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Political Change in Kazakhstan

*Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Kazakhstan, the largest economy in Central Asia has once again surprised the world by adopting a wise political change/move to safeguard is system and of course its continuity. Most recently, Nursultan Nazarbayev the former president who served 30 years has announced his resignation from the presidency in a televised speech and transferred his powers to Chairman of the Senate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev the new president of the country for the remaining period of presidency.

Subsequently, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has taken oath of the President of Kazakhstan. So constitution is enacted and political transition is successfully completed without any administrative chaos, social unrest, economic uncertainty and of course constitution deadlock. It is the height of democracy which shows unmatched political stability and sustainability in Kazakhstan. Capital of Kazakhstan has been renamed from Astana to Nur-Sultan which shows Kazakhstan’s government respect and love of its people for former president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

International media being biased as usually has labeled Kazakhstan’s political change as shocking and sudden. Most of the regional as well as international experts of Central Asia have wrongly termed resignation of Nursultan Nazarbayev as replay of Putin's succession or model of Lee Kuan Yew's succession plan in Singapore. Being prominent regional expert on Kazakhstan I think it is neither shocking nor sudden rather it is well planned, gradual and smooth transition of power which is even good for the continuity of the system  and will further strengthen the process of democratization and politicization in the country. Kazakhstan has its own unique political system which is functional, effective and responsive. Nazarbayev is the father of nation who can still guide the government ensuring the stable political and economic development of Kazakhstan and the continuation of its foreign policy.

Being prominent regional expert on Kazakhstan I analyze that recent political transition has been initiated since 2017 by introducing various constitutional reforms in the country aiming weakening the power of the president and subsequently, he surrendered some of his presidential powers to legislative branches of the country.

He institutionalized law of the “Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan” which empowered him the status of life-long “Chairman of the Security Council which ensures that even if he no longer holds the post of president, he can still take the lead in major issues concerning national security. Nursultan Nazarbayev is still retaining the main levers of power: the status of First President i.e. “Elbasy” (Leader of the Nation), the Chairman of the Security Council, leader of the Nur Otan Party and Chairman of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan; he also retained membership in the Constitutional Council which can authorize him to sustain his influence on Kazakhstan's future political process. Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, Dariga, has been elevated to speaker of the Senate (Upper House of Kazakhstan Parliament) after which constitutionally she is the country’s second most powerful position who may be appointed in the race of next presidential election to be held in 2020.

In addition to this Nazarbayev announced adjustments to key positions in the country, replacing key positions such as President Aide, Secretary of the Security Council, Director of the Foreign Intelligence Agency and Minister of Defense. Subsequently, he dissolved the government in February 2019 and a new prime minister was appointed.

For easy and smooth political transition Nazarbayev thoroughly consulted the Constitutional Council on whether there are any detailed provisions in Article 3, Clause 42 of the Constitution regarding the early termination of the president's power. His early resignation elucidates the constitutional provisions for early resignation before the end of the president's term of office.

Nazarbayev has become larger than life character. He has successfully revolutionized his country in terms of political stability, economic sustainability and social vibrancy. He introduced many significant reforms which enabled him to achieve immense ratios of GDPs, GNPs, FDIs, and of course social development. He followed the concept of holistic approach in every sector of the economy and resultant is that Kazakhstan total economy increased by 15 times, residents' income up by 9 times and poverty rate falling by nearly 10 times. A miracle achieved.

Nazarbayev institutionalized a successful plan of economic modernization through emergence of a sizeable middle-class and a qualified bureaucracy. Price stability, curbing of inflationary pressures and the last but not the least development of SMEs and infrastructural development, especially in urban areas, remains one of the most visible legacies of his long presidential mandate. Maintaining ethnic equilibrium and diversity has transformed Kazakhstan, a heaven on earth.     

Kazakhstan is blessed with natural resources of oil and gas and has the world's ninth largest land area, has become one of the 50 developed countries in the world and aims to become one of the 30 most developed countries by 2050.

While addressing his nation on March 19, 2019 he reiterated his desire to work for the prosperity of his country by ensuring a new generation of leaders.

