If an American presidential candidate on the next day after his victory is already considering the next election, then in Kazakhstan the situation is fundamentally different. The President needed the previous election only to resolve, within the given seven-year period, those key problems that are to affect the trajectory of the further economic and political development of the country. Actually, the current head of state has received another expedient carte blanche at a moment when the country is at a crossroad.
Dosim Satpayev, Political Scientist, Candidate of Political Science
One can hardly say that these will be easy times, as within the next few years two major tasks require implementation. First of all, the country should receive concrete results from the realization of the program of industrial and innovation program of the government. The program is to prepare Kazakhstan for entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO). This task is impossible without development of the real sector of the economy and an increase in internal investment, which should increase the competitiveness of the country. The final aim is to free Kazakhstan from the “natural resource curse”, which on the one side provided an impetus to the development of the economy, yet on the other threatens to relegate the republic to merely being a supplier of natural resources to the rest of the world.
At a joint session of Parliament dedicated to the appointment of the Prime Minister, which included the participation of the President, showed that nobody is going to change horses midway through the race. Danial Akhmetov’s return to the prime ministerial position proves that he still has credit, as regards trust, with the President. However, if considering that the Kazakhstani government had a long time ago become a mere rubber stamp within the structure of state power, then in this case the recent reshuffling of the government was merely a procedural issue. The event was positive in its nature, as personality factor has now been relegated as second tier, with consistency of policy, which has always been a week point within post-Soviet countries, coming forward. Even if the prime minister were to be replaced, and all members of the government were entirely changed, clearly the new government would still need to implement those same social and economic programs developed by their predecessors, which were disseminated in many speeches by the President, whether in last year’s February address or the recent inaugural speech.
Though it may sound paradoxical, the most recent three governments have been quite unlucky. At first glance, it may seem as if they operated in quite comfortable economic conditions, as the prices for natural resources have been on a continuous increase, and the export volume has grown. Nonetheless, the whole problem lay in the fact that since Tokayev’s government (October 1999 to January 2002) the further long-term economic prospects of the country have depended on political reforms, which should be as deep and broad as the economic reforms have been. As was noted by Gzhegozh Kolodko, a noted Polish economist, sooner or later all dynamically developing post-socialist states discover the necessity of democratization, as without it continuation of economic reforms is impossible. This issue is more salient for Akhmetov’s government.
Indeed, how is it possible to hope for entrance into the top 50 most economically developed nations of the world if our country has but a semi-market economy – when the border between big business and political authority is so blurred that nobody knows where state interests end and private ones begin. The prospects of the seemingly successful banking sector of the country are unclear, where, as per the opinions of some international ratings agencies, one of the risk factors is the high concentration of bank capital in the hands of a narrow circle of individuals and entities that are also connected with certain representatives of the political authority. As a result, if we were to rephrase a classic line, “The economy of Kazakhstan is a concentrated expression of the narrow interests of elite groups.”
However, there is a question of the viability of reaching the desired goal with the help of mere reorganizations and replacements, which have been quite ample over the past 14 years in Kazakhstan. And, almost each time the Kazakhstani officials have demonstrated a miraculous example of asexual reproduction, in which the bureaucracy has grown in order to handle those necessities associated with a growing bureaucracy, to apply the words of Isaac Asimov, the Russian-born, American science fiction author. When characterizing the Russian economic and political system, Andrei Illarionov, the former economic advisor to Russia’s president, has recently dubbed it a closed joint stock company of a corporate type. I believe the same analogy can be applied to Kazakhstan. After all, when responding to the question of whether political modernization has begun in Kazakhstan, one should begin with stating what each of us expects from the current political system. If one places high demands on its development, then one can state that complete political modernization has not yet started in the country. At the same time, speaking about the existence of political stagnation would be incorrect.
