Staunton, September 7 – A new report on where Kazakhstan is heading under its new president concludes that Kasym-Jomart Tokayev is seeking at one and the same time both continuity and change, an approach that the 25 experts surveyed suggested could lead to a breakthrough but one that entails serious risks of a political and social crisis.
The 38-page report, Kazakhstan in New Political Realities: Trends and Prospects, was prepared jointly by the Eurasian Monitoring Center in Nur-Sultan and the Caspian-Eurasia Center in Astrakhan on the basis of a poll of 25 leading experts. (For the text, see drive.google.com/file/d/1uxhFd1RZMj7Yn8wtK9qwAslq2RaNVCXW/view; for a summary, see
The authors say that the personalist regime of Nursultan Nazarbayev and the absence of any genuine division of powers will require modification but that the lack of experience with changes in the leadership of the country are going to make that transition inherently difficult and potentially very risky.
Given that, the authors say, “Kazakhstan for a certain period will develop by inertia,” changing little either domestically or in its foreign policy even as ever more people will expect change. Tokayev will thus have to try to balance between maintaining the system as it is and changing it in the directions the country needs if it is to develop.
Such a situation, they continue, “creates the preconditions for the further divisions of the country’s elite and is made more complicated by the significant growth of civic and protest activity among the population,” many of whom view a leadership change as the best occasion for seeking the changes they want.
The authors of the report suggest that there are three scenarios for the development of Kazakhstan under these conditions:
The first scenario presupposes “the strengthening of the position of the new leadership of Kazakhstan by means of a definite liberalization of the political system of the country” so that Tokayev can win the support of the population and use it to build up his own power that he will then use to move the country in the directions he prefers.
The second scenario, the report outlines, involves “the strengthening of the current configuration of political authority by maintaining a balance between liberalization and conservation.” That scenario would rely on keeping Nazarbayev in a prominent role rather than organizing a genuine succession to Tokayev. The latter would remain a nominal president.
And the third scenario, “the most pessimistic,” would include “the appearance of a political crisis as a result of efforts to maintain the existing political system,” with conflicts between the ancien regime and the new one intensifying and with both elites and the population seeking to advance their causes by supporting one side or the other.
The foreign policy of Kazakhstan naturally will depend on which of these three domestic scenarios occurs, the report says; but the experts surveyed overwhelmingly suggest that there will be no reduction in the country’s current close relationship with the Russian Federation anytime soon.