«A belief that the second president is a resigned executor of the will of the first is widespread in Kazakh society. But this is a philistine look. If so, Elbasy would not rebuild the party of power encroaching on the current presidential vertical», – Askar Mashaev, Kazakhstan observer, notes in his article for CABAR.asia.
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The issue on where the National Council of Public Trust (hereafter ‘NCPT’) will lead the country, emerges as an important question in Kazakh politics. At first sight, if you might think that Elbasy (First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – editor’s note) Nursultan Nazarbayev is still in full control of the decision-making process, then the role of the NCPT is undesirable for its members in the first place – to let off steam in society and drive out street protests in the negotiations format. And here everything is more or less clear: the NCPT members will discuss burning issues and, as a result, will propose a reform package that will be lost either in bureaucratic offices or in parliament.
The NCPT role becomes ambiguous if we accept the fact that the political system grows more complex. We already have two political decision-making centers instead of one – Akorda and the Library. The second power vertical is approaching: at the last extended meeting of the Nur Otan political council, Elbasy ordered his comrades-in-arms to restructure party work so that the party turns into a leading and directing force that would oversee the actions of the executive branch.
New platform for new games
The Tokaev’s NCPT is not the only dialogue platform where the authorities tried to develop new game rules. But the main difference between the Tokayev’s NCPT and the previous ones is another political context.
The previous dialogue platforms were used to ensure a stability in the regime amidst a split in the elites. Recall: at the end of 2001, young senior officials and businessmen created the “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan” (hereafter ‘DCK’), thus, the intra-system conflict spilled out. The elite split reached a dangerous point when DCK leaders were sentenced to real prison terms. In order to regain absolute control over the political situation, a permanent meeting was created in November of 2002 to draft proposals for further democratization and development of civil society (hereafter ‘PM’).
The next split of the elites is associated with the name of Zharmakhan Tuyakbai – a person absolutely from the system. The former speaker of the Mazhilis (lower house of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan – editor’s note) After the parliamentary elections of 2004, joining the opposition, he headed the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces. Akorda reacted quickly and in accordance with a well-established scheme: a month later, there was an establishment of the National Commission on Democracy and Civil Society under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (hereafter ‘NCD’). Both the PM and the NCD ensured the regime stability, although formally they were established for democratic transformations.
A new dialogue platform appeared in 2006 – the State Commission for the Development and Concretization of the Democratic Reforms Program. It was used to strengthen the position of then President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The head of state received the right to membership in political parties, legislative initiative, the dissolution of not only the entire parliament, but also the lower house separately, as well as the dissolution of maslikhat at any level. The number of senators appointed by the head of state increased from 7 to 15. The main “democratic reform” following the results of the Commission’s work was when the first president of the country was given the right to run for presidency as many times as he wished.
However, the political context of 2006-2007 favored the strengthening of Nursultan Nazarbayev: the demoralized opposition could not skillfully resist the enhanced authority, economic success due to high oil prices made the population of Kazakhstan apolitical. The Tokaev’s NCPT appeared in a completely different context: the Kazakh economy is not in the best shape, street protests are multiplying, and most importantly, the political system is gradually moving towards the duumvirate.
Nur Otan 2.0 vs NCPT
A belief that the second president is a resigned executor of the will of the first is widespread in Kazakh society. But this is a philistine look. If so, Elbasy would not rebuild the party in power encroaching on the current presidential vertical. On August 21, 2019, at an extended meeting of the political council Nur Otan, its leader, while reminding all ministers and akims that they are primarily party nominees, ordered to actively intervene in the work of the authorities in the center and in the localities.
The Nur Otan reboot program assumes that the government will coordinate all major bills with the party’s faction. The government and the party in a single bundle must account for their work to citizens. The party control committee was ordered to clean the ranks – keep in mind that each high-level official is a Nurotanovite [member of Nur Otan party].
Now the party’s branch does not criticize the work of local authorities, since the akim is the chairman of the Nur Otan’s local branch. It is ordered to leave this practice. In other words, there is a plan on a structure like the Soviet one, when the party controlled the executive branch. But the question here is not on the complexity of reloading the party according to Soviet patterns.
