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Economy and government problems. Kazakhstan fears destabilization: interview with Dosym Satpayev

Dosym Satpayev, Director at Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group. Photo: forbes.kz

It appears that the world is on the verge of big changes. In fact, these changes have started to happen already. The question is what they will end in. So far, what we have is the Russian-Turkish crisis, Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and the Moscow-West confrontation that have affected the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). In an interview with EADaily, Dosym Satpayev, a well-known Kazakh political analyst, Director at Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group, speaks about the current sentiments around the EEU in Kazakhstan, the snap elections and possible succession of power in that country.

— The public has split up into those who are ready to bear difficulties and those who suffer losses but offer fundamental solutions on how to bring Kazakhstan out of the EEU. The oil crisis and trade embargo, transit wars are driving Kazakhstan’s economy into the abyss. Kazakhstan is inherently the only EEU member where the public was actively protesting against the Union since the establishment of the Customs Union in 2010. There were no protests either in Russia or in Belarus. Since the establishment of the EEU, these sentiments have intensified. The conflict in Ukraine gave more reasons for skepticism. The Kazakh businessmen have joined the skeptics, after they came across drawbacks of the EEU. At least, our trade turnover is falling so far and obstacles are created for export of certain goods via the territory of Russia. The conflict of Moscow and Ankara has complicated the transit even more. This, indeed, arouses certain discontent in Kazakhstan. Yet no one will say this at the official level, though President Nursultan Nazarbayev lays less emphasis on the EEU now.

Reportedly, he is visiting Iran shortly. Much is spoken about Iran’s possible joining EEU or the free trade area. What is the goal of Nazarbayev’s visit? Does he seek to raise Iranian investments? Should he consider Iran as a serious investor?

— Iran has demonstrated how to develop import-substitution amid embargoes and sanctions. We have much to learn from it when it comes to development of local production. As for investments, Iranian businessmen may find some interesting sectors to invest in in Kazakhstan. However, we should not forget that Kazakhstan is not a priority trade partner for Iran, though Iran is one of the key importers of the Kazakh grain. Evidently, Kazakhstan is trying to export steel and oil-and- chemical production to Iran, though it will face a stiff competition with other countries for the Iranian market. Meantime, the Central Asia is not of strategic importance for Iran, though in Tajikistan it is competing with Saudi Arabia in the ideological field, of course.

Snap elections will be held in Kazakhstan on March 20. Was there any need in snap elections when everyone knows who will vote and who will be in the new parliament? What will change?

— Snap elections to the parliament could be justified only if, first, there were any amendments to increase the role of the parliament in the political system of the country, but there were not any; second, if the parliament staff, at least the lower chamber, were renovated, but nothing of the kind will happen, indeed. It turns out that snap parliamentary elections resemble a kind of circle, and the participants will be almost the same. In addition, unlike snap parliamentary elections of 2012, “competition” is anticipated only between the pro-presidential parties. None of the true opposition parties will participate in the elections. Pan-National Social Democratic Party (PNSDP) that is participating in the parliamentary campaign is formally an opposition force. All this is part of a political game where PNSDP should somehow legitimize the elections through participation of some opposition forces that, in fact, bear no relation to the opposition.

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Last year, snap presidential elections were held in the country and they were more substantiated than the current parliamentary ones. Those elections were connected with the deteriorating financial and economic situation and the need for immediate non-popular economic measures. Therefore, snap elections were announced to get a new mandate of national confidence, announce, and implement these measures to minimize the discontent with the new mandate of confidence. It happened, particularly, when the national currency devaluated dramatically. Last year, the president received a certain mandate of confidence. Naturally, this year his Part Nur Otan should confirm that confidence and get majority of seats in the parliament. However, here is the main problem. Constantly supporting artificial-party unions that did not pass through real election fight, the country’s leadership has no information on the real number of its supporters. It does not know who really supports the government ideologically, not doing anyone’s bidding, and what is the real percentage of the protest voters. Who supports the opposition sentiments? It is very hard to reveal this without true political competition and true competition between the political parties. What we see now is a virtual reality where wishful-thinking poses the highest threat to the authorities. I have always said that, in fact, our government should fear the passive majority, not the active opposition that is trying to play on its popularity. When Kazakhstan reaches the peak of its economic crisis, the passive majority will decide whether to support the government or not.

As for the possible results, one should not be the Nostradamus to foresee them. Considering that the participants in the elections are almost the same, with some insignificant difference, and all them are pro-governmental, the new parliament staff will be “dull” too. No surprises are expected in the parliament, though the president’s statement on the need to establish a parliamentary-presidential system in the country are intriguing. However, I am afraid the authorities will approach that process in the wrong way and instead of strengthening the political parties and giving them a chance to become competitive, a main body of the so-called “agashkas” (persons in close relationships with the authorities) from the former akims – former high-ranking officials – will emerge in the new parliament. The authorities expect them to become the main body in the lower chamber of the parliament.

The lower chamber in case of succession of power will get the role of a certain guarantor for a while. The authorities will not be focusing on the improvement of the parliament quality. They will rather fill it with high-ranking officials who will informally control over the situation inside the parliament and guarantee stability and order. Now, we are observing a process of maintaining the status quo – the same political actors remain in power and make no efforts towards political changes.

Is Nazarbayev preparing a successor?

— There are some indirect signs of it. First, appointment of the family members to the key positions. Second, it is necessary to shift to a presidential-parliamentary system of government. It is suggested that the parliament should be certain collective successor. However, there is specific idea about how to make the parliament so strong actor?

Is Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s senior daughter, able to rule the country?

— Hypothetically, she is among the candidates for president, as no one has removed her from that list. In the case of Kazakhstan, everything is possible. It is noteworthy that she is the most experienced politician in the president’s family.

Will the public accept her?

— It depends on how she will be presented to the public. There are preconditions for normal succession. A significant part of our public sees what is happening in Ukraine and the Arab world and fears destabilization and conflicts very much. Therefore, if passing the president’s post to Dariga Nazarbayeva will guarantee stability and status-quo, I think, part of the Kazakh people will support her as the leader.

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