Trust in Nazarbayev or Vote with One’s Feet?

On January 14, 2021, the First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev participated in the session of the Nur Otan faction in the newly elected Mazhilis of the Kazakh Parliament. Counting out the praises and promises, his speech boils down to two suggestions: first, to elect Nurlan Nigmatulin the head of the Nur Otan faction and, second, to support Askar Mamin’s appointment as the Prime Minister of the country.

In our opinion, the said activity on the part of the Elbasy is no accident and is based not only on the necessity to maintain the party protocol but also on the intention to remind everyone including the acting President Kossym-Jomart Tokayev and his circle of who has been, is and will the the ultimate «steersman» of the country.

On the other hand, we would like to underscore, that there is no other way for the First President of Kazakhstan to act nowadays. The thing is that, currently, the Kazakh authoritarian system and the «super-presidential» vertical are undergoing a new, most complicated and dangerous test they have had for the past 20 years. And it is quite possible that they will fail.

We believe this may happen due to the overlapping of several unfavourable factors most important of which are the following ones -

a) the unavoidable (due to Nursultan Nazarbayev’s age and state of health) transition of supreme power in the country;

b) the rapidly worsening geopolitical situation and the escalating conflict between Russia and China with the U.S;

c) the numerous economic problems and difficulties caused by both the lack of competitive viability of the national economy as a whole and the dominance of the state and individual clans in it aggravated by a high level of corruption and the low quality of the national labor force;

d) the cardinal transformation of the world economy due to the necessity to adapt to the new conditions including the COVID-19 pandemic and the turn from the globalisation to the regionalisation.

Given these circumstances, the Kazakh authoritarian political system and the «super-presidential» vertical can easily be compared with a small sailing vessel lost in a turbulent sea. And this vessel is going to sail in the direction the wind and the waves are carrying it.

Something similar had already happened in the 1990s when, after the collapse of the USSR, 15 independent states including Kazakhstan appeared from under its ruins. But back then the Kazakhs were lucky mostly because the country was quite rich in terms of its natural resources and its citizens didn’t simply long for a better life but were actively building it. As for Nazarbayev who, at the time, was truly demonstrating his leadership qualities and the ability to navigate the turbulent geopolitical, regional and local political waters, was but one of the leaders.

Many years have passed since then and now the Elbasy as the «captain» of the small «sailing vessel» must, once again, navigate it through the turbulent ocean while being 30 years older and, most importantly, lacking real support of the citizens. For the passive acceptance of the state of affairs in the country and the intention to survive on an individual basis (as a family or as a clan at best) cannot replace the large-scale patriotism, the strife for a better life and the readiness to realise the dreams based on both the nationwide enthusiasm and the nationwide needs that we had observed at the dawn of the country’s independence.

For this reason, Nursultan Nazarbayev is trying, by any means possible, to preserve the status quo in everything starting from the external and internal policy and ending with the relationships within his own clan/family. 

One must admit that, from the viewpoint of his private interests, Nazarbayev is acting not just sensibly but effectively. As of today. The only question is when will he make a mistake or when will some kind of disaster happen? And we have no doubt that it will. Due to that simple reason that the number of the negative factors affecting Kazakhstan today has grown dramatically and, therefore, the number of risks has grown dramatically as well (by an order or may be even two). In these circumstances, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan is doomed to continue performing the role of the «leader of the nation» until he draws his last breath while all the real political changes in the country have been put on hold.

At best, today the Library and Akorda may attempt some decorative, cosmetic, image-making operations such as the idea already articulated by Kossym-Jomart Tokayev to, once again, lower the minimal membership of a party for it to be officially registred. Another such operation may consist of repeating the already tired promises of a beautiful future such as Kazakhstan becoming one of the thirty most developed countries in the world.

So, it looks like the Kazakhs will have to choose whether they continue trusting Nursultan Nazarbayev and his promises or cast their vote via the only means available to them, their feet.


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