Kazakhstan: Group of Successor Will Come to Power

In the period of transition of highest power in Kazakhstan, there is a possibility of destabilization, thinks Kazakhstani political analyst Andrey Chebotarev. In his opinion, Akorda has several ways to get out of this difficult situation, and he sees a group of seven people as one option.

On Mar. 28th a IY conference of Jas Otan movement, youth division of Nur Otan political party was held in Astana. Before that, its leader permanent president of RK Nursultan Nazarbaev radically renewed the administration of the party. The new deputy head of the chairman of Nut Otan Maulen Ashimbaev has demonstrated from the first days an openness, public disclosure, creative approach, not typical for Kazakhstan, and we would even call it progressiveness both in inner-party work and in public political sphere.

By our estimates, this is related with the fact that de-facto a new political cycle started in the republic, related to upcoming 2020 presidential elections and closely tied with it problems of transit of higher power in the country from the “leader of the nation” to his successor.

We discussed with the director of Center for curent research Alternativa Andrey Chebotarev whether we were right in this assumption and what conclusions can be drawn.

- Andrey Evgenyevich do you agree with the aforementioned hypothesis?

- In the past 6 years a comparable number of deputy head chairmen of the party have changed in Nur Otan. And each of them came to the post with their vision and agenda, changed something in the ideological and organizational aspect. Nursultan Nazarbaev too, as a leader of the party gave each of his deputy heads instructions regarding new mechanisms of Nur Otan work. Due to all this, there is an impression that Akorda doesn’t clearly understand where and how to productively use the party with all its structural and territorial sub-divisions, projects, media, etc. This is why it is treated using the trial and error method.

If Nur Otan was a core and a truly governing party, the way CPC is in China, and not the party of power, it would have been called to play a leading role in the future transfer of power. But in its current state, this party can at best, play a role of an instrument of public show of mass support for both its leader and potential successors. In this case it could be oriented for future presidential elections.

Moreover, a project of new amendments into election law was devised, which allows for transfer of election system of representatives of maslikhats of the republic to proportional basis (based on party lists). And most likely, this is what Nur Otan is being trained. Because it is still unknown which elections will be held first – presidential of parliamentary with local ones? And they might just announce and conduct preliminary elections to maslikhats accounting for renewed election legislation without usual ties to the parliament.

Overall, even though the new political cycle has started, its not a given that it will end with the change of the head of state. And by 202- Nur Otan might get a new deputy head with new goals. In any case this party likely won’t be the platform, where leading representatives of ruling elites of Kazakhstan can gather and agree on candidacy for a new president and other key questions of transit of power.

- Who, in your opinion, is included today in the unofficial list of political heirs of Nursultan Nazarbaev and what are their chances for success?

- Here everything depends on which format and using which scenario the transit of power will happen and which configuration of power and balance within the ruling elite will be built based on its results. One corresponding format is outlined through introducing into Majlis of parliament of project of legislation “On security council of Republic of Kazakhstan. However, it isn’t set in stone that it will be passed.

Let’s assume that Elbasy at some point will leave for a position of chairman of security council. In that case, position of the president of the republic will become if not nominal, then essentially equal to a position of prime minister. Also a dilemma will arise regarding the second person in the country, since both the new president and secretary of the security council might go after this position simultaneously. In this case some sort of duality of power will arise, where designated persons will compete with each other.

 But maybe a model of a sort of a “collective successor” will be created, in which not only these two but also other political heavyweights will take on key positions in the system of power and will complement each other. But in both cases everything will be formed and working under patronage of Elbasy.

As for specific people, these are people, both in the familial relationships with the head of state and those in his closest circle in the apparatus. Among the first there are senator Dariga Nazarbaeva, deputy head of KNB Samat Abish and chairman of the board of FNB Samruk Kazyna Akhmetjan Esimov. And each of them has a considerable experience in the system of power and corresponds to legislatively approved requirements for candidates for presidency of the country.

Among the persons in the second category, first of all we must note speakers of both chambers of parliament Kasym-Jomart Tokaev and Nurlan Nigmatulin, head of the presidential administration Adilbek Jaksybekov and chairman of KNB Karim Masimov. Their very presence in these current positions is a proof of high trust.

In my opinion, it is these seven people who could make up the model of collective successor. With this possible break-down there is no point in guessing, which of them can become president, secretary of security council, PM, etc. Practically, there are pros and cons to each of them. However, there isn’t much choice either. The circle of people who Elbasy would trust like he does himself, is quite narrow.

- Do you think anything will change in Kazakhstan, if Nazarbaev leaves and another person replaces him? Is there a possibility for a Gorbaechev-style or at least for a Mirziyoev-style perestroika in the country, or will the successor try (or will be forced to try) to preserve current rules of the game?

- The practice of changing of power in different countries in various periods shows that any new head of the country always strives to leave his/her mark in history. Thus, with their ascend into power in Kazakhstan, certain changes will happen. But again, everything will depend on factors and people listed above, each of whom has their own style and approach to ruling the country.

If everything will be happening under Elbasy’s watch, through his chairmanship in the security council, then all the final decisions on certain changes in administration, economy, etc will still come from him.

On one hand certain changes will take place, in order to show the beginning of atmosphere of changes in the post-transit period and give the new administration the chance to prove themselves. In the other hand, it is important to preserve maximal stability, in order for existing changes not to lead to a fallout of the system. But if the transit of power happens under different scenario, then the level and scope of possible changes could be varying.

