Why There Will Be No Democracy Today

A certain revival of domestic political developments that we are observing in Kazakhstan today within both the ruling elite and the civic society give one hope that the country is finally at the threshold of the systemic reforms that may accelerate its economic and social developments. We believe, however, that these hopes are futile.

They are based primarily on the fact that the Kazakhs are tired of the 30-year reign of the First President and the Leader of the Nation and there is a desire for the changes, but the changes must be carried out in the peaceful way and without their personal participation (activities).

As a consequence to such a massive consumerist approach to power and its opponents, the overwhelming majority of the citizens prefers to do nothing. As a result, the ruling elite that not only has the necessary instruments and resources but also consciously defends its interests remains the key player in the country. Which, by the way, does not prevent its clans to actively fight with one another for the spheres of influence, positions in the state apparatus and access to income including the shadowy and criminal kind.

All this means that, in the near future, the current authoritarian political system will not be able to change except perhaps it may somewhat improve its external image, become less repressive and more attentive to the citizens. But not more.

Why do we think so?

Because the initial accumulation of capital when the national property (albeit detached from the people) ended up in the hands of those few who were in power at that moment is the main political and economic substance of the 30 years of the First President’s and the Leader of the Nation’s “reign”.

Among those few whose number consists of several dozens of people, the members of a large (we would say a family-mafia-style) clan led by Nursultan Nazarbayev stand out and all the attention, as a rule, is directed towards them.

However, the ruling elite is much wider than these several hundred people. Therefore, the transition of supreme power in the country from Nursultan Nazarbayev to his successor (no matter whether we are talking about Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev or somebody else) will not change anything from the political and economic standpoint: the extra-rich will remain the extra-rich except perhaps several names on this list will be replaced, while the poor will remain the poor.

With that, we believe there is zero chance that the authoritarian political system itself will voluntarily start reforming into a representative democracy while the “super-presidential” vertical disintegrates into the independent branches of power. Simply because the main goal of the Kazakh power today is to preserve the results of the initial accumulation of capital by any means possible albeit allowing for the unavoidable changes for the benefit of those who are now “riding high” at the expense of those who is no longer “riding”.

In our opinion, the latter is absolutely unavoidable due to the fact that Nursultan Nazarbayev cannot live forever. As soon as he passes away, his successor (we repeat, who – Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, Dariga Nazarbayeva, Samat Abish or someone else – is unimportant) will want to and will be forced to carry out the repartition of big property for the benefit of themselves and their immediate circle.

Of course, this repartition will not go down without high-profile scandals, open and hidden conflicts and even “wars”. However, from the political and economic standpoint, it will change nothing, and the state-monopolized capitalism will continue to dominate the Kazakh multi-layered economy.

The cardinal revision of the results of the initial accumulation of capital is possible only via a a revolution or perhaps a complete disintegration of today’s state. However, such a turn of events will have a poor effect on Kazakhstan. The world has changed a lot since the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 (or the October Coup D’Etat if you will), therefore, speaking from the economic standpoint, the number and the size of the problems, in this case, will not go down but grow bigger – in fact, the country will be set back by 100 years.

In this context, the most important question we believe is this – it is not who will be in charge of the authoritarian political system and the “super-presidential” vertical after Nursultan Nazarbayev’s passing but whether the new “leader of the nation” and his circle will be able to abstain from the massive repartition of property.

Luckily, there are more than enough foundations for opening criminal cases and reaching guilty verdicts against Timur and Dinara Kulibayevs, Butal Utemuratov, Alexander Mashkevich, Umirzak Shukeyev, Imangali Tasmagambetov, Daniyal Akhmetov and others. De-facto, in the ruling elite, there are very few of those who have earned their fortunes honestly and without the diving into the state’s pocket.

To answer the question postulated before: we think not.

It is the intensifying of the protest sentiment in the society to such an extent that the ruling elite will be forced to restrict its appetite that may come to serve as the main factor that will help if not to prevent than to suppress the next property repartition. Not because the elite does not want to become even richer but because too strong a conflict within the elite can destroy the state which means that they will lose everything.

An external threat (be it an economic, political or military one) may also serve as a factor. In this case, these threats must be plain to see.

In the rest of the cases, the process of the initial accumulation of the capital in the country (this time, in the form of its repartition) is likely to go on. And this is rather critical since those who will find themselves at the top of the power vertical will be vigorously invested in preserving the authoritarian political system albeit with the minimal, mostly external, changes.

Let us repeat one more time: only a sharp increase of the protest sentiment and its massive streets expressions can change the status quo. However, in Kazakhstan, it will be closer to the “Arab Spring” or “Maidan” than to the “Rose Revolution”. And, considering the Ukrainian or Kyrgyzstan cases, it will require at least two such cycles for the ruling elite to deconsolidate and for the alignment of forces in the political field to allow the country to choose the way of democracy and the civilized market.


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