‘Kazakhstan’s experience seemed negative to Putin and his team’
Expert on how a negative example of diarchy in Kazakhstan influenced the Russian leader’s decision to stay in power
It has been a year since “eternal” President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, ex-Press Secretary of the Kazakhstan government, famous politician Amirzhan Kosanov explained what had changed in the frontier country that looks like Russia so much (due to both the presidential vertical of power and dependency on the oil needle) over this time. In the last presidential election, he declared his candidacy and finished second with over 16% of votes. According to Kosanov, protest moods that are caused by both a real diarchy in the country after Nazarbayev, still strong power of the ex-president and a fight between clans and the coronavirus epidemic that made oil rates fall are suddenly rising in Kazakhstan.
The year without Nazarbayev has been marked for the formation of diarchy in Kazakhstan
It has been a year since Nursultan Nazarbayev’s resignation as the country’s president. Do you think that Kazakhstan has changed over the year? Has it changed for the better or worse?
The fact of Nazarbayev’s resignation, in itself, is positive because in the post-Soviet space we witnessed how leaders grabbed top posts by all means to their dying day. I mean Nazarbayev’s resignation as president makes us glad and inspires certain hope.
Now it is debated that Nazarbayev keeps holding sway over power. Is it true?
Yes, though de facto his resignation took place, de jure this hasn’t happened because Nursultan Nazarbayev remained at the helm of the country’s Security Council, at the helm of ruling Nur Otan party and at the helm of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan. It is three quite serious and influential organisations in Kazakhstan. I mean the influence not in society but the influence on making political decisions. And even the fact that current elected president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is just an ordinary member of the Security Council and the same member of the ruling party means a lot.
Therefore, as much as the authorities disproved this with their claims, diarchy de jure does exist in Kazakhstan, in the person of new President Tokayev and in the person of first President, Yelbasy, as we say (leader of the nation), Nazarbayev. This creates some confusion and uncertainty, destabilisation in relationships in power, in ruling circles. You know, there are objective and subjective factors that make functionaries and politicians, certain public forces go by two poles of political life. So I think the year without Nazarbayev has been marked for the formation of diarchy in Kazakhstan.
As much as the authorities disproved this with their claims, diarchy de jure does exist in Kazakhstan, in the person of new President Tokayev and in the person of first President, Yelbasy, as we say (leader of the nation), Nazarbayev
How negative experience of diarchy in Kazakhstan influenced Putin’s decision to remain in power
Can we assume that this somehow influenced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to repeat Nursultan Nazarbayev’s experience?
Yes, let’s remember what happened and is happening in Russia. When it was claimed at the beginning of the constitutional reform that the role of the State Council rose, and Putin said that he wasn’t going to change the Constitution, many analysts said that Russia would cover the Kazakhstan path: Putin remains in the State Council as “leader of the nation” but stops being president. However, the fact that now Putin has made a different decision means that Kazakhstan’s experience seemed negative to him and his team. If the experience had turned out positive, Russia wouldn’t have hesitated to use the Nazarbayev version. And the fact that Putin chose another path proves that Nazarbayev’s experience is considered negative not only in Kazakhstan but also outside it.
As for Russia and Kazakhstan, we can remember a quote from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “All happy families are alike” because all authoritarian regime are always alike.
Because a forced ascent of Nazarbayev’s family member to power after Tokayev will cause Kazakhs’ rejection
Some say that today Nazarbayev’s clan has had fears of new President Tokayev. His style of management allegedly isn’t like that of Nazarbayev and he “is trying to make overtures to the public”. Do you think that Nazarbayev and his circle have had a fear of Tokayev?
I am not an advocate of the theory of conspiracy, of course. But I can say that all this is happening in public. The fact of the presence of the first president of Kazakhstan on the political pitch, the fact that he is holding parallel meetings and sessions (!) on the same topics the formally new president is doing, of course, confuses the public. How can two people receive the same people at meetings? We don’t know what agreements Nazarbayev and Tokayev had. There are different versions in society. There is also a version that Tokayev is a transit president, that it is just a preparation of society for the ascent of somebody from Nazarbayev’s clan to power. This is even openly discussed today.