- Do you allow for a possibility of de-stabilization in the country at the moment of transit or in the period of presidential elections? Who in your opinion can become an organizer or a moving force of such destabilizing and with what purpose?

Destabilization in the period of transfer of power in Kazakhstan is possible. Just the fact that we have to wonder about who the official successor might be and the means of its ascension to position of president speaks of serious risks and difficulties in this process.

First of all, leading influence groups and separate high-ranking persons might not accept candidacy of a new president, even if he is put forth by Elbasy. In that case some of them might challenge the choice announce their rights to run for presidency, bolstering this with some actions such as organizing of mass protests of their supporters in the regions, conducting a press-conference with invited foreign journalists and officials, etc.

It is hard to tell how Akorda will get out of this difficult situation. The easiest way would be to give an opponent some key position in the new configuration of power with guarantees for extended stay there. Forceful options, however are fraught with possible resistance and unpredictabel consequences.

Another options is that everyone will be forced to agree to candidacy of a successor but will later form an analogue of domestic Fronde, when the new head of state will already have spent some time in that position. In that case he could be accused of not being able to manage the country, may destroy everything created by Elbasy, etc, then sabotaged and demanded to resign. In turn, new president either won’t handle the pressure from the would-be allies and resign, or he would have to negotiate with them on conditions that are against his interest. Of course, such administration of the country won’t be stable and independent.

Third option – a possible split within the structure of “collective successor”, where if not everyone, then at least most important figures will act in their own interest. With this scenario we must expect a struggle for power with creation of inter-elite alliances, involving of other influential people, intrigues discrediting of competitors, etc.

- Could outside forces play a destabilizing role?

Foreign forces on the opposite play a role opposite to destabilizig. In particular, China, Russia, US and EU are interested in stable development of Kazakhstan in the foreseeable future, in order to preserve current line of cooperation with each of them and their assets on its territory. Thus, it is beneficial for any potential successor of the head of state to win the support of these countries. The latter, especially Moscow and Beijing, quite possibly might use certain levers of influence in order to support the most acceptable person for the post of president for them and if necessary serve as intermediaries between him and opponents.

- Could it happen that elections will again be held ahead-of-schedule, say not in 2020 but in 2019? Like, to secure victory of a certain candidate, which will be put forward by Nazarbaev himself, but against whom will be influential forces in his entourage?

If the process of power transit will be held in the format of transfer of Elbasy to position of chairman of security council, then the presidential elections could be held in 2020. Lets say that speaker of the senate will take on the responsibilities of the president (I won’t name any names because by the time of power transfer this position could be occupied by someone more suitable than Tokaev). Then, according to constitution of RK, he can rule the country until the end of the term of his predecessor, laying the groundwork for election as president of a real successor. The latter, until then, could hold some position.

Though, given all of the unpredictability of the situation and considering possible risks of its destabilization, scenario of holding of presidential elections in 2019 also could become reality. In that case Akorda will play the card of getting ahead of potential opponents of candidate for new presidency of Kazakhstan. And such opponents could only be other high-ranking representatives of ruling elite.

- What do you think of the serious changes, happening in the economy of the country – there is privatization of large government assets and parallel to that private monopolies and semi-monopolies are appearing in various sectors, such as People’s bank of Kazakhstan in the banking sector or Kazakhtelekom in the telecom sector? In our opinion it is a result of certain influential groups of the elite increasing their business positions in anticipation of the transit. Do you agree with this?

- Certainly there is happening a concentration of economic and financial resources in the hands of the people most loyal to the head of the state. At the same time. At the same time there is weakening of opportunities and positions of those groups and personalities, whose loyalty him and his closest allies doubt. However, in the critical moment it is them who can create the Fronde against a potential successor, in order to return their assets. In any case we must expect a new redistribution of assets in the post-transit period, which in turn, is fraught with worsening of inter-elite struggle. Thus, it is important for Akorda, not only to attain support of leading groups of influence and individual people for the successor of the president, but to also to decide who owns what at the moment of redistribution, and create guarantees.

It would also be desirable to give certain compensation to those “suffered” as a result of redistribution of assets, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises on their part during the transit and after it.

- There is a strong activity of people in social networks and on messengers in Kazakhstan – they more often react to both Kazakh and Russian high-profile events. What do you think this is related to, and how much will this affect the domestic and inner-elite processes, such as presidential election 2020, transit of power and inner-political stability etc.?

- When power and politics are turned into a sphere of activities exclusively of a very narrow circle of elites, the public is reserved the role of either an indifferent observer, aside from a role of a formal elector in presidential elections, or a “support group” of those representatives of the elite who can serve as an opponent to potential successor of the head of state. The latter option, by the way, is quite suitable for representative of currently exiled Kazakh opposition and national-patriotic circles, who could be brought into designated “support groups” and even promised something for the future in case of a positive outcome. But the Kazakhstani public itself, divided by different features, where the key ones remain personal dislikes and tensions, in its current state isn’t able to act as a force, with which ruling circles will have to make due when implementing of suitable scenario of transit of power. This will be possible only with appearance of a potential leader form the ranks of high-ranking and authoritative persons in the ruling elite, capable of starting and heading the protest against scenario and its key participants.

- Thanks for the interview.


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