May 23, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Yaroslav Butakov


"The Father of the Nation" tries to establish a system securing Kazakhstan from disintegration


On May 16, 2007, Kazakhstan's Parliament introduced a number of crucial amendments to the state's Constitution. These changes were initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The new political system, proposed by the President, suggests elevation of the Parliament's power. The President is now supposed to form the Government after consultations with the Parliament's faction; the Parliament'a majority will validate the Government; the Parliament will also have a right to dismiss the cabinet.

Similar changes are introduced on the level of regions. Governors (akims) will be appointed by the President with approval from regional assemblies (maslikhats).

The Presidential authority, on the contrary, will be restricted. Only 15 of 47 deputies of the upper house of the Parliament will be selected by the President. The head of the state will have a right to dissolve the Parliament, but only after consultations with the leaders of major factions.

The President's tenure will be reduced from 7 to 5 years. The same person will be elected for not more than two terms.

After Nursultan Nazarbayev introduced these changes, the deputies of the lower chamber, Majilis, proposed one more amendment, which was passed by an overwhelming majority. It says, firstly, that the new political system will be introduced only after the end of Mr. Nazarbayev's tenure. Secondly, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as an exception, is allowed (after his present term expires in 2012) to be elected many times – as many as he wishes. This exclusive right is substantiated with his merits of the first President of independent Kazakhstan – "the founder of the statehood", as State Secretary Kanat Saudabayev emphasized.



The exclusive right for a life-long Presidency, granted to Nursultan Nazarbauyev by the Parliament, ceases the long-time debate over his supposed favorite, which had served a subject of permanent and untidy speculations and intrigues for years.

A multitude of speculative analytical researches suggested that Nursultan Nazarbayev would entrust the post of President to one of his sons-in-law, regarding the traditions of Central Asia which does not suppose transition of power to a daughter. All of Nazarbayev's three children are daughters. Their spouses used to play an active role in Kazakhstan's politics, being well known also outside the country.

In late 1990s, the marriage of Nazarbayev's youngest daughter Aliya to Aidar Akayev, a heir of then-Kyrgyz President, was viewed as the first dynastic alliance. However, this couple parted yet before the infamous "tulip revolution" in Kyrgyzstan.

In late 2001, rumors mounted around Rakhat Aliyev, husband of Nazarbayev’s elder daughter Dariga. At that time, a number of powerful business circles were making a stake on this couple, and the Kazakh establishment was facing serious internal tensions. Eventually, Rakhat Aliyev was discharged from the post of Deputy Security Minister and granted "honorary exile" as Kazakhstan's Ambassador in Austria. In 2005, he returned to the Government as Deputy Minister of Interior.

In summer 2006, a group of Rakhat Aliyev's supporters expressed the idea of establishing a hereditary constitutional monarchy in Kazakhstan. This proposal suggested institutional elevation of Kazakh aristocracy, which was supposed to form an analogue of the British House of Lords. Retrospectively, this scenario is viewed not more than a probe of public opinion.

In February 2007, Rakhat Aliyev was repeatedly dispatched to Austria. Shortly afterwards, a criminal case was launched against him and twelve other persons from his narrow team on the subject of abduction of Abilmazhen Gilimov, former CEO of Nurbank, and his deputy Zholdas Timraliyev. Rumors about Mr. Aliyev's claims for succession have since ceased.

Timur Kulebayev, son of Nazarbayev's second daughter Dinara, was considered even more powerful in a number of spheres of Kazakh business, as well as in the security apparatus. One more representative of the President's family, his nephew Kairat Satybaldy, chair of Ak Orda public association, was also mentioned among probable successors.

Neither of these options is going to come true – at least, in the visible future. Therefore, competition of business groups, associated with members of the President's family, has become an insignificant factor in Kazakhstan's political system. The newly-introduced constitutional amendments rather promise success to the new generation of Kazakh politicians, including incumbent Prime Minister Karim Masimov.

It is noteworthy that the system, supposed by the constitutional amendments, corresponds with the tradition of the XVII-XVII century when the Khan did not possess an absolute power, coordinating his decisions with views and interests of regional communities. The intentions and regional powers will be more transparent and predictable in the system where regional assemblies approve appointment of akims. During the last years, radical political opposition, enjoying financial and political support from outside, was dominated by replaced regional leaders. Newly-introduced amendments will enable Nazarbayev's younger and less experienced successor to avoid menaces which Nazarbayev had to confront.



The accord, reached by the President and the Parliament, largely reflects the outcome of numerous attempts to plant a foreign-managed political opposition force, which culminated in 2005, when the foreign string-pullers chose Majilis Speaker Zharmakhan Tuyakbay as the central figure of the "colored revolution" design. Nursultan Nazarbayev's new initiatives imply a diplomatic but clear message to the "importers of democracy": the scenario to play the Parliament against the President does not work.

The 2005 design of a clash between the branches of power was the culmination of a whole number of scenarios, played from the West. Ironically, all the foreign-funded anti-systemic oppositionist groups were concentrated around former top-level officials of Nazarbayev's administration, alienated from duties for various reasons at various circumstances. Former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, despite his former connections with Soviet KGB which he confessed of himself, is safely sheltered in the West, playing the role similar to that of Boris Berezovsky in Russia.

The "radical democratic" Ak Zhol Party (translated, ironically, as "Shining Path"), as well as the AIST ("Stork") alliance, are represented in the Majilis by not more but one person each. The dominating Otan Party, an analogue of United Russia, has recently merged the "systemic opposition" of Asar Party.

