When assessing the internal political situation in Kazakhstan and forecasting its further development, we should keep in mind one important point – the January “explosion” of the protest sentiments has destroyed the existing barnacle of power within the local ruling elite. And it will take a lot of time and effort to restore it.
At the same time, it is already clear that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will be the one engaged in performing this difficult task more than anyone. Nursultan Nazarbayev, in his turn, will try not to interfere with this performance and, at the same time, to ensure the physical and financial security of his own self, his relatives and allies. Of course, due to his advanced age and the poor state of health, there is no guarantee that he will be able to do so for a long period of time.
As a result, the second President of the Republic of Kazakstan, as much as he wants to restore the order in the country, to calm his fellow citizens and begin political reforms, has found himself a hostage of the situation. And not only of the current domestic political situation and of his predecessor at the presidential post but also of the authoritarian regime the leader of which he is becoming right before our eyes.
For this very reason, Kassym-Jonart Tokayev will never dare to -
a) throw Nursultan Nazarbayev and his circle on the scrap-heap of history,
b) strip them off their multi-billion fortunes and their influence in the country.
This is clearly outside of the scope of Tokayev’s power. The most he can do is to push them away from the political and information front stage which is exactly what he is doing now.
Also, the President of Kazakhstan cannot humble the siloviks and call them to order simply because they are now conducting “the antiterrorist” operation in order to restore the authoritarian regime with him as its leader. And Tokayev has got no one to replace them with.
But, what is particularly important from the standpoint of the country’s future, the head of the Kazakh state, following the events of January 2022, has found himself a hostage of his people. Simply because the number of the protest-minded citizens has turned out to be significantly higher than it was thought before. And they continue demanding the changes despite the despotism and blatant excesses on the part of the police.
Add to this the political confrontation between Russia and China on one end and the USA and EU on the other; add to this President of Russia Vladimir Putin who, amid the undeclared war with the West, is preaching the idea of “who is not with us is against us” towards both his fellow citizens and the neighbouring states.
For this reason, Tokayev today is forced to do what he can. And, for the same reason, he is doomed to repeat Nazarbayev’s mistakes that will invariably backfire in the future.
For instance, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has dismissed several closest relatives of Nursultan Nazarbayev. Chairman of the Central Election Commission Berik Imashev was the last in the series. But who has replaced them? We do not intend to claim that the newly-appointed top-managers of the quasi-governmental structures are Tokayev’s stooges, however, the fact that most of them have ties with the President is evident.
However, if Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, due to the political necessity and the lack of trust in someone else’ people is replacing the people of Nursultan Nazarbayev with his own (regardless of whether or not they had been such before the January events), he is doing exactly what the former “leader of the nation” had done over the course of the thirty plus years of his rule.
For, in Kazakhstan, the process of renewing the state apparatus has never been limited to reshuffles among top-officials. Invariably, it progresses down. The only difference between what is happening now and what used to happen before is that, previously, this process took decades and now it will only take a couple of years.
The same is true of the siloviks. Right now Tokayev is much more dependent on them (first of all the police) than they on him. For this reason, they do not listen to his public orders to stop the violence and the illegal arrests of the citizens. First of all, the siloviks are fully aware whom these messages are addressed to and, second, the orders they receive from their own bosses are quite different.
All this is aggravated by the fact that many siloviks -
a) do not know how to operate differently,
б) the volume of the tasks they must perform has grown by many folds while the size of the staff has remained the same. Therefore, they find it easier to torture people into confessions and beat up dissidents than investigate the situation objectively and within the legal limits,
c) they are exerting revenge on those who have humiliated them, forced them to flee, beg for forgiveness, be scared for their life.
However, most of the siloviks do not realise that, by dong so, they are planting a bomb under the domestic political stability and that it will explode again. If not tomorrow, then in five or ten years for certain. And then, it may turn out that the people who are already suffering and are going to suffer in the future from the hands of the police, the secret service and the prosecutor’s office will treat them just as ruthlessly.
At the same time, the number of the Kazakhs who, in the course of the next “explosion” of the protest sentiments, will be helping the siloviks is going to be significantly lower than in January.
And then we may witness the exact same thing that happened in February 1917 in Russia when the protestors simply tore down the Russian Empire with its three hundred years of history and when Tsar Nicolas the Second and his family were later killed by those who seized power in October 1917.