Only political reform leading to a change in the relation between the authorities and business, and between the elite and the opposition, can change this situation for the better. The basis for making a correct decision is in the understanding that it is impossible to create a fully functional market mechanism and maintain long-term economic growth under conditions of a closed political system. After all, as the author of “polyarchy”, Robert Dahl, a famous American political scientist has noted that due to decentralization of the economy, where many economic decisions are made by relatively independent individuals and companies, market capitalism usurps the need for strong or authoritative government. The market economy may act as a solvent on an authoritative regime. Any competitive economy should be transparent to the public as well.
So, political modernization ranks second among post-election issues within Kazakhstan. Many people are worried about the manner in which it will be realized. Whether such will be by mere imitation of political reform, by the changing only of certain elements within the system, or if the changes will be structural in nature – even effecting presidential power itself – is of issue. Kazakhstan’s prospects for becoming chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2009 depend on the above concern. Though, it is clear that currently Kazakhstan does not meet the democratic standards of that international organization. Certainly Kazakhstan has its own lobby within the OSCE, which utilizes post-Soviet countries, including, among others, Ukraine and Georgia. However, their political influence is not sizeable. Also to be considered is whether or not the OSCE will suddenly believe that Kazakhstan’s chairmanship will provide an impetus for political reform in the country, or if the organization will become afraid of losing influence within the territory of the former USSR, as is already happening. In the case of an affirmative result, it would become necessary to ask why the political elite of Kazakhstan needs this: is the decision pure PR, or really proof of true democratic reorientation? Besides, authority in the country is pushing itself toward a political fork. Either a public humiliation occurs should Kazakhstan be refused, or there will be an international scandal if the country is given the chairmanship but a vote of censure occurs due to the country not achieving its declared goals.
At the same time, one should realize that political reforms are most likely to happen from above. This means a lot depends on the will of the political elite, and whether or not it would like to start serious political modernization. Over the past year and a half, statements about the necessity of political reform in Kazakhstan have been made many times. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev spoke about the necessity of reform for the first time in summer 2004 at the seventh extraordinary congress of the Otan party. In that speech, he defined major political targets, while later on in this last year’s address to the nation, he more clearly described them. He has established limits to which the authorities are willing to go. One cannot say that those confines are wide. However, for the President they guarantee the stability of existing political relations in all directions, which is also suitable for the majority of the political and business elite. Besides, control by the President of the political process is also important, including the suggestion of democratic initiatives. This is quite natural in the system of a domineering model of “reform from above”.
Dangerous is the fact that even now after such a triumphant election victory at the presidential election, the elite is still in a state of euphoria and self-praising, which eventually could transform into political conceitedness. In such a case, if to use the terminology of system analysis by David Easton, the feedback loop would be broken, when the opposition is finally pushed to the periphery of political life, and institutions of civic society will be divided into loyal and disloyal ones. We do face such a danger, but also a definite hope exists for choosing another route. Here, one should note the direct relationship between the quality of political management and political modernization. The situation in the economic sphere of the country proves this last statement by the fact that it is impossible to carry out effective market reforms without human resource enhancement of part of the government responsible for economic issues.
Most likely, the prospects for political reform in Kazakhstan to a significant degree will depend on which ideological group dominates in the President’s entourage. Either this will be the “political conservatives”, who are supporters of maintaining strict control. Or, the “reformers”, who are ready to carry out at least partial political reform, being aware that without such the political competitiveness of Kazakhstan would be very low. The latter group particularly includes, Dariga Nazarbaeva, the leader of the Asar party, who at the end of the January 2006 appealed for the speeding up of reforms in the state governance system. This is reminiscent of a Soviet anecdote about a mechanic who also appealed for a change in “the system”, finally ending up in prison – he simply forgot to explain that he was talking about the sewerage system. The same situation exists here. Unclear is how one may change the system without changing the players themselves. However, the leader of the Asar party believes that it is possible, should enhancement of parliamentary and public control over the executive branch. We again run into contradictions here. How can we hope for development of this system when Ms. Nazarbaeva does not believe we should progress with the further introduction of local self-governance and the election of akims (local and regional administrative heads). And, these are the components of the mechanism for controllability over the authorities. Under what circumstances can accountability of the akims before the public, for which the Asar party head is appealing, be established? Strange is the fact that the appeal not to rush the establishment of local institutions of self-governance contradicts the declared goals of the Aimak parliamentary group, which is also headed by the self same daughter of the President. From the very beginning of its establishment, the group announced that one of its aims is active participation in the development and legislate support of administrative reform and local self-governance.