I think that Kazakh society has a dynasty-based version, a forced ascent of Nazarbayev’s family member to power after Tokayev will certainly cause rejection
The previous president’s daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva’s prospects are interesting, she was destined to occupy the armchair of the head of the state after Tokayev. Two houses that belong to her and her son that are worth over $100 million have recently been arrested in London. Then it was doubted that they were purchased with earned money. Is it an attack of the West on Nazarbayev’s clan caused precisely by Mr Nazarbayev’s remaining influence or a coincidence?
You must keep in mind that when neighbouring President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov was in a coma for a few days, and when we didn’t know if he died or was still alive, at the same time there appeared reports on Karimov’s daughters abroad in some influential western mass media. We should remember and make corresponding conclusions… But I think that Kazakh society has a dynasty-based version, a forced ascent of Nazarbayev’s family member to power after Tokayev will certainly cause rejection.
“Nazarbayev’s mistake is that he once allowed his family members to get to state affairs, financial resources”
I was a candidate for Kazakhstan president in the last election, finished second with 16,2%, which the opposition had never scored. And I can assure you that this election with my participation showed there was a great protest in Kazakhstan. It was a protest not even against Nazarbayev’s personality or his family members but against the system established in Kazakhstan — the system in which power doesn’t change, that yields different fruits from corruption to dishonest elections. Today the power can take this step [the arrival of a president from Nazarbayev’s clan] only by repressive methods, eradication of legitimate opposition, carriers of protest moods, public politicians because if there is real competition between representatives of the opposition, democratic forces that are becoming more popular among the people and representatives of Nazarbayev’s family, the leaning will certainly be on the side of democratic forces. Since residents of Kazakhstan saw during Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 30 years of rule, how presidential power mustn’t look like. Nazarbayev’s mistake is that he once allowed his family members to get to state affairs, financial resources, oligarchic businesses.
I am sure that now we will witness an intense, tough opposition between clans because the weaker Tokayev and his opposition are, the stronger all these mysterious forces that are rushing to power will be. Only supreme power can be a guarantee of the prosperous stay of these forces in Kazakhstan during the post-Nazarbayev period when he passes away and leaves politics. I know that society has other forces as well as in power that don’t want Nazarbayev’s family members to occupy top state posts.
Over these years Kazakhstan has created the famous soap oil bubble when the real state of affairs wasn’t seen behind the façade of beautiful buildings in Astana, especially on the spot, in the countryside
“The coronavirus became a catalyst for protest moods”
First President of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev has recently been in Moscow and met with Putin. Officially, they discussed integration, successes of the EAEU. But many observers suppose that there have been held talks about the situation with the coronavirus and fallen oil prices backstage, which had an identical negative impact on the Kazakhstan and Russian economy. Does Kazakhstan really depend on the oil needle so much?
Once Kazakhstan experienced a good time like the whole world when oil prices were high, and it was possible to manage to create a reserve by diversifying the economy, getting rid of the oil needle. But, unfortunately, our oil lobby that wanted Kazakhstan to pump out crude oil and sell it abroad won. And now Kazakhstan has been a captive of this policy.
We constantly compare Kazakhstan and Russia. But look at neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. They don’t have oil, gas, chrome, aluminium. However, the national currency is relatively stable compared to the Russian ruble and Kazakhstan tenge. Why? Because despite all difficulties, domestic production grows there, including the light industry. There is import substitution of goods, the economy really grows. And over these years Kazakhstan has created the famous soap oil bubble when the real state of affairs wasn’t seen behind the façade of beautiful buildings in Astana, especially on the spot, in the countryside.
Do you think that the fall in oil prices and the coronavirus can lead to both an economic and then political crisis in the country?
I think that Kazakhstan wasn’t ready for such trials at good times having taken advantage of its possibilities — it is not ready for it even today. This is why our authorities are meandering. But as sad as it might sound, the coronavirus became a catalyst for protest moods in Kazakhstan because people have finally seen the real state of public money, how “disciplined” the ruling vertical is when it is necessary to declare a state of emergency (Editor’s Note: a state of emergency and nationwide quarantine have recently been declared in Kazakhstan). People see it all. Unfortunately, the disadvantages that were hidden during the prosperous years are coming to the surface.