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Nazarbayev is evidently preparing for transition of power: interview

Dosym Satpayev. Photo: theopenasia.net

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev has ordered to set up a task force to develop a plan of distributing powers between the president, government, and parliament. Almost simultaneously he recalled Ambassador to Russia Marat Tazhin and appointed him as deputy chief of the president’s administration. Observers say the experienced intellectual Tazhin may be entrusted to head the above task force. In an interview with EADaily, Director of the Almaty-based Risk Assessment Group Dosym Satpayev speaks about the ongoing and potential developments in Kazakhstan.

Marat Tazhin was brought back to the president’s administration for two reasons: consistent and momentary ones. Consistent reason is that Nursultan Nazarbayev may be disappointed at how the domestic policy is implemented. Too many problems have been revealed. I am speaking about protests against the land reform, more precisely, against letting foreigners owing land plots in Kazakhstan. I am speaking about a series of terror attacks, failure of the government agencies to ensure proper relations with the public, even despite the establishment of ministries of information and communications – the government-population communication fails constantly. It appears that domestic policy in Kazakhstan is not that efficient, unfortunately. They have not only failed to settle the old, accumulated problems, but new problems have originated triggering social tensions.

Tazhin’s return can be explained with the fact that before his appointment as ambassador to Russia, he was one of the “think-tanks” engaged in development of numerous domestic and foreign policy-related programs and economic projects. The president needed a solid person from the “old guard people” to correct the situation in the country, generally. The momentary reason of bringing Marat Tazhin back was the task force set up to redistribute the powers between the president, government and parliament. There is nothing specific in this issue yet. The informal leader of the task force is Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, the Head of the President’s Administration. However, as practice shows, deputies do the heavy work. It is likely that Tazhin as one of the experienced ideologists will be actively involved in the work of the task force. He may even manage it from the president’s administration. This reason is of momentary nature as the task force will finish its work sooner or later. The problems that have accumulated in Kazakhstan lie deep and it will take much longer time to settle them. Anyway, changes in the government, if they happen, will require powerful and influential politicians and statesmen.

Will they take into account Uzbekistan’s experience? Do you see any similarities or differences between the transition of power in Uzbekistan and the potential transition of power in Kazakhstan?

The two countries are very similar, since both in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, much depend on the strongmen. On the other hand, there are many differences either. The president’s cronies are more various. For instance, there is an oligarchic group, while there is no such in Uzbekistan. As for Uzbekistan’s experience, it is very useful considering the precedent of soft transition of power, though I think we should not indulge a vain hope. It is very likely that the problems “hidden” under Islam Karimov will come out and require solutions, and it is hard to imagine that Shavkat Mirziyoyev will get by with sticking plaster solutions. Yet, for instance, he has already made some interesting statements related to emerging role of the parliament. They in Uzbekistan took it a step further and gave the parliament a new function – conducting parliamentary investigations - last year. It is a very interesting moment. No one in any Central Asian country has ever had such a function. That example would be quite useful and positive for Kazakhstan, because, as last year’s events in Kazakhstan - protests against the land reform - showed, the parliament proved totaled wasted – parliamentarians kept silent and did not respond to the huge public response to those events, which triggered even higher indignation of the population.

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At present, the parliament in Kazakhstan is not very authoritative and consists of non-electoral and non-competitive political parties. Therefore, speaking of transition of power or redistribution of powers, a question arises: who these powers should be given to? If the parliament is in question, it is necessary to make it stronger i.e. to carry out parliamentary reform, a reform of the party and election legislation, form parliament on the mixed, the proportional and majoritarian, system. Then, perhaps, the parliament will have more opportunities to transform into a solid political force, the very collective successor of power in Kazakhstan – something they have speaking about for years, but have done nothing specific to that end yet.

What about the government? It appears that its powers will be expanded too.

Changes do happen here. Last year, there was a series of interesting appointments. Prime Minister Karim Massimov headed the National Security Committee. Minister of Defense Imangali Tasmagambetov was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister. The reshuffles could be connected with the interests of local zhuz clans/tribes. Even in that case, there is every indication that it was certain preparation for transition of power. I am speaking about purges in the elite, I am speaking about the civil society, the opposition field, and “democracy games.”

Self-protection of our elite may maintain political stability in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, stability depends on that only. If the elite comprehends that it will have to find common ground if Nazarbayev leaves, there will be more chances to maintain stability. However, it will be much harder, since there are much more actors in Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, it appears that the elite understands that any conflict will affect not only the public security, but also its chances to retain their power. Uzbekistan’s experience is very useful when it comes to negotiability, though judging from the latest steps by the new Uzbek president, he has been following Turkmenistan’s example i.e. weakening the positions of the people who were influential under Karimov. Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov replaced his cronies fully within few years at a time. The Uzbek leader will probably do it even more quickly.

How to deal with the announced redistribution of powers?

One should not forget that they in Kazakhstan have tried to implement such plan repeatedly. Anyway, they have made many such statements. Anyway, even the national commission for democratization was created to conduct political reform. Whatever happens here, whatever they say, everything eventually comes down to a strong presidential system. In Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan was the only country to shift from words to deeds.

But they have a different mentality there. At the slightest provocation, people rise, unite, overthrow power and break up and start opposing each other.

Nevertheless, Kyrgyzstan has an experience of two revolutions. As for Kazakhstan, it is less probable that the legislative branch will have real powers, even if they make any constitutional amendments. Today, it is technically possible to transfer these powers, but the parliament itself is not able to become a serious balance. Technically everything is possible in our country - to amend the constitution, transfer powers, but the parliament is unable to come out as an independent actor. Let’s not forget that Nazarbayev once said that Kazakhstan will always be a presidential country. Therefore, I do think that sticking plaster solutions are more possible in Kazakhstan than any drastic reforms.

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