Additionally, the fact that the Asar party has begun utilizing some ideas of the Kazakhstani opposition is of interest, namely the idea of the existence of a gap between quick economic development of the country and preservation of a conservative bureaucratic system. They have also mentioned the necessity for political modernization. During the previous presidential election, leaders of the pro-democracy coalition, For a Fair Kazakhstan, were actively speaking on this issue. If pro-presidential parties are to usurp the ideas of the opposition ones at such speeds in the future, then by the time of the parliamentary elections in 2009, the latter will have run out of ideas.
Quite possibly the initiatives of the Asar party leader have not simply materialized suddenly, even taking into account the high degree of independence and unpredictability of Ms. Nazarbaeva in comparison to her colleagues within the pro-presidential parties. A supposition exists that this has been the start of presentation of the presidential daughter as a potential successor. This assumption is quite possible, but at the moment is unlikely, taking into account that Ms. Nazarbayeva previously made many statements related to the necessity of making political reforms within country. Besides, her name within the list of possible successors hardly ranks first, considering the fact that she is moving within the family circle together with Rakhat Aliev, about whom the elite differ in their opinions, especially after the events of 2001. A feeling exists that in requesting that political modernization of the country be sped up, Ms. Nazarbaeva is still indirectly assisting her spouse, who is responsible for the process to receive approval for Kazakhstan to head the OSCE in 2009. Clearly this procedure can be effective only on concrete political initiatives on the part of the authorities and the supporting parties.
Asar’s congress, interestingly enough, took place shortly after a similar one of the Otan party, which is an informal competitor of the former for being the leader among the pro-presidential parties. Besides, these two parties, as well as other participants of the People’s Coalition, are to take an active role in the development of a nationwide program of political reforms, which is supposed to be completed by June of the current year. However, if representatives of Otan are to always suffer from a lack of ideas, despite having a powerful administrative body, Asar party members will always outstrip them as regards to generation of ideas. Most likely, Asar will attempt to wrest the initiative from the other participants involved in the formation of the program by trying to use the so-called “travel map” of democratic development within Kazakhstan, which they would like to utilize in forming the basis of the program. Within the framework of the map exist such suggestions as extension of the power of the legislative branch all the way to the point at which the government would be formed on the basis of a parliamentary majority. This demonstrates that the Asar leader is still a supporter of both the parliamentary and executive forms of governance. Some analysts believe that the necessity of introducing such a form of governance will be discussed already in 2007.
At the same time, clearly the Asar and Otan parties are prepping for the next parliamentary elections in 2009. Judging by events, this time around Ms. Nazarbaeva hopes to get her revenge. In order to achieve this, she suggests the introduction, to some degree, of proportional representation, utilizing a combination of district plurality and party lists. This will certainly require changes to be made to the constitution. By considering the abovementioned idea of the Asar leader as forming the government as per party majority, it is the Asar party she wants to have the key role in this process. But, as has been proven by the sad experience of Asar’s defeat in the parliamentary elections of 2004, their main mistake was that some members were too engulfed in the branding of the party, they forgot about providing support to the individual candidates, as well as to the regional branches of the party.
