Populism Instead of Reforms

The first address of the second Kazakhstan’s President to the people is the most populistic one since the moment such an instrument started being used in the country. This means that the authorities have finally realized that ruling the country the old way is no longer possible. However, on the other hand, it speaks of either political cowardice or, on the contrary, political wisdom of the collective Akorda.

On September 10, 2019, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev signed Presidential Decree 152 on the measures of the implementation of the Presidential People’s Address of September 2, 2019 under the title «The Constructive Social Dialogue Is the Foundation of Kazakhstan’s Stability and Prosperity».

Unfortunately, we have not been able to find this document on Akorda’s official website. We also do not know why Tokayev’s Administration has limited itself by the publication of just the commentary but not the document itself. Perhaps the thing is that, if Tokayev’s address was notably different from the addresses of his predecessor Nazarbayev, first of all, in terms of its unabashed populism, then the measures on its implementation turned out to be just as bureaucratically standard.

Since, in the Kazakh press and social media, the text of the presidential address has been analyzed, criticized or supported a number of times, we will only touch upon these two important points.

First, only 8 consecutive days had passed from Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev’s address to the nation until his own approval of the action plan on the implementation of the address’ stipulations. This shows that the head of the state did not add anything that would be principally new for the state apparatus or rather the officials involved in the preparing of the draft of the address. Therefore, it is not so much the representation of Tokayev’s own thoughts as a consolidated position of the top of the power.

In our opinion, this is cardinally important since, on one hand, the current presidential address is, we repeat, the most populistic one since the time when such instrument started being used in the country which means those in Akorda understand that it is no longer possible to rule the people in the old way.

On the other hand, it speaks of either political cowardice or, on the contrary, political wisdom of the collective Akorda. For if we are to disregard the promises of the tactical nature, for instance, to allocate or increase the state funding of certain projects (social needs), then the address has only two statements of the principal nature.

The first one has to do with the sphere of domestic policy (text in bold was contained in the official text of the document):

«The political transformation that I have promised will be implemented gradually and consistently under due consideration of the interests of our state and people. The international practices demonstrate that an explosive, non-systemic political liberalization leads to destabilizing the internal political situation and even to the loss of the statehood. Therefore, we will carry out the political reforms without „rushing ahead“ but consistently, persistently and thoughtfully. Here is our fundamental principle: successful economic reforms are no longer possible without a modernization of the socio-political life of the country.

«A strong President — an influential Parliament — an accountable Government«. This is not yet an accomplished fact but the goal which we must reach with an accelerated speed». 

Tokayev’s second crucial statement has to do with the economy:

«I would like to dwell of the land issue that concerns our society. As the Head of the state, I say it once again: our land will not be sold to foreigners. We will not allow for this to happen. All the speculations regarding this issue must stop. With that, our task is to ensure the effective use of the land».

The passages quoted above allow to reach the firm conclusion that Tokayev and his team are not going to bring any revolutionary changes into Akorda’s policies and practices (because they do now know what needs to be done or, on the contrary, they do know but realizes the limitations of their capabilities — underline as applicable). And that the real changes in the country’s agricultural sector (which, in our opinion, is the only sector capable of ensuring the increase of the level and the quality of life of a significant part of the population thanks to big investments and the creation of new technologies or the adaptation of foreign ones) will not happen.

All this brings us to the sad conclusion: the current stagnation in the country that started after Nazarbayev had managed to destroy the opposition within the ruling elite and to squash the civic society is to continue despite the upbeat statements and sounding promises of his successor.

Simply because populism is good as a way to attract the population’s support but not as an instrument to mobilize the entire society for the cardinal reformation of the country and its economy.


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