It is also true that because of Nazarbayev’s balanced and pragmatic foreign policy Kazakhstan has achieved a large amount of political and economic dividends. I personally think that further consolidation and development of Sino-Kazakhstan relations is the future of this country. Kazakhstan has been one of the key actors in the Eurasian landscape through acquisition of leadership in important international organisations (OSCE, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) and the construction of a new, futuristic capital, Astana. Moreover, being prominent regional expert I expect that principles of multi-vector approach, pragmatism and mutual benefit will be also preserved in foreign policy. It is predicted that the head of state will continue to strengthen relations and strategic cooperation with Russia and China; the partnership with the countries of Central Asia and the EAEU will remain important.

He secured the national interests of his country while establishing good relations with all the power brokers within the region and beyond. His multiculturalism and respect of ethnic diversity policies has transformed Kazakhstan into a progressive, tolerant and peaceful country in the world.  

Nazarbayev’s resignation is unprecedented in terms of the political norms of post-Soviet Central Asia, where leaders have so far refused to yield power. Here, presidential transitions, with the notable exception of Kyrgyzstan, have often been instigated with long-term leaders dying in office.

It is hoped that new president of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will revitalize the domestic landscape by introducing meaningful reforms in the system of governance and delivery.

The President of Kazakhstan, Tokayev is a seasoned and balanced politician with rich experience as Foreign Minister, head of the government, and chairman of the Senate of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is expected that with Tokayev’s nomination, the continuity of the Nazarbayev’s course will be maintained and existing initiatives and programs will continue. Moreover, Nazarbayev’s infrastructure programs and digitalisation initiatives will also be continued.

It is also expected that in the formation of the new government, a number of recent appointments suggest that at the pre-election stage, the personnel policy will not undergo fundamental changes.

Iran has expressed support for the change at top leadership in Kazakhstan, praising the outgoing president Nursultan Nazarbayev. “The current changes in the Republic of Kazakhstan and transfer of power was in the framework of the constitution and for that reason we support it”, the spokesperson of Iran’s foreign ministry Bahram Ghasemi.

It is expected that Tokayev will serve out the rest of Nazarbayev’s term. The next presidential elections to be held in April 2020, but early elections are the norm in Kazakhstan. Presidential polls were moved forward in 2015, 2011, 2005, and 1999, not to mention the snap parliamentary election in 2016.

In his last televised speech as president on March 19, 2019 Nazarbayev justified his economic policies by saying “we put economic development and the growth of citizens’ welfare at the forefront.” He argued that building a market economy had to come first.

In his first speech a President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev praised the services of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev and termed his resignation as   voluntarily relinquished of powers as the Head of State which showed his greatness as a politician, who is recognized at the global level and on a historical scale. He also labeled his resignation as purposeful and futuristic having   true concern for the future of our state.

He summarized the diversified achievements (independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan, foundations of the new state, initialization the process of true democratization and politicization, immense socio-economic prosperity, solidarity of the state, peace and harmony) of former president of the country. He further elaborated his unforgettable services (formation of state institutions i.e. the presidency, the bicameral Parliament, the civil service, the armed forces, the diplomatic service, and civil society institutions). President Tokayev appreciated Nursultan Nazarbayev’s role in promulgation of constitution which was adopted in 1995. Series of changes in the “Constitution” transmitted this key document a democratic character.

Under the leadership of the Leader of the Nation, reforms in political arena, economic sphere, social reality aimed at the modernisation of the economy have been systematically implemented in Kazakhstan he added. His all policies have been human centric.

President Tokayev rightly highlighted the diversified reforms of former Nursultan Nazarbayev which successfully transformed Kazakhstan into a modern, advanced state, part of the group of the 50 most competitive countries in the world. Moreover, he is the true champion of human public policy which projected a unique concept of development i.e. “Kazakhstan model”. His reforms put Kazakhstan on a path to sustainable development. The Republic of Kazakhstan has become the leader of the Central Asian region in all economic indicators, and took a leading position in the post-Soviet space, he further added.

President Tokayev mentioned his immaculate conception in the field of financial management which accumulated large financial resources in the National Fund, which remained instrumental to solve important socio-economic tasks in crisis situations.

