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Elbasi is always alive or “supra-presidential Nazarbayev”

The Mazhilis (the Lower House) of the Kazakh Parliament has launched the second phase of its work on the bill on the Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan: the Kazakh MPs are considering amendments suggested during the first reading.

According to MP Maulen Ashimbayev, the bill defines the legal stratus, competences and activities of the Security Council.

But the response the bill caused was quite controversial: the problem is that it grants very broad – supra-presidential - powers to the chief of the council. So, if approved, it will make him the number one person in Kazakhstan, a person who will have a say on whatever happens in the country. The only one who can have so much authority in Kazakhstan is President Nursultan Nazarbayev. But why does he need such a complicated hierarchy?

Experts are quite restrained and are waiting for the bill to be amended so as to see if it is approved and if approved, what kind of a document it will be.

In an interview to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, analyst of the service Erzhan Karabekov noted that rules in his country were becoming increasingly tough. “Even in the Soviet times, people in Kazakhstan – and everywhere in the Soviet Union - were able to discuss the regime and its leaders in their kitchens in the evenings. Today they avoid such discussions as they know that they can discuss anything but Nazarbayev and his family,” Karabekov said. During the same program, Kazakh human rights activist Sergey Duvanov mentioned “elbasism”: “Elbasi” is one of the titles of 77-year-old Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan since the late 1980s, and means “head of state,” “father of nation.” According to Duvanov, “elbasism” – the concept of great power statehood – is the core of Nazarbayev’s cult.

In Kazakhstan, autocracy is not as vivid as in some other Asian states: the Kazakhs do not erect golden monuments to their leader, nor do they name cities after him. But they already have a banknote with his portrait and never forget to mention Nazarbayev in whatever they say – for without him everything would have fallen to pieces.

One expert has told EADaily that the Kazakhs like using political technologies. “Perhaps, this bill is a form of transition: Nazarbayev may well announce an early election. As a result, his people will elect a new president with limited powers, while he will become the absolute ruler,” the expert said.

This scenario is quite possible, especially as Nazarbayev likes when he is compared with leaders like Lee Kwan-Yew or Ataturk.

“This document is progressive,” Kazakh Justice Minister Murat Beketayev said when asked by local mass media to comment on the bill. “This is the next stage of our constitutional reform. The reform stipulated that Elbasi should chair the Security Council for life. This is one more proof that he has a special status and enjoys special confidence among his people and now that the threats of terrorism and extremism are looming large, it is crucial for our people to have guarantees of stability. Our goal is to strengthen the mechanisms that can ensure stability in our country. Nazarbayev’s high authority is also a guarantee of stability in our region,” Beketayev said.

Senior researcher at the Center for Central Asian and Afghan Studies of MGIMO Leonid Gusev notes that in Kazakhstan, the Security Council is an advisory and consultative body that has the authority to pass most crucial decisions. “The Council was established in 1991 by Nazarbayev, who at that time was president of the Kazakh SSR. There is no law regulating the Council’s activities. The Council is chaired by the President and comprises the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Head of the Presidential Administration, the speakers of the Parliament’s houses, the Defense Minister and the Chief of the Police. The question is what aim Nazarbayev had in view when deciding to reform the Council and to make it predominant in the country. Usually, such things are done during presidential transition. It is a kind of a mechanism of checks and balances and way for the Chairman of the Council to make the final decision in case of controversy. If the bill is approved, he will be able to do it even without consulting the Constitutional Court. He will also be able to impose martial law or even to cancel some existing laws,” Gusev told EADaily.

This, according to him, is very much like the Iranian regime, where there is a supreme leader, Rahbar, on the one hand, and a president and a parliament, on the other hand. “In Iran, Rahbar can revoke any decision by the President or the Parliament. Thus, Nazarbayev is just paving the way for presidential transition,” Gusev said.

EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau

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