Tokaev and Astana's old style that won't change
After the bloody events of January 2022 and the early presidential and parliamentary elections, and after a hasty amendment to the country's constitution, no substantial improvements in the government of Kazakhstan.
Astana (AsiaNews) - The Azattyk news agency has interviewed one of the leading international experts in the field, Glasgow University Central Asia researcher Luca Anceschi, on the difference between the presidency of Kasym-Žomart Tokaev and the long rule of Nursultan Nazarbaev in Kazakhstan, to understand where the differences really lie and where the similarities lie.
Anceschi had previously described a degradation of Kazakh politics towards even harsher forms of authoritarianism and repression, and to this day he confirms this impression.
In the fourth year of Tokaev's presidency, after the bloody events of January 2022 and the early presidential and parliamentary elections, and after a hasty amendment to the country's constitution, no substantial improvements in the government in Astana are to be seen.
The touted formula of the 'new Kazakhstan', according to the expert, 'in all respects is very similar to the old one'. There have been no significant economic, political and social liberalisations, the elections were as usual remote-controlled to celebrate the victory of Tokaev and his party, and the president will be able to remain in power until 2029, thanks to the appropriate reforms.
The researcher recalls that 'the question of responsibility for the deaths of so many people in January 2022 is very important: the names of the deceased are known, but not those of the perpetrators, especially those in military uniforms'.
The court proceedings in this matter have not yet been concluded, and the wounds are still open, there has been no victory for justice, which would have really given a signal of transition to a 'new Kazakhstan'.
The state should have taken responsibility for what happened before the people, starting a 'truly new relationship, based on trust and transparency', but this has not happened so far.
There have also been major changes in institutional management, such as the creation of the new ministries for water resources and irrigation, and the ministry of transport, to address chronic issues such as water shortages and Kazakhstan's poor logistics potential.
Anceschi notes, however, that in Central Asia, the renewal of ministries is often linked to internal reorganisations that allow some people to be eliminated and others to be placed in the foreground, and the impression that this practice is still crucial as a 'management exercise of the power elite'.
The water and logistics issue, moreover, cannot be solved by Astana on its own, as it is a regional problem.
The expert believes that the still rather involuted phase of the 'changing of the guard' between the caste linked to Nazarbayev and the new ruling class should be followed closely, so much so that 'joint research on this aspect is being carried out with colleagues from Finland'.
Researchers, along with journalists, tend to emphasise the most sensational events such as those of the 'bloody January', a moment of rupture between a 'before' and an 'after'.
The changes, however, do not come about immediately and uniformly, although there are glaring examples such as the arrest and conviction of the former head of the security services, Karim Masimov. Many others of the old guard who had been sidelined, moreover, have returned to their posts.
Several of Nazarbaev's men also resurface in the new appointments, and according to Anceschi, 'to this day we do not see a team clearly linked to Tokaev', who himself came to power in 2019 as his predecessor's dauphin.
Rather, the current presidency appears to be 'the fruit of collective efforts to preserve Kazakhstan's authoritarian regime', and not the result of 'personalism': Tokaev does not appear to be the one boss making all the decisions, but the focus of a continuous 'caste recycling', and it is not surprising that the bulk of the previous ruling class, starting with Nazarbaev himself, quietly supports the current president.
Anceschi hopes to see unleashed, sooner or later, 'that energy that sustains real periods of change': there is no crisis going on in Kazakhstan, but 'Kazakh society as a whole is not having its best of times', waiting to see how the whole of Eurasia will evolve after the catastrophe of the Russian war in Ukraine.