The permissive interpretation of the Constitution at the time of the power transit in Kazakhstan will lead to the weakening of the legal platform of the country’s political system, warns Kazakh political expert, Candidate of Political Sciences Tolganay Umbetaliyeva in her interview to kz.expert.
Today, we are discussing the new configuration of the political power built in Kazakhstan after Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation and the future presidential elections with Candidate of Political Sciences Tolganay Umbetaliyeva of the Central Asian Foundation for the Development of Democracy.
— Tolganay, the expert community is actively discussing the appearance of diarchy in Kazakhstan. Which signs are indicating it, in your opinion?
— The existence of the two political decision-making centers in the power system is indicative of it: on one hand, there is Interim President Mr. Tokayev, on the other hand, there is the unofficial center (and perhaps the key one), ex-President Nazarbayev. I presume that, internally, all the issues related to the decision-making process have been agreed upon between the two centers. But will this construct lead to a more stable system? Personally, I think it is still debatable.
— What’s troubling you?
— In my opinion, the main risk today has to do with the legal status of the two presidents. Nursultan Nazarbayev has voluntarily surrendered the presidential powers whereas Mr. Tokayev has not yet become the fully-legitimate president. This can result in the power vacuum. And it is from this standpoint, that the offered model of the transit may be subject to criticism.
The second risk is associated with the decisions being made now. I believe they are not entirely adequate from the political and the legal standpoints.
In my opinion, today’s behavior of the political elite is ambivalent. On one hand, there is the disrespect to the norms of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan that is being interpreted in different and rather permissive ways. With that, these norms were once approved by the political elite itself. On the other hand, we are witnessing an attempt to implement a transit model by using the Constitution - not adhering to its norms but interpreting them freely. Therefore, in my opinion, the political elite is devaluing the Constitutional norms with its own hands which will lead to the weakening of the legal platform of the political system. Even though the ruling elite is trying to persuade us that, today, we are witnessing the “constitutional” transit of power.
As for the third risk, I would name the existing diarchy that perhaps is supposed to last for a short period of time. However, we should not exclude the possibility that it might continue to exist in the future, that this model might become attractive for the future presidents. Today, perhaps, no contradiction exists between the two power centers but, in the future, the absence of the mechanisms for resolving such contradictions between them may create a true diarchy within the political system.
— How do you assess the latest personnel reshuffles in the highest echelon of power in Kazakhstan?
— Generally speaking, this is the same team, so far, I have not seen any newcomers. The only thing that strikes the eye is the “transfer” of the strong persons to the rather “non-strong” power positions. Perhaps the interim president is trying to lessen their “weight” by restricting their authorities. Therefore, it is possible that, today, we are experiencing the “division” of the single team or the formation of the two elite groups of the equal-status.
— In your opinion, does appointing Nazarbayev’s daughter the Speaker of the Senate speak in favor of the possibility that the presidential elections will not be held on the date established by the Constitution?
— I do not exclude this possibility.
However, there is a big “but” – such a scenario contradicts the Constitutional norms and, therefore, puts in question the legitimacy of the president. This, too, poses a huge risk for the politician that agrees to participate in this scenario. His standing will be unstable since he cannot be regarded as the legitimate ruler on the international level as well.
Any professional politician who plans to lead this country and be accepted inside it and beyond must be elected by the people. For, according to the Constitution, the people are the main holder of power. Therefore, the president must be chosen nation-wide via the presidential elections and not via the transfer of the authorities.
The current developments are to be regarded as but the first step in the implementing of the power transfer model and, therefore, treated as temporary.
— Can the changed configuration of the political power in the country result in the scenario in which the future presidential elections will not go according to the authorities’ plans?
— I believe it can. More than likely, this is why they are avoiding the holding of the presidential elections today. They are afraid of this scenario. Because, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, any Kazakh citizen of a certain age is eligible to participate in the elections.
Of course, the changes to the electoral law have been made but, if we are to look at the status of the legislative documents, the Constitution’s status is higher than the status of the law. Even assuming that the changes to the electoral law will be taken into consideration, there are the politicians, from among the elite, that can participate in the elections without getting anyone’s approval. Therefore, it is quite feasible that the events may unfold not according to the plan.
— If someone will try to stand against Akorda at the future elections, what peculiarities of the system can this person use to their advantage?
— First, there are the inter-elite contradictions. It is well-known that the Kazakh elite is not homogeneous, and we have witnessed the inter-clan conflicts time and again. Therefore, there may be some groups that, in common with the civil society, are not keen on the prospects of the dynastic rule.
Second, some Kazakh politicians are living abroad today, and they can also participate in the elections, if not personally, then through supporting their own candidate.
Third, in my opinion, one should take into consideration the voice of the civil society that may not support the candidate nominated by Akorda.
These are the possible options if the new president will be chosen via the elections.
The current model has its shortcomings: the uncertainty with the date of the elections and the related suspense; the appointment of Dariga Nazarbayeva as the Speaker of the Senate; the rapid and massive glorification of the First President and the immortalization of his name. These are the issues that have caused a big discussion in the civil society.
— What may hinder or, rather, contribute to the success at the future elections?
— I believe the most important factor is the nominee himself. The ruling party nominee should at least not arouse resentment in the civil society. The voters should not only know their nominee well but consider him or her worthy of the presidential post.
It is desirable that the views of the civil society and the authorities go hand in hand if not regarding all the matters related to the candidate’s reputation than, at least, regarding the major criteria. For example, the candidate must not be involved in any corruption-related scandal both inside the country and abroad.
The other words, the contestant for the presidency must, as far as it is possible, meet the characteristics of the ideal type of a political leader. Otherwise, different forces may always place in question the legitimacy of the elected president. Apart from that, the president him/herself will find it difficult to perform their duties if they arose resentment in the society from the very beginning of their term.
Generally speaking, Interim President Tokayev meets these requirements on many levels, i.e. he is not involved in the corruption-related scandals, especially outside of the country, he is wonderfully educated, his children have no history of being involved in any scandals, he is a diplomate which is also very important in resolving the internal political issues. Therefore, his nomination as the interim president did not generate a serious discord.
The second factor is the construction of the power itself. Today, it is working seamlessly on all the levels but, when the time is ripe, the regional organizations responsible for the elections may show a scrap of backbone and play by different rules not supporting Akorda’s position.
The third factor is the election committee whose members responsible for the counting of the votes may not agree to sign the documents with the “desirable results”. This should not necessarily happen nation-wide but, if such a precedent takes place in the big (densely populated) regions and cities, the results of the elections may be deemed invalid.
Today, obviously, this sounds unrealistic, but these factors may not allow Akorda to realize its plans.
— So, you do not exclude the possibility of the breakdown of the elective system that is fully controlled by Akorda?
— This will be quite possible if, for instance, there is no consensus among the elite. If the dissident group will have influence on the important regions of the country and on the system of the vote counting, then perhaps the elections may have a different outcome.
Another factor is if the civil society demands the changes to the elective legislature prior to the elections. With that, such changes would be beneficial to the ruling elite as well because they would make the results of the elections more trustworthy.
— What kind of changes are you talking about?
— For instance, if they remove the “barriers” established in the elective legislature in the recent years and, thus, give the right to participate in the elections to the candidates nominated by the civil society. This would encourage the political competition which cannot exist under current conditions. Meanwhile, the absence of political competition is a disadvantage for the ruling elite as well because it bars itself from further political development.
— Thank you for the interview.