Asia, Politics

Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev isn’t going anywhere

Investors will closely watch the political transition taking place in Kazakhstan via the presidential election this Sunday. Although current leader Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is guaranteed to win, we still expect Nursultan Nazarbayev to remain actively involved in running the country.

Nazarbayev, who spent 29 years in power, made the surprise announcement that he will step down on 19 March, and the Chairman of the Senate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was sworn in as president in accordance with the constitution.

Tokayev then called a snap election and was unanimously selected in April as the presidential candidate of the ruling Nur Otan party. Given the political structures in Kazakhstan, the candidate supported by the Nur Otan party and, presumably, endorsed by Nazarbayev, will win the election – there is no realistic possibility of a surprise. Moreover, Tokayev has been considered a possible, if not probable, successor to Nazarbayev for some time now.

Although the election is essentially a one-horse race, there will be other candidates on the ballot, giving the semblance of competition. The opposition Ak Zhol – a liberal party with seven seats in the 107-seat parliament (Nur Otan has 84) – has nominated Daniya Yespayeva as its candidate. Other candidates include Jambyl Akhmetbekov from the Communist party (seven seats), Toleutai Rakhimbekov from the Auyl party, Amirzhan Kossanov from the Ult tagdyry Republican Public Association, Sadybek Tugel, a sports federation chief, Amandeldy Taspikhov, a trade union activist, and Talgat Yegaliev, from the Union of Builders of Kazakhstan.

Foreign investors will be watching the political transition very closely, having pumped billions of dollars into its energy and mining sectors. But there will be no major policy changes. The new president inherits a system that will be difficult to change and with problems that are difficult to solve. The question now is whether Tokayev will want his own administrative team or stick with the current line-up. In any event, Nazarbayev will still call the shots indefinitely, assuming his health allows, as he still retains several key posts. This means that there will likely be no major changes, good or bad, over the medium term.

Meanwhile, although the power transition has thus far been smooth, there have been a handful of protests for a boycott of the election, dismissing it as an orchestrated handover. There are also concerns of persistent problems including:  1) the slow pace of implementing Nazarbayev’s flagship modernisation programme Nurly Zhol, which aims to create greater economic and export diversification; 2) unresolved problems in the banking sector, which has cost almost US$13bn in bailouts over the past two years; and 3) public protests against the failure to deliver promised social and economic reforms.

The official results of the elections will be announced by 16 June.

Get in touch with us if you would also like more extensive coverage of Europe/CIS from our partners at Macro-Advisory.

Asia Politics