Kazakhstan may become destabilized during the power transit if someone from Nazarbayev’s family or his closest circle will be chosen as the President’s successor. As political science specialist Tolganay Umbetaliyeva believes, the society is unlikely to tolerate the «family style» transit.
Note that, on March 28, 2018, the Zhas Otan movement (the youth wing of the Nur Otan political party) held its 4th Convention in Astana. Prior to it, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the irreplaceable leader of the party, had radically renewed its head management. From the very first days at his new post, the new First Vice Chairman of Nur Otan Maulen Ashimbayev has been showing openness, publicness, creative approach, and even progressiveness in the internal party work as well as in his political activity.
By our (kz.expert) estimate, it has to do with the fact that the country has de-facto entered the new political cycle tied to the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections and to the problem of the power transit from Nursultan Nazarbayev to his successor.
Now we address the same questions to the General Director of the Central Asian Foundation for the Development of Democracy Tolganay Umbetaliyeva who has her own vision as to how the events may unfold during the power transit in Kazakhstan.
— Tolganay, do you agree with our assumption that the political activity of the ruling party officials may indicate the beginning of the new political cycle?
— I think this activity has to do, first of all, with the stepping up of the opponents both inside the country as well as abroad. The external factor may be of an even greater importance. Although, personally, Mr. Ashimbayev’s openness is of no surprise to me. At the beginning of the 2000s, he, having become the young Chairman of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, was quite open when interacting with the media as oppose to the previous directors. Perhaps he has been chosen as the party’s Vice Chairman for precisely this trait.
Previously, the party had engaged in the unfair competition with its opponents relying on the administrative resource only. Today, it seems, the state is keen on changing the catch-22 situation that the previous team has created. Consider, there was no possibility for even the Nur Otan party to be politically active. Now, the situation is changing and the state, in its turn, is also trying to interfere and move the changes towards the desirable direction or to become the creator of these changes.
Of course, the transit factor has a huge influence, but this factor alone does not determine everything. The transit will happen sooner or later and, regardless of it, the political system should be reformed. We are used to the situation when everything depends on the political top-management, however, the trends of the past 5 years show that the society can make its contribution, too. Not only the President and his team can make decisions and suggest reforms, there are other actors, too, performing at their own level.
— Is there a possibility for the Gorbachev style perestroika or for at least Mirziyoyev’s type of reforms after the power transit? Or will the successor try/have to preserve the existing rules of the game?
— Undoubtedly, the new political leader will face the situation when he will be compared to the previous leader and be judged accordingly. The important question is how he will react to this. One can act in the framework of the existing rules. In this case, the new leader will have to constantly prove that he is different or better. One may act in a different way, by suggesting the new rules and by playing by these rules.
First of all, in my opinion, one should not engage in the imposed «traditional» competition. Then, there will be a fight with the name of the previous leader and all the decisions of the new state management will aim at doing everything differently but not necessarily to the country’s advantage. This would be the weakest position of all. People always demand «spectacles», and, in the situation of competing with the name of the previous leader, all the changes may turn into a spectacle, a farce.
First of all, the new leader will have to prioritize what he must do as the head of the state and not what he is expected to do or what he is being forced to do. He must direct himself towards the problems the society and the country face (both internally and as an international actor). It is also important to consider how these decisions will be made, with or without regard to the opinions of the political actors, the civic leaders, and the society as a whole. What will be the level of the transparency of the decisions? Or will he be oriented towards his own personal gains — to become «awesomer» than the previous leader or to become «different»?
The new leader will have to choose the way he will act. Regardless of his choice, the changes are unavoidable. But, in my opinion, only those changes that will be built on the new rules and principles, directed towards the further development of the political, economic, social system of Kazakhstan matter. Those that aim at fighting the name of the first President do not.
-Do you allow for a possibility of the destabilization of the country during the transit or the Presidential elections?
— The destabilization is possible under certain conditions, for example, if Nazarbayev’s family member or someone from his close circle is nominated as a candidate. The society is unlikely to tolerate it.
— Is it possible that the Presidential elections in Kazakhstan will, once again, be held early, not in 2020 but say in 2019? For example, to ensure the victory of some candidate nominated by Nursultan Nazarbayev himself. However, some rather influential forces in Nazarbayev’s circle might be opposed to this candidate?
— Our elections are practically always held early, so it is possible. From the state’s point of view, the so called «unexpected» elections present certain advantages. On the other hand, I personally do not see them considering that, in our country, those, who must win, win regardless of the situation. So what role does the «unexpected» part play? As long as the process of the vote count is non-transparent, the result of any «early» or «timely» elections is known in advance. Perhaps, during the transit, they will try to play democracy, but the result would still be as the organizers had planned.
— The Kazakhstan economy is undergoing serious changes — there is the privatization of the substantial state assets, also private monopolists and quasi-monopolists appear in different sectors. In our opinion, this is caused by the fact that certain influential groups are strengthening their business-positions on the eve of the transit. Do you agree with this opinion? If yes, what can this lead to in the future?
— In such a closed political system as Kazakhstan, different property acquisitions may be of a temporary nature. Any deal can be voided or changed. In the democratic political systems where there is law and transparency, these kinds of changes in the property sphere would be important. In our system, when the decisions are made behind closed doors, it is not. All the players understand that the transit may happen any time and, therefore, the redistribution of property may begin at any moment as well. So, they are simply using the opportunity to obtain some resource and collect dividends.
— Many people are talking about a rather strong standing of the internet-community that is reacting more and more vigorously both to the Kazakhstan and the Russian topical events in the social networks and messengers. What is the cause of it and will this virtual activity influence the upcoming elections, the power transit, the domestic political stability?
— I can see how the internet community may only influence those questions in which the authorities are playing the role of the «third party». In other words, the authorities react ad hoc, there is no systemic reaction, no discussion as to how we can change the rules of the game in the system as a whole not to allow for these situations to happen. Everything is decided ad hoc.
On one hand, this activity shows the presence of a high demand for the civic solidarity among the population and the authorities are trying not to let it turn into the civic or political protestation thus showing a quick reaction.
On the other hand, the most active part of the society should orient the forming civic solidarity towards the constructive route for it is important not only to punish the guilty but to solve the problems in a systemic fashion. These problems indicate that some functions and norms do not work in the system, therefore, it is necessary to rise to a higher level of the discussion and the problem solving.
I think, in the long-run, the development of the civic activity and solidarity will positively influence the political activity as well since the practice of the opposition should not come down to protests only. If the civic activity will change the understanding of the concept of the political activity, it will become a definite step towards democracy. For we will be able to constructively discuss and then solve political issues. So, I can see many positive signs in this activity.
— Thank you for the interview.