding the Kazakhstan Presidential elections as early as this winter. This prediction will not necessarily come true since Akorda can easily change its plans, but we still think it is worthy to consider them.

In one of our recent publications, we have postulated that the next Presidential elections will take place ahead of schedule, at the end of 2018 — the beginning of 2019. We believe the reason why Nursultan Nazarbayev has once again chosen to be reelected early is this — the socio-economic crisis is still going on in the country, and neither the massive state investments in the economy and the social sphere nor the revival of the hydrocarbon prices and the export/GDP growth has been able to triumpf over it.

However, the crisis alone that started as far back as in 2008 and, for the past three years, has been developing rather sluggishly, would unlikely to force Nazarbayev to take such an extraordinary step, especially since, in his Presidential speech delivered on October 5, 2018, in Astana, he talked about expanding the old social-support programs and launching the new ones.

Therefore, there is probably some other factor that is at play here, something rather serious and even critical. The question is — what is it?

In our opinion, there can be several possible answers to this question.

  • The health issues;
  • the escalation of the intra-elite conflict and too much activity on the part of the potential successors;
  • the danger of the dramatic decline of the external conditions;
  • the risks of the significant destabilization of the domestic political situation.

There can be other theories, but we believe these four are the core ones.

We will briefly comment on each of them.

If Nazarbayev is experiencing serious health problems, then, considering his age and the workload, this is becoming the cardinal and irresolvable issue. In this case, being reelected one year ahead of schedule, when the President still has some strength and can appear healthy, seems absolutely logical. No one can predict what can happen in a year, therefore, it is possible that, in 2020, Nazarbayev’s obvious physical weakness may become the main argument against his next reelection.

As for the escalation of the intra-elite conflict and the excessive activity on the part of the potential successors, we believe this is not as likely a reason to hold the early election as the first one. If for no other reason than the fact that Nursultan Nazarbayev continues to tightly control the Kazakhstan ruling elite which clearly follows from his latest personnel reshuffles. Note that no one from his closest circle has had the guts to speak against the present political course, even unofficially. But, we will repeat, that, since anything is possible, we can talk about the scenario when the President is responding to the pressure from those whom he cannot toss overboard.

The third one (the danger of the dramatic decline of the external conditions) is not worthy of a lengthy explanation since it is clear that Kazakhstan as Russia’s closest political, military, and economic ally, as its geopolitical «underbelly», and as the territory located between the US’ and the West’s key opponents has found itself in a difficult situation. Therefore, as the Russia-US conflict escalates, the risk of the West’s imposing the sanctions against Kazakhstan and its state agencies including the National Fund and the National Bank as well as Nursultan Nazarbayev and his closest allies is growing.

Of course, Akorda will try and prevent it but the theoretical probability for this scenario to come to life (not tomorrow perhaps but in the coming years) is rather high. As for Kazakhstan’s hypersensitivity to such sanctions, there is no point in even discussing it. It is enough to recall the already forgotten Kazakhgate story and recap how much time and effort it took to Akorda to solve this problem.

We believe the fourth scenario is much more feasible. We are talking about the growing destabilization risks inside Kazakhstan. Mainly, because Akorda has nothing to offer as a counterpoint to the declining socio-economic standing of the significant (if not most) part of the population. And what is worse, this process is happening simultaneously with the widening of the socio-economic gap when the rich are becoming richer and the poor are growing poorer. In this situation, the export and GDP growth can be viewed as «an average body temperature in the hospital» which is masking the real state of affairs in the country.

Obviously, the strengthening of the autocratic political regime, among other things, via holding the early elections with the clearly predictable results, intensifying the repressions against the discontent including those based on false foundations, the evident passivity of the Kazakhstan citizens, the absence of the civil society, the real political opposition and the independent media will let Nursultan Nazarbayev and his allies preserve the status quo and not allow for the destabilization of the situation. Given that nothing critical happens.

In the meantime, such unexpected scenario is quite feasible. Just recall the «Arab spring» when the authoritarian regimes that closely resembled that of Kazakhstan in terms of their organization and practices were collapsing one after another. Note that anything can serve as the trigger for «the Kazakh spring» — from a resonant act of violence on the part of the siloviks against the citizens to yet another dramatic fall of the tenge exchange rate against the dollar.

The 2011 Zhanaozen events and the 2006 Shanyrak events remind us of the feasibility of the first scenario. As for the second, its feasibility has been confirmed by the National Bank’s recent announcement that, in the course of three days, from September 5 to September 7, the Regulator had spent 520 $ mln to cover the demand and compensate for the absence of the supply, in other words, to not let the tenge plummet.

Thus, if the experts have warned the President that the national currency may soon devalue (like say the Turkish lira or may be even worse), it may be enough for him to decide on holding the early elections. Because Nazarbayev fully realizes that he will not be able to preserve the tenge exchange rate and suppress the growth of the mass discontent.

It is unlikely that the President has forgotten the events of 2014-2015 when the situation was developing in the exact same way. Back then, the state had to spend US28 $ bln to support the national currency but, eventually, was still forced to devalue it.

As for the tenge’s fall to the 400 tenge per dollar mark or even worse, to 500 tenge per dollar, wouldn’t it be a great cause for the start of the massive protest?


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