PROTESTS IN KAZAKHSTAN: Can This Be The Beginning Of The End Of Nazarbayev Era?3 min read

by Politic360 Publishers
Protests In Kazakhstan 2022

In the first week of January, Kazakhstan’s capital and other major cities were engulfed in a wave of anti-government protests. President Kassym Jomart Tokayev has called the demonstrations and strikes “terrorist riots” and declared war on them.

One thing is clear, regardless of when and how the protests end, these would lead to the loss of influence of Kazakhstan’s “Quaid e Millat” and former President Nursultan Nazarbayev over the government. He resigned in 2019, but he still plays an important role in the government by retaining a key position in the political setup.

The Background Of These Demonstrations:

The protests began on January 2 against the sudden spike in oil prices in the oil-rich western Mangystau Region, soon spreading to other parts of the country. Finally, on January 5, they took the form of anti-government protests against the government of President Kassym Jomart Tokayev and Nazarbayev.

Following media reports of severe violence, damage, and looting, President Tokayev declared a crackdown on demonstrators, branding them “true terrorists” with foreign training.

On January 5, he also appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), an intergovernmental military alliance of former Soviet governments led by Russia, for assistance in curbing the unrest in his country. The next day, the CSTO dispatched a peacekeeping mission, including troops from neighboring countries, including Russia.

President Tokayev also accepted the resignation of the cabinet on January 5. This was followed by the decision to replace Nazarbayev as the head of the National Security Council. These important decisions came on the same day that the protests were at their peak.

As head of the country’s Security Council, Nazarbayev maintained his influence over the incumbent President after standing down as President.

What Will Be The Effect On Nazarbayev?

The Security Council of Kazakhstan is the country’s constitutional advisory body, and Nazarbayev empowered it before stepping down as President in 2019 in order to retain authority following his departure. He had also named himself as the institution’s lifetime chairman.

President Tokayev was supposed to “stay in touch” with Nazarbayev for appointments to all critical positions, and he oversaw policies related to national security and defense programs.

This allowed the 81-year-old former President to select close friends and family members to crucial government, legislature, judiciary, and military positions, consolidating his grip on power. 

Tokayev’s hands are now free with Nazarbayev’s dismissal, and he can replace his predecessor with his own team. Before the protests, it was impossible to do so. He sacked Askar Mamin, Nazarbayev’s longtime supporter and Prime Minister, on January 5. Other close colleagues of Nazarbayev, such as Karim Massimov, the head of the National Security Committee, were also dismissed from office.

The removal of Nazarbayev and his comrades from the corridors of power is not the only sign of the end of his era. One of the slogans that surfaced more prominently during the protests was “shawl cut,” which means “go old,” which shows that the people and especially the are fed up with them that there is no place for them in the political arena of the country.

 An important symbol of his fall from grace is the image, circulating widely in the media, of his statue being torn down in his hometown of Almaty.

There were speculations of Nazarbayev leaving the country amongst the social media users of Kazakhstan. The fact that he and his comrades have not been seen on the TV screens since the protests have reinforced these speculations.

 In the meantime, President Tokayev has called for peace and promised: “to be with the people” while speaking on national TV three times in two days.

The Future Of Former President Nazarbayev:

Shortly President Tokayev will continue to replace former Nazarbayev supporters, friends, and family members in the government, provided he succeeds in curbing the protests. The close relatives of the former President, who have been enjoying perks and privileges of the government, will also be affected by this. Timur Kulibayev, the head of the National Association of Traders and son-in-law of the former President, can be amongst the victims.

However, a significant obstacle for President Tokayev to strengthen his grip on power could be the monopoly on hydrocarbon reserves of the Nazarbayev family. Despite being ousted, Nazarbayev controls the Samruk-Kazyna, also known as the National Welfare Fund, a sovereign wealth fund and joint-stock company managing key national assets.

Although this is a state-owned fund, but Kazakh analysts sometimes call it a state. In 2020, Nazarbayev estimated that Samruk-Kazyna’s assets were worth 70 billion, which is almost 40% of Kazakhstan’s gross national product.

Who is Nursultan Nazarbayev?

Nursultan Nazarbayev was President of Kazakhstan from 1990 until the announcement of his resignation on March 20, 2019, and Chairman of Security Council of Kazakhstan from 1991 until his removal by President Tokayev on January 5, 2022.

He was elected President of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan in 1990 and liberated his country during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He was elected unopposed President of Independent Kazakhstan in the December 1991 presidential election. 

In 2007 an amendment to the constitution gave him the power to run for President as long as he wanted. He was given the title of ‘Quaid-e-Millat’ in 2010. He was elected President of the country for the fifth time in 2015.

The son of a farmer and herdsman, Abish Nazarbayev, Nursultan Nazarbayev began his career as a laborer in a steel factory. Later on, he also became an official of the Communist Party.

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