The Power Pyramid Is Shaking

This year, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and «the Leader of the Nation» continues to be present in the internal political space of the country. So for instance, on January 8, 2020, Nursultan Nazarbayev held a meeting with the senior staff of his executive office devoted, among other things, to the planning of his work for this calendar year and, on January 10, he met with Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan Askar Mamin.

The official press-release of the Library states that the head of the government has informed his vis-à-vis «on the current socio-economic situation in Kazakhstan and the measures taken to increase the people’s welfare». After which, «the First President has emphasized the importance of the qualitative implementation of the «100 Concrete Steps» Nation Plan devoted to putting into practice the «five institutional reforms». He has also remarked that «the situation in the economy is not bad. Now it is important to be thoroughly prepared for the realization of the «100 Concrete Steps» Nation Plan. Some tasks have been completed but there are some problems that haven’t been solved and they demand attention».

In other words, Nursultan Nazarbayev continues to be up to speed regarding the country’s affairs. And even if this activity is somewhat of a demonstrative nature and his goal is to convince the fellow citizens that he is alive, well and still in power, it has already become clear that he simply does not want to (cannot) retire.

In our opinion, there is logic in Nazarbayev’s actions. Because any authoritarian political system including its Kazakh variety allows for only a single leader and, therefore, a single center of power and a single major political line.

If this leader unexpectedly dies of loses the ability to rule, there can be temporary solutions when he is replaced by several people. But this transition period always ends with one of the successors becoming the new leader. The rest recede into the background: in the best-case scenario, they are simply banned from power, in the worst-case scenario, they lose their freedom or even life.

In Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev is trying to repeat the scenario that, more of less successfully, has been implemented in Singapore, however, in our opinion, he will not be able to achieve this. Due to that simple reason that the authoritarian political system that has been built in a state-city is impossible to repeat in the country that holds the ninth place in the world in terms of the size of its territory, has a very different quality of the population and no direct sea access.

Among other things, this means that the double-headed model of the Kazakh state system has a temporary, transitional nature. And what is bound to happen after Nazarbayev’s passing is what he afraid of most of all today. In other words, by consolidating the authorities in his hands and placing his people at the key governmental posts, his successor, under the pressure of his circle, will start «righting the wrong» — conduct the redivision of the influence spheres in the economy as a whole and in the quasi-governmental and big business sector in particular. To the benefit of himself and his circle, his family, his nearest and dearest.

When this happens, the members of the current circle of allies of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan will be the first to suffer. Simply due to the fact that, today, they are the country’s richest and most influential people which, in turn, makes them most vulnerable. It is unlikely that Nursultan Nazarbayev (an experienced, cynical, flexible and tough politician) does not realize that.

But even if he does, due to to his age and experience, he probably feels that only those who don’t simply owe him everything (the fortune, the social status, the position in the state service) but who are fated to «lean» on himself, his reputation, achievements and name will remain maximally devoted to him after he departs from this world. We are talking about his family members exclusively since, because of their family name, they are destined to remain faithful to the so called «Leader of the Nation» and his memory.

For this reason, we believe that the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan will be standing above and behind the second and all the following presidents until he draws his last breath.

Of course, despite all this, Nursultan Nazarbayev is going to gradually lose his power since, from the purely technical standpoint, he has put himself in a disadvantageous position because of his resignation.

As part of the authoritarian political system and the super-presidential vertical, the entire state apparatus with all its levels, branches and sidelines had been built as a «pyramid». However, after the start of the supreme power transition, the top of this «pyramid» became double-headed. However, since this newly created  center of power conventionally named «the Library» is inferior to Akorda (in terms of the number of employees, the volume of imcoming information, the authorities and the administrative capabilities), it is going to lose to its «competitor» on a continuing basis.

Yes, today Nursultan Nazarbayev as the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Chairman of the Security Council, the leader of the Nur Otan party and the Head of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan can do anything including firing Kossym-Jomart Tokayev. But still, the number of the decisions made in the Library (no matter whether we are talking about making direct decisions or approving the decisions of others) will a priori be a few times less than the number of the decisions made in Akorda.

This means that real power consisting, among other things, of the right to make and carry out decisions, to control their implementation and to punish in case the implementation fails is, to a large extent, concentrated in the hands of Akorda. And this extent in going to increase progressively.

Of course, the comprehension of this fact is going to take some time but, eventually, the groups of citizens that are key to the authoritarian political regime — the statemen and the managers of quasi-governmental companies, the members of the ruling elite, the entrepreneurs, the civic, religious and other activists — will reorient themselves towards Akorda. Of course, not forgetting to make diplomatic gestures towards the Library.

In our opinion, real power will be moved from the Library and the hand of Nursultan Nazarbayev to Akorda and the hands of the person in charge of it with 100% probability. The further events will depend on what happens earlier — the Leader of the Nation’s passing or his comprehension of the fact that, even though he still sits on the throne, he no longer rules.  

It is then when the critical moment may come when the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan will choose a real successor.

Therefore, we believe that Kossym-Jomart Tokayev will be able to retain his current position for no more than one presidential term or (perhaps even less than that) since, technically being one of the most faithful and close Nazarbayev’s allies, he is clearly incapable of preserving the proverbial internal political stability in the country when the elite starts fighting for power and the privileges it entails.

And, most importantly, Kossym-Jomart Tokayev as a relatively weak politician who doesn’t have his own influential clan and weight in the ruling elite will not be able to remain faithful to his predecessor, his memory and political line after Nursultan Nazarbayev departs from life.

Why do we think so? Simply because Tokayev «earned» very little in the past and, therefore, he is likely to want to compensate for this falling behind the members of the Leader of the Nation’s family and his other allies.

As for the fact that many people in the country consider the second President of the Republic of Kazakhstan a puppet in the hands of Nazarbayev does not mean that he will continue to remain such after the latter’s passing. For a «puppet» is a mark stamped on Tokayev by his enemies and ill-wishers while he himself is, in fact, a very ambitious person.

Moreover, Tokayev has enough reason to be jealous of many a highly-placed officials who are on par with him in terms of their achievements and their ranks in the state service but who have managed to «earn» much bigger fortunes than him.

This is why we consider the current structure of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian political system not only temporary and transitional but an extremely unstable one.


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