The main political conclusion from the new role of Nur Otan is that Elbasy is going to intervene in the operational work of the executive branch. Although initially Elbasy and the second president divided the areas of responsibility: the current head of state is responsible for the economic and social bloc, Nazarbayev’s domain is security, foreign policy, geopolitics, etc.
Mr. Tokaev somehow aaccepted the challenge. For example, recently he did not introduce the new speaker Dariga Nazarbayev to the Senate, the head of the presidential administration carried out this honorable mission. There is a violation of the eastern politeness. It is worth paying attention to one more detail: the first NCPT meeting was postponed several times, and political ^elegram channels wrote about the president’s refusal to participate in his work.
Five confidence points
Nevertheless, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev himself opened the first NCPT meeting. The intrigue in Council’s work was presented by a political modernization group. They proposed initiation of reforms with the liberalization of the five acts. Let alone, such a reform beats the stability of the Nazarbayev regime and the Nur Otan’s party monopoly.The first meeting of the NCPT. Photo: akorda.kz
Freedom of rallies and demonstrations, media freedom consitute elements that undermine the Nazarbayev regime. Now, in order to organize a political action, it is necessary to obtain permission from local authorities, which, in turn, systematically refuse political activists to do so. The NCPT members suggest altering the law on rallies so that citizens can attend peaceful demonstrations only by notifying the authorities. For defamation, a journalist can now get a real prison term. The NCPT members propose decriminalizing the article on defamation and expanding the pre-trial settlement of disputes.
By the way, at an extended meeting of the Nur Otan political council, which was held two weeks before the NCPT first meeting, Elbasy advised his party comrades to initiate a law that would increase the punishment for defamation.
Nur Otan’s party monopoly is undermined on such proposals as returning to a mixed election system (half of the deputies are elected in a single electoral district by party lists, the other half in single-mandate constituencies), lowering the threshold for political parties in the Majilis (now only those parties that overcame the seven percent barrier can get to the Majilis), the abolition of elections to maslikhats on party lists and a return to self-nominees.
Again, at an extended meeting of the Nur Otan political council, its leader made it clear that the election of deputies would be held according to party lists, no self-nominees would be admitted to any representative body.
Blow from the dead NCPT
If Elbasy starts to play raising the rates, you should expect an information attack on the NCPT. And the Council has many weaknesses, its membership is one. The NCPT includes 44 people selected by the presidential administration according to criteria known only to them. In other words, the NCPT members, the body developed to increase public trust, themselves do not have a trust mandate.
Another weakness: the membership of the council does not reflect the national profile of society; moreover, the majority of the NCPT members represent only two capitals; the interests of other regions are not considered. In addition, some people are vulnerable in terms of personal PR – over the years of active political work, they have accumulated a fair collection of skeletons in the closet. This all can be used to discredit the Tokayev’s NCPT.
But there is a better practical solution: a package of liberal reforms from the NCPT will be rejected by parliament, most of which is controlled by Nur Otan. And here it is up to the incumbent president. Will he raise the rates? For instance, will he accuse the parliament of antidemocratic moods, will he quit the party of power and commence to try on the role of the “father of Kazakh democracy”. Thus, even after its death, NCPT will help the second president strengthen his position. For Mr. Tokaev, who does not have his own team, public support is the only trump card in the political struggle.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.
1) Chebotarev A. (2015) Political thought of sovereign Kazakhstan2) Svoik P. (2018) Fragments of the history of power and opposition in Kazakhstan strung on their own lives 3) V. Kovtunovsky “Chronicles of dual power” (https://www.facebook.com/vkovtunovskiy) 4) On the ongoing Meeting on the development of proposals for further democratization and development of civil society, https://tengrinews.kz/zakon/pravitelstvo_respubliki_kazahstan_premer_ministr_rk/konstitutsionnyiy_stroy_i_osnovyi_gosudarstvennogo_upraviya/3939_upraviya 5) About the National Commission on Democracy and Civil Society under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, https://tengrinews.kz/zakon/prezident_respubliki_kazahstan/konstitutsionnyiy_stroy_i_osnovyi_gosudarstvennogo_upravleniya/id-U040001467_/ 6) Let’s talk seriously, https://expertonline.kz/a16063/