Where Has Nazarbayev Vanished Into?

After his unexpected visit to Moscow and the one-on-one talk with Vladimir Putin, Nursultan Nazarbayev has disappeared from the political horizon. Which begs the question of whether he continues to govern the country or not.                                               

This seems to be especially topical because, at the very same time, Kossym-Jomart Tokayev has started acting as a fully valid head of the state. To confirm this, let us call your attention to his historic decision «to declare the state emergency on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan for the period from 08.00, March 16, 2020 until 07.00, April 15, 2020, in accordance with the law of the Republic of Kazakhstan».

Let us remind you that this decision was recorded in the Presidential Decree of March 15, 2020. On the next day, March 16, Tokayev signed Decree 286 «On the Measures to Ensure the Socio-Economic Stability» and Decree 287 «On Further Measures to Ensure the Stabilization of Economy». 

We do not see a point in commenting on the said documents since they do not fall outside of the usual practices employed by other countries to prevent the coronavirus epidemics and stabilize economy. Something else has caught out attention in this instance — the purposeful and clear positioning of Kosssym-Jomart Tokayev as the operating head of the Kazakh state. 

To confirm this, let us cite the texts of Akorda’s latest official press-releases.

March 9, 2020: «the Head of the State conducts a meeting on the economic situation in the country».

March 10, 2020: «the Head of the State meets with Minister of Defense Nurlan Ermekbayev».

March 11, 2020: «Kossym-Jomart Tokayev meets with Chairman of the National Bank Erbolat Dossayev».

March 12, 2020: «the President of Kazakhstan conducts a meeting with the heads of several state agencies».

March 13, 2020:  «the Head of the State conducts a meeting of the Emergency Response Team». 

March 16, 2020: «the Head of the State is debriefed by Minister of Interior Erlan Turgumbayev».

All these press-releases underscore that the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan has expressed his opinion and given individual orders. The press-release on the meeting with Chairman of the National Bank Erbolat Dossayev is the only exception. This press-release is unique in its brevity; it’s a document consisting of two lines only. Here it is: «the Head of the State has been informed on the current situation on the financial market and on the measures taken to ensure the macroeconomic stability in the country».

With that, nothing has appeared on the official website of the First President after the announcement on his visit to Moscow, his meeting with Vladimir Putin and his visit to the MSU. One cannot help but feel that supreme power in Kazakhstan has been irreversibly moved from the hands of Nazarbayev to the hands of Tokayev.

Nonetheless, we believe this assumption to be wrong.

It is more likely that the Leader of the Nation has chosen to distance himself from his successor and the current problems that the country is experiencing. And he’s done so in spite of the obvious political losses since Nazarbayev’s state of health cannot but raise questions simply due to his advanced age.

Keep in mind that, previously, the Leader of the Nation had already employed the practice of stepping aside in the face of a difficult situation and of putting forward someone else instead. During the first years, the role of the future scape goats was performed by Vice President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Erik Asanbayev and Prime Ministers Akezhan Kazhegeldin and Imangali Tasmagambetov as well as the other figures such as the already forgotten Chairman of the National Bank Gregory Marchenko, etc. 

Thus, the fact that the «Leader of the Nation» has chosen to lie low at the time of a crisis while putting Kossym-Jomart Tokayev forward confirms the gravity of the situation in the country.

However, if, previously, the Leader of the Nation had been able to get away with it (even though this tactics of his had never been welcomed), now it may turn into the straw that broke a camel’s back. Since, in Kazakhstan, the age and the state of health of the Leader of the Nation are, de-facto, no less important for the internal political stability than the fall of the oil prices, the coronavirus pandemics or the devaluation of the national currency, the time has come for the society to demand clarity regarding this issue.

Obviously, Akorda and the Library will categorically refuse to answer this question citing the legal norms and the sanctity of private life. But they will be wrong. For, out of all the risks threatening Kazakhstan’s internal political stability, the risk of the final transition of supreme power is much greater than the risk of the tenge’s further demise.


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