Tokayev’s Populism

On February 25, 2021, President of Kazakhstan Kossym-Jomart Tokayev delivered a big speech at the fifth National Council of Public Trust (NCPT) meeting.  

The text of the speech has been published on Akorda’s website and reprinted by a number of media-resources. For our purposes, we are going to use a shorter press-release titled “The Head of the State Takes Part in the Fifths NCPT meeting” since it gives the gist of what Kossym-Jomart Tokayev said to the NCPT members in expectation of the entire Kazakh population hearing it.

In our opinion, if we omit the Elbasy’s successor’s courtesies towards the NCPT members and himself, Tokayev’s speech turns out to be populism of the first water. Nonetheless, the President does fulfil his promise of building a listening state.

The authorities do hear what the Kazakhs want and respond to their needs. For this reason, Akorda and the Library have recently done (caused) a lot of things that are strongly opposed by qualified professionals. For instance, they have allowed using individual saving accounts for buying real estate or paying for healthcare treatments. 

And Kossym-Jomart Tokayev’s public addresses including the one of February 25 at the NCPT meeting are but a direct response to the people’s wants.

Here is the list of the promises he’s made this time –

- to increase the volume of cheap lodgings in the urban and rural areas via extending the state’s involvement in the sector and increasing state subsidies;

 - to reformat the function of socio-entrepreneurial corporations;

 - to develop and promote “green” economy including alternative sources of power;

- to indefinitely prolongate the Bilim mobile operators service plan with an unlimited access to 600 Kazakh learning resources as well as to provide secondary schools with an unlimited access to the local learning resources;

- to improve and extend the training of educators and healthcare professionals;

- to create an inclusive social environment for handicapped persons;

- to ensure work safety in Kazakhstan;

- to gradually introduce the national human rights observance assessment indicators based on the 14 global indicators developed by the OHCHR;

- to fight domestic abuse of women.

It is not hard to see that all the listed problems do not only exist but demand an urgent solution. Therefore, we can only wish good luck to the President and the Kazakh “super-presidential” vertical in this undertaking. Of course, the question is if they will be able to succeed at all. The previous (and numerous) promises of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan to cardinally reform the country and to increase the level of life have remained nothing but empty words.

For this reason, we are not going to comment on Tokayev’s statements regarding the internal policy. Not because they are erroneous but due to the fact that, given the existing socio-political environment, they are nothing but flogging a dead horse – the system itself should have been changed a long time ago.

The only thing we would like to highlight is a strategic mistake made by the Elbasy’s successor regarding the sensitive land issue. Here is what Tokayev said on February 25, 2021 -

“Talking about the special importance of the land issue, Kossym-Jomart Tokayev has reminded the listeners that, as he had said repeatedly, the Kazakh land would not be sold to foreigners.

– “We must put an end to all the rumours and speculations. I order, once and for all, to prohibit foreign individuals and legal bodies from buying and renting farmlands. This includes the legal bodies with foreign participation. I have decided that the initiative must be implemented in an urgent manner through the Presidential legislative initiative. The Presidential Administration is to develop the legislature at hand.

Secondly, I order, within a month’s time, to form the Land Reform Commission that is to start operating on March 25th. The Commission members must include reputable representative of the agricultural sector and the experts proficient in the land issue.

Thirdly, I order the Government to reach the final solution and arrive at a consensus regarding the crucial issues of the land reform by the end of August 2021.

Fourthly, we must constantly inform the population on every step of the Commission’s operations and the suggested measures. One of the main tasks is to demonstrate the maximal transparency of the operations and of the decision-making process.

Most importantly, the principal decision that the land is not to be sold to foreigners has been made”, underscored the Head of the State”.

We have already commented on this strategically important subject in our publication “The Three Main Problems of the Agricultural Complex”. Let us quote several paragraphs from it.

“We believe that such a sensitive issue as the introduction of private ownership of farmlands in Kazakhstan will not be resolved for at least next two generations. Since the people that can be called latifundists of large landowners are the main opponents of such a possibility. These are the people who, over the years of independence, had gained official or unofficial control (by seizing, stealing, buying – underline as appropriate) of the large parcels of land measured by tens of thousands and thousands hectares that previously belonged to the sovkhzes and kolkhozes. 

However, having gained control of the land, many a newly born latifundists did not manage to organise a normal business on their land. With that, none of them is going to part with their assets. It is these people (that the country has enough of – several thousands persons we believe) that, during the past years, have been able to suppress (with the help of the seemingly spontaneous public protests, among other things) all the not so assertive attempts of the state to change something in this sphere.

Of course, the authorities are trying to change something, among other things, by establishing external monitoring of the usage of farmlands and increasing their taxing when the lands are used inappropriately. However, we doubt the efficiency of these efforts. Simply because the state agencies involved in solving this problem, starting from the industry-related agencies and ending with the local authorities of all levels, are existing under the influence (if not the direct control) of the latifundists. Moreover, quite often the attempts of officials to install some order, de-facto, serve as the acts of redivision of property or help providing  a reason to conduct it”. 

Kossym-Jomart Tokayev’s decision is likely to be supported by certain groups of the Kazakh society.

However, we, once again, would like to draw attention to the fact that he isn’t simply denying foreign investors the opportunity to buy farmlands (acting not only on behalf of physical bodies but legal bodies as well), he also (and this is crucial) is saving local large landowners from those who are capable of disturbing the existing state of affairs via introducing the market mechanisms into the process of the distribution and redistribution of land in Kazakhstan.

The only consolation here is that Nazarbayev and Tokayev are not sempiternal.


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