Thus, Kazakhstan's present system of public policy does not suppose any real competition. In today’s Majilis, systemic counterbalance to the "party of power" does not exist. Observers expect Nazarbayev to follow the example of Vladimir Putin's Russia, establishing an analogue of "Just Russia" as opposed to "United Russia".

Definitely, the supposed alternative loyal party project is not supposed to involve any members of Nazarbayev's family. This condition is clear from some of the President's statements.

Moreover, it is possible that the new political force will involve some formerly radical figures, like Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, ex-Akim of Pavlodar Region, discharged for financial wrongdoings, engaging into political activity, and later jailed – as his Western backers insisted, exceptionally for the attempt to challenge and discredit the Nazarbayev family. Released from custody after the Presidential elections, in early 2006, Zhakiyanov now distances himself from other radical figures, suspecting them of intention to exploit his image of "martyr" for their own purposes.

Conditions for a competitive multi-party system emerge also from the old tribal traditions of the Kazakh society. The division into three tribal lines, the zhuzes, is still significant. Generally, a decent Kazakh – especially a politician – is supposed to know seven generation of his predecessors.

At the same time, the zhuz division implies a menace of the country's disintegration. While Nazarbayev is ruling the state, the implicit tribal rivalry persists in a relatively stable balance. The future much depends on the talents of the next President.



In the existing system of tribal successions, there is no room for Kazakhstan's ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, they comprise at least 41% of Kazakhstan's population, the Russian minority constituting a 27% share. This most influential minority is the titular ethnos of the neighbor country; the largest communities of Russians are concentrated in the northern regions, adjacent to the borders of the Russian Federation.

In global practice, multiethnic states are either federal, or includes ethnic autonomies, like Spain or Canada. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is a wholly unitary state.

Today, the Russian community of Kazakhstan is not integrated on an ethnic basis. This reflects not only the generally low level of Russian self-identification, typical for most of the new Russian minorities in former Soviet republics, but also the cautious approach of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the ethnic issue. Already in early 1990s, he suppressed the upsurges of ethnic hate. Generally, Kazakh powers are more tolerant to Russians than authorities of other post-Soviet states, including the new "civilized" Baltic nations. A more tolerant attitude to Russians could be imagined only in Belarus. Still, the dormant Russian problem exists.

At present, the most flexible of Kazakh Russians are doing their best to integrate into Kazakhstan's establishment as much as the titular nation allows. The "fourth zhuz", as Russians are sometimes identified, is informally allowed to hold not more than a quarter of seats on the medium and lower administrative levels. However, this quota tends to decline. In 2006, Nazarbayev intensified transition of records management into Kazakh language. This process may result in further alienation of ethnic Russians from policy.

In future, the slogan of ethnic Russian autonomy in the northern regions may be raised again. The two possible options are autonomization, or suppression and the ensuing exodus of Russians. Much depends on the shape and policy of Russia in the relevant perspective. In any case, a preventive reform of statehood, similar to the division of Belgium into Flemish- and Walloon-dominated provinces, would secure Kazakhstan from possible collisions. Russia's diplomatic influence, regarding the interest in stability in the neighbor country as well as in the well-being of the connate community, could play a significant role.

One more approach is implied in Nazarbayev's plan of elevation of the rights of municipal power bodies, which acquire a right to endorse heads of administrations. As a matter of fact, regional authorities will have the same rights as in Russia. This suggests the possibility of specific regional legislation on the status of language. Still, this supposes the self-identification of Russians as a cultural community.

At the same time, Kazakhstan's ethnic policy is influenced by other powerful neighbor states. Autonomy, granted for ethnic Russians, may instigate similar claims from other minorities, including Uighurs in Eastern Kazakhstan. The Uighur issue is very sensitive for China.



The political relations of Russia and Kazakhstan developed not quite smoothly. Mutual expressions of warm friendship were followed with periods of alienation. As recently as in March 2007, one could notice certain chillness between Nazarbayev and Putin. At that time, contradictions mounted around transit of Kazakh oil and gas. In this issue, Astana had been stubbornly pursuing a multi-vector approach, agreeing to participate in US- and Europe-initiated projects of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline and Nabucco. On the political level, this commitment was even expressed in Nazarbayev's one-time proposal to reorganize GUAM into GUAK – which implied a clear anti-Moscow background.

Still, Kazakhstan's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as interests, shared with Russia in a number of countries of Southern Asia, indirectly intensified the dialogue of Moscow and Astana. Under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia became an associate member of the Organization of Islamic Conference. One more international association, involving the two countries, is the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia(CICBMA), established on by Nursultan Nazarbayev’s initiative under the auspices of the United Nations. In summer 2006, Vladimir Putin and China's President Hu Jingtao took part in CICBMA event in Kazakhstan, which followed the jubilee SCO summit in Shanghai. In Astana, Putin and Nazarbayev opened the central office of the newly-founded Eurasian Bank, established by the two states.

Vladimir Putin's interest in partnership with Kazakhstan greatly increased in the context of relationship with the new President of Turkmenistan, and relevant projects of gas transport. The meeting of the three leaders on May 12 annihilated the political significance of the long-prepared summit in Poland, focused on "alternative" energy routes. Strategic concord in energy transit policy was eventually reached.

At the same time, Nursultan Nazarbayev pursues close cooperation with Georgia in banking and infrastructure building. In its economic relations, Astana remains independent and committed for multi-vector approach. Still, the history of its relations with Russia and China has proven that the most favorable economic prospects are associated with the two greatest neighbors, especially in the period of their political and economic revival.

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