President Tokayev spoke highly about his business and people friendly policies to attract more and more inflows of FDIs due to which Kazakhstan has been one of the leading countries in the entire post-socialist countries, including Central Europe, in terms of foreign direct investment per capita. Kazakhstan has attracted more than $300 billion in foreign direct investments, thanks to visionary policies of Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Nursultan Nazarbayev also initiated various reforms for a strong state with an open-access market economy to improve the well-being of the people. His social development policies are incomparable in the world.

President Tokayev once again showcased Nursultan Nazarbayev’s multicultural polices to maintain ethnic diversity of the country which sustained spirits of tolerance, peace and harmony in the country.  In this regard, the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan was created. Thanks to the historical synthesis of world religions, languages, cultures and traditions, Kazakhstan has formed a society in which peace and harmony have become an integral part of Kazakhstan political culture. The model of peace and social harmony developed by the Leader of the Nation has received international recognition as a standard of the harmonious development of society, he added.

For strengthening of national unity Nursultan Nazarbayev suggested the patriotic act “Mangilik El” (Eternal Nation) which was subsequently, adopted.

President Tokayev high rated youth policy of Nazarbayev which has been implemented through unique program “Ruhani Zhangyru” (Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity) and the article “Seven Facets of the Great Steppe” had a positive impact on shaping the attitudes and outlook of the youth. Right to have native land has been granted.

The strategy “Kazakhstan 2050”, the “Nurly Zhol” new economic policy, the nation’s “100 Concrete Steps” plan are aimed at modernising the country, and further strengthening the economic potential of Kazakhstan he further elaborated. Modern Kazakhstan is a country with an open market economy, and a democratic and secular state.

President Tokayev termed development of private sector because of Nazarbayev strategic vision. Many private businesses have been created in the country, a new middle class has grown, and entrepreneurship is developing intensively. The rigorous policies of the former president in term of massive industrialization, diversification of resources/energy, banking and financial development have been instrumental to achieve high rates of GDPs, GNPs, reduction of poverty and of course generation of new jobs.  “Business Roadmap”, “Agribusiness” and “Employment Program” are being implemented.

Completion of strategically important infrastructure projects i.e. “Nurly Zhol”, “Western Europe-Western China” and the     Trans-Caspian international transport route have been further strengthened Kazakhstan’s pursuits of socio-economic prosperity and regional connectivity. Kazakhstan has now developed into a transport and logistics hub of global importance, which will significantly enhance our county’s economic potential.

Human development has been epicenter of Nazarbayev policies due to which it has been rated first in the various Human Development Index reports in terms of adult literacy. Nazarbayev University was created for the country; intellectual schools were opened in all regional centres.

While addressing his first speech the president Tokayev pinpointed valuable contribution of the former president Nazarbayev in the field of health and medication which made Kazakhstan a healthy nation.

The “Madeni Mura” (Cultural Heritage) program, initiated by Nursultan Nazarbayev, gave new impetus to the development of Kazak culture. Moreover, the addition of the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassaui, “Tamgaly” monuments and other historical sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List were particularly important events.

Former president Nazarbayev played an important role in the formation and development of the Eurasian Economic Union. He also played a contributory role in the development of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia. Astana hosted the historic OSCE summit, the Congresses of World and Traditional Religions, and many other international forums which are held on a regular basis he added.

Kazakhstan has become an authoritative and influential participant in global peace processes, the country was elected to the UN Security Council for 2017-2018, received world recognition as the leader of the global movement for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, as well as an impartial mediator in interfaith dialogue which shows Nazarbayev’s balanced and pragmatic foreign policies since its inception.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev outlined his goals i.e. to preserve and strengthen the independence of state, the main and historic heritage of the Leader of the Nation.

Tokayev was born into an elite Soviet family his father was an eminent writer and war hero. A graduate of the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, he started out in the 1970s in the Soviet Foreign Service. His diplomatic assignments in China and Singapore helped develop his Mandarin and English language skills. He served as Nazarbayev’s foreign minister from 1994 to 1999 and 2003 to 2007. He also work as Prime Minister from 1999-2002 and Chairman of the Senate.  So I think he is the best choice to lead the country.