Tokayev played preemptively: the background of early presidential elections in Kazakhstan

Nazarbayev dropped out of history – his successor stopped mentioning him

President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced an amnesty for ordinary participants in the January rebellion and immediately “cut off the term” for himself – but only for in order to add it again a little later. Confused? Then everything is in order.


Presidential elections will be held in autumn in Kazakhstan. Instead of waiting until the summer of 2024, Tokayev decided to renew his mandate now. But Tokaev's next presidential term (let's not say for the sake of appearances that someone other than the current head of state has a chance to win the election) will no longer be five years, but seven years.

Why did the second president of Kazakhstan need this mixture of political balancing act with political arithmetic? The official explanation sounds very weighty, but at the same time extremely vague: “I consider it necessary to start a comprehensive reset of key state institutions.” But the keys to understanding his real motives should, in my opinion, be sought in the following phrase of Tokayev: “We are faced with a particularly important task – to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.”

From whom exactly does Nursultan Nazarbayev's successor intend to save the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Kazakhstan? There is something that lies on the surface – at least in pieces. And there is something that is not directly mentioned, but at the same time it is understood, if not by everyone, then by almost everyone.

Unexpected unrest in large cities at the beginning of this year shook the entire foundation of Kazakhstan's statehood to its foundations. The country, which positioned itself as the most developed, most modern, strongest and most stable power in Central Asia, for several days delivered to the news feed “pictures” typical of failed states (“failed states”) from the most backward corners of the third world. And this misfortune did not come from abroad in the form of mythical (well, or, I will be more careful, semi-mythical) “international terrorists”. The trouble came from within – from the very heart of the Kazakh ruling elite.

The other day, an official named Darkhan Satybaldy was appointed as the new akim (governor) of the Turkestan region of Kazakhstan. And do you know what journalists asked him first of all? Whether he is going to change his last name.

Why did such a question arise? Because the same name is given to the nephew of ex-president Nazarbayev, Kairat Satybaldy, who is now under arrest and on whom more and more corruption charges are being poured. Justified, by the way, the accusations – I'm almost 100% sure of this. And with the same probability, I am sure that in fact the former “chief nephew of Kazakhstan” is taking the rap not only and not so much because of his immoderate financial appetites.

On one of the buildings of the CIA headquarters in Langley is engraved with a quote from the Bible: “You will know the truth, and that truth will set you free.” But sometimes the truth does not liberate, but destroys and discredits.

The second president of Kazakhstan cannot directly say who was behind the January attempt to overthrow him. (Hint: I am by no means alluding to Nazarbayev himself. He is only to blame for letting go of the reins and ceasing to control some especially frostbitten figures from among his own relatives.) But on the other hand, Tokayev can continue gradually different (including those described above) ) ways to change the configuration of the Kazakh elite. And it is easier for him to do this by renewing his presidential mandate.

In the 2019 elections, Tokayev won as a protege of Nazarbayev, a kind of “junior president”. He is going to the 2022 elections as “his own person”.

Almost everything was said in Tokayev's speech to parliament on September 1 (“There are still interruptions in the supply of bitumen. This is nonsense for a major oil-producing country”). But I didn’t find any mention of Elbasy (“leader of the nation” – the title of Nazarbayev) in the text of the speech of the second president of the country. In terms of Tokayev's career trajectory, Elbasy has already done his job and now he can rest easy in retirement. Isn’t it worth it for the sake of symbolic design of such a “reset” (Tokayev’s term is not mine) for the Kazakh authorities to hold early presidential elections?

But this, of course, is just a joke – I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful. And this is definitely not a joke. In Kazakhstan, they seriously fear that the political turbulence caused by the conflict in Ukraine may in one way or another affect their own state.

Wait, maybe I didn't express myself very clearly. The political storm in the heart of the former Soviet Union is already affecting Kazakhstan most directly. And in order to neutralize (and even better – to use in their own interests) the consequences of this turbulence, Tokayev considered it necessary to urgently update his presidential mandate. This is a classic game of preemption, to suppress a potential source of political instability. All other “verbal lace” is just a side dish for this main political dish.

And this definition – a garnish – unfortunately, also applies to another outwardly loud political initiative of Tokayev: “I propose to establish a limitation of the president's mandate to a single term of 7 years without the right to re-election.”

Here is my forecast about the future this initiative. Tokayev himself will indeed not remain in power after the end of his future seven-year presidential term – by this time he will be already under 80. But the third president of Kazakhstan will first work out his “only term”, and then “at the insistent requests of the working people” he will still achieve “ re-election rights.”

However, why am I so far into the future? Let's talk better about the present, in which, you won't believe it, sometimes there is really good news. One of them is, for example, in the following words of Tokaev: “There are discussions in society around teaching the Kazakh and Russian languages ​​in schools. I will say very clearly: we must bring up children who are fluent in both Kazakh and Russian.

This is in the interests of the younger generation. The Ministry of Education should proceed precisely from the interests of children, not follow the lead of populists.”

Splendidly said, Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich! And it sounds especially great in conjunction with your other thesis: “People are tired of empty declarations and endless presentations of a bright future. Citizens expect from government agencies the actual, not formal, fulfillment of their promises.” As a native and a great patriot of Kazakhstan (I believe that one can be both a great patriot of Russia and a great patriot of Kazakhstan), I ask you to rank me among these citizens.


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