However, just as in previous parliamentary elections, much depends on the dominant strategy of the presidential administration, rather than the will and desire of individual party leaders, even if they happen to be members of the presidential family. Quite possibly, in this chess game Asar may become but one of the leaders within the pro-presidential People’s Coalition, which could be necessary in case of older opposition players gaining strength, and newer ones appearing. However, this is just in the best possible scenario, as the political prospects of Kazakhstan’s opposition, following its defeat in previous elections, are still quite vague. This situation has not been clarified, even following the release of Galymzhan Zhakiyanov (the previously imprisoned former head of Pavlodar oblast, who also happens to be a key opposition member). He has already stated an interest in continuing his public and political activities, though in which capacity is still unclear. The key problem is that he has returned to a completely different opposition, headed by different people, which is still in a demoralized state following defeat at the presidential election, as well as being mired in internal conflicts. Moreover, the number of opposition parties and movements has decreased following the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement was refused registration as a political party, as was the True Ak Zhol party. This is why the role of Mr. Zhakiyanov within the new political reality is still unclear. However, his range of choices is not large. He may either take a holding position as an independent candidate, he can create his own new opposition movement, or he might try to take the leadership of the current opposition, trying to repair the multiple problems. In case of the latter option, possible conflicts exist with those opposition leaders for whom Mr. Zhakiyanov is a dangerous competitor in the fight for leadership of the For a Fair Kazakhstan coalition. He should rush to make his final decision, as in the opposite political camp they have decided not to slow down following the presidential campaign. Here, we are speaking about both the abovementioned Asar party and the Otan party, the latter of which has already announced the major directions for its activities over the period leading up to the parliamentary elections to the Majilis (lower house of Parliament) in 2009. Besides, the authorities have already taken steps in forestalling the opposition, as this summer they are planning to offer up a national program of political reforms. One can assume that a part of the society expects the opposition to put up a similar program of action. However, the fact that the opposition refuses to participate in the development of the national program of political reforms, as well as having shunned the work of the NCDI (National Commission on Democratization Issues and civil society under President of RK) last year, could eventually result in pushing the opposition to the periphery of political life. Besides, if the prognosis on the recent schism within the opposition proves true, and a portion of its leaders returns to office, then in 2009 the pro-presidential Otan party and People’s Coalition will be in competition with each other.
The opposition, it turns out, has only the possibility of treading water. That is to say, working within the National Commission for Democratization, as well as within civil society. The Kazakhstani authorities are quite actively advertising this commission, which is supposed to develop the Nationwide Program for Political Reform by June 2006. Basically, the program is to give the final answer to the abovementioned question on the depth of political modernization in Kazakhstan. Though, certain hints as to what exactly the elite is ready to do in the sphere of political reform might appear in the annual presidential address to the nation, which is to happen much earlier. Quite possibly one of the most important political decisions this year will be the extension of the Parliament through the increase of the number of seats by using party lists. However, this does not reflect the creation of a presidential-parliamentary system in Kazakhstan, as the authorities do not wish to truly reform the Parliament.
This is why the elite consider the President’s words on the increase of Parliament’s role as an element within his political game. For example, a previous sort of game included the introduction of a mechanism for elections of akims at the lowest regional levels, when maslikhats (local legislative bodies), which are closely connected with the representatives of the executive branch, were allowed to control the election process. Decisions of this type are not usually made in the Parliament, but instead in the presidential office, which has quite smart “politicos”, who are able to implement the process of increasing the number of parliamentary seats close to the elections of 2009. Yet many experts believe that by just increasing the number of parliament members, and allowing the Parliament to form the government, is still not reflective of the country having a real system of checks and balances. Many additional factors would be necessary in order to achieve those aims. First of all, there should be a developed and competitive party system. Though now, this mostly consists of parties following one ideological orientation.
As to the relationship between the authorities and the institutions of civil society, this last year has had positive moments. One of the constructive trends has been the appearance of the initiative on the creation of the Public Chamber. As far as this can clarified, this will be the first establishment of a permanent contact between institutions of civil society and the authorities of Kazakhstan. Whether by accident or coincidence, similar processes began in neighboring Russia, where a public chamber has already been formed, and has begun its work on control over national projects. This delay is despite the fact that the idea for such a body occurred simultaneously in both countries. Already in 2005, at second Civic Forum the Kazakhstani president made a speech on the initiative to create a board of public experts. Initially, the chamber is supposed to include representatives of NGOs, who will cooperate with the legislative branch on discussing draft laws that are significant for the public.
