Nazarbayev as the Transition Factor

In our precious publications, we have analyzed how the power transition in Kazakhstan is going to unfold given that it happens in the nearest future. We have concluded that, if Dariga Nazarbayeva has the support of Head of Administration Adilbek Dzhaksybekov and National Security Chief Karim Masimov, she will, most likely, become the next president of the country. 

However, we have deliberately omitted one key factor that is going to influence the coming transition. This factor is Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The matter is that, even though the leader of the nation cannot tumble over himself (on other words, do wonders for the economy and make all the Kazakhstanis happy), he is capable of changing the power balance in the ruling elite and, therefore, predetermine how the events are going to unfold.

Thus, to forecast the future domestic political processes in Kazakhstan, including the transition, we must evaluate Nazarbayev as a politician and a statesman, understand the interests that are guiding him today, and then guess what he really wants.

We will start by saying that this task is not simply a complex but a non-solvable one. And not because Nursultan Nazarbayev is so great, wise, and knowledgeable as Akorda propaganda would have you believe. This is because, as we know, another man’s soul is always dark.

Nonetheless, there is a possibility to predict how Nazarbayev will act and what he will try to achieve. Nazarbayev as a politician had been formed in the Soviet times, namely, during the Brezhnev period. Therefore, he is a typical representative of the state-party elite of the time who, however, would differ from his peers by these four parameters – intellect, practicality, lack of principle, and intuitiveness (instinct) to see through people and predict events.

Of course, this assessment is subjective. However, it is confirmed by Nazarbayev’s biography (not the official one but the real one). This is why we have a possibility to predict Nazarbayev’s actions not as a person with all his weaknesses, complexes, passions, deficiencies, but as a statesman and a politician who has always acted on the basis of the real state of affairs, set concrete goals, not been carried away by ideological schemes, not been burdened by the ethic norms and commitments to other people.

First, we will try to evaluate Nazarbayev’s standing on the coming death and the fact that the power will, one way or another, be moved into someone else’s hands.

Does Nazarbayev realize this? Undoubtedly! Simply due to his age and life experience.

Is he preparing for death? Of course, not, because it goes against the very nature of a human being.

Therefore, one may assume that something else is much more important for Nazarbayev, namely, preserving the existing power balance in the ruling elite and making certain the domestic political stability in Kazakhstan remains intact how ever the future events are to unfold.

Even though these goals are, to a large extent, similar in their content and realization, they are not the same. This thesis leads to the conclusion that Nazarbayev is not preparing his successor’s appointment. He may consider his allies and people close to him as potential successors, promote some and demote others in order not to give them too much power, listen to promises and good wishes but… he will not appoint anyone as the next president. If for no other reason than the fact that it is extremely dangerous from the political standpoint since it will de-facto lead to creating a diarchy in the country.

Our next assumption is that, being a rather intelligent and unprincipled person, Nursultan Nazarbayev is concerned not so much with how the country and the people will survive without his wise governance as with the future of an extremely limited circle of people.

We suspect that the latter consists of few people including his latest wife and the two sons he has with her and, perhaps, some of the grandchildren. By our estimates, the eldest daughters and, even more so, the sons-in-law will not make it to the circle. Therefore, for Nazarbayev, the problem of the future is twofold: to preserve the stability of the country and the political system and to keep the stability of the people for whom he feels personally responsible.

Since Nursultan Nazarbayev’s third wife is relatively young and their sons are still children, he must ensure their problem-free existence in the future. This means that the people whom he holds close and on whom he relies (even if not entirely so) must be loyal to him. There are few of those in Akorda – the fact of which the president, with his Soviet political “schooling”, with his numerous victories over the opponents, with his personal participation in exiling Dunamukhamed Kunayev from power, must be aware.

Following everything that has been said, let us consider yet another factor that has been omitted earlier and that can influence the coming power transition in Kazakhstan. We are talking about Nursultan Nazarbayev’s personal trust (or lack thereof) to those who want to, are preparing to, or can become his successor.

Note that this is not so much a personal trust as a political and a governmental one. On other words, the question is whether the candidate will be capable of not simply being loyal but of making others stay loyal as well, of being stronger than others and able to carry out his promises.

This is the factor that forces us to, once again, cross off the successor list such persons as Speakers of the Senate and the Mazhilis Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev and Nurlan Nigmatullin and Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev. The first is, by our assessment, too weak as a person, a politician, and a statesman. The second is much stronger but, most likely, lacks Nazarbayev’s trust simply because Nigmatullin seems like Nazarbayev himself used to be at the time of his youth. Therefore, the latter, most likely, understands that, under the right circumstances, his ally can betray him just as he himself once betrayed Kunayev.

As for Bakytzhan Sagintayev, his standing as a statesperson is weak since he has not served as Prime Minister for long. Besides, he has no possibilities to accumulate the political potential by infiltrating the state apparatus with his people since Nazarbayev Administration sees to it that he will not. Therefore, Nazarbayev’s trust to the current head of the government is not so much of a political as of a personal nature. Thus, we can say that Sagintayev is definitely not the successor material. At least, not today.

As a result, we, once again, arrive to the previous conclusion: if the transition is to happen in the nearest future, Dariga Nazarbayeva will be the most likely successor.

Simply because:

  • first, as a daughter, she must stay loyal to her father as a person, a politician, and a statesman,
  • second, she will continue his domestic and international political path since she herself is not capable of inventing a bicycle and does not have the guts to start the perestroika,
  • third, she will be considered the least dangerous person by the ruling elite that desires to preserve its “tray feeder” access more than anything,
  • fourth, she will be the last one to be rejected by the Kazakhstan people (sexists and nationalists notwithstanding).

Read also: Why Is the Transition with Dariga Feasible?, Power Transition with Dariga Nazarbayeva,   Three Conditions of Power Transit in Kazakhstan, One More Problem of the Transition, How not to hit a dead end with transition, The Main Problem of The Transition, On the transit of power and importance of discussion, Kazakh media is discussing power transfer, Scenarios of Transition, At the Cusp of Transition. The Power Shift Scenarios.


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