However, the Russian and Kazakhstani models contain certain differences. First of all, our local chamber of public experts will be created under the Majilis, though in Russia it has been formed as a constituent organ under government control. Secondly, the Kazakhstani version is not to be financed out of the state budget, while Russia’s is. Finally, the initiators of the Russian public chamber included several political groups associated with the Kremlin, but the authorship of Kazakhstan’s is still unknown. Nonetheless, in both cases the idea itself is not a bad one, as something is better than nothing. Besides, this is another case of political processes in Kazakhstan and Russia displaying more similarities than differences. Despite the high legitimacy of presidential power in both countries, many specialists believe that the further progress of social, economic and political reforms require public participation. This is not just a demonstration of political openness, but mere pragmatism. Sooner or later the former will happen, as the more complicated the economic and political structures become, the more difficult it will be for the state to effectively control multiple projects. Besides, the authorities will always be able to share responsibility for policies carried out in coordination with the institutes of civil society. We all have high hopes that creation of the Public Chamber will not be simply a political advertisement, and that it will include not only NGOs loyal to the authorities, but also those that represent the part of the public in opposition. Forming of the chamber itself is but part of the job. Still unclear is how the Kazakhstani bureaucratic machine will accept this “foreign body”, as an enemy or as a partner. If one considers the President’s words as a basis, even his own instructions become stuck in the nomenclature moor. What can one say about the future recommendations of a public chamber that could be completely mired within the lower layers of the state bureaucratic machine?
At the same time, a very important outcome of political modernization in Kazakhstan should be establishment of an effective mechanism for replacement of officials, which could handle the details of defining the political future of Kazakhstan. Sooner or later replacement of the authorities in Kazakhstan will happen, the only questions are: when and how? The fact that the former advisor to the President did not exclude Mr. Nazarbayev’s participation in the next election, while Ms. Nazarbayeva of Asar believes the succession process would occur much sooner, says much. First of all, this means that there is no consensus to the two above questions inside the presidential circle, or among the multiple elite groups. Though, most likely the Russian model of succession via a search for an heir apparent among the presidential coterie, rather than among members of the president’s family, is more suitable for Kazakhstan, as it would allow preservation of political stability within the country.
Mr. Nazarbayev still maintains carte blanche authority for choosing his preferred time for the succession process. Moreover, in comparison with Russia, Kazakhstan has accepted the law “On the First President” quite a long time ago, which provides Mr. Nazarbayev with the opportunity to maintain a director’s role from behind the scenes with his status as the former president. The worst scenario would be if the head of state does not have a chance to do this. In that case, we should not hope for a positive outcome. If even in Israel, where a system of changing authority via elections has been long in place, the unexpected stroke of Ariel Sharon almost resulted in a serious political crisis, Kazakhstan would have an even more difficult time. In such a case, a very cruel fight for power will begin among influential groups, as this would be the only guarantee for preserving their wealth. What is accruing now in neighboring Kyrgyzstan would seem a mere child’s game, as the stakes in the Kazakhstani fight for Ak Orda (“White Realm” – Kazakhstan’s presidential residence) would be much larger.
In general, however sad it may seem, the issue on succession is a curse for all political systems that depend on one person or a narrow group. In this regard, I recollect an interesting conversation on this issue with Archil Gegeshidze, an expert from the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Research. To my question on the existence of Mikhail Saakashvili’s potential successor, he replied that though there had been many frustrations and disappointments following the Georgian revolution, one of the major achievements had been that the issue on succession had died together with the previous regime. During Eduard Shevardnadze’s time this issue was quite significant, but is no longer so, which is why the next president following Mr. Saakashvili will come to power only through democratic elections. We hope very much we will be able to say the same about Kazakhstan.