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Resignation of Dariga Nazarbayeva: Expansion of Tokayev’s Power or A Race for Power?

Political analysts of Kazakhstan explain this decision differently and suggest versions of further prospects.


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Kazakhstan President Kassym Zhomart-Tokayev signed the decree on termination of powers of the chair of the Senate Dariga Nazarbayeva.

“The powers of the deputy of the parliament’s senate of the Republic of Kazakhstan Dariga Nursultanovna Nazarbayeva have been terminated by decree of the head of state,” the message said.

Maulen Ashimbaev, who was the first deputy head of the presidential administration, has become the new speaker of the upper house of parliament.

The eldest daughter of ex-president Nursultan Nazarbayev has become the head of the Senate just over a year ago – the next day after her father resigned on March 19, 2019.

On August 12, Kassym Zhomart-Tokayev reappointed Dariga Nazarbayeva as deputy due to the expiration of the term of her office and on September 2 she was re-elected as the speaker of the parliament’s Senate.

A neat scheme or a surprise?

According to the Kazakhstan Constitution, the office of the Speaker of the Senate is the second important post after the office of the president. By the time of resignation of the first president, many experts thought Tokayev was a transitional option, while Dariga Nazarbayeva was the key candidate for the office of the president. However, the recent news has taken many by surprise. Moreover, a few interesting suggestions have been announced by her recently about the lockdown and post-lockdown period.

Kazbek Beisebaev. Photo: matritca.kz

“Recently, the ex-speaker of the senate has behaved as if she were the head of state. Let’s recall her recent statements about leaving the military personnel after the state of emergency is over. A few months before, she was discussing the issues in Moscow that were not within her competence. Some media have represented the chair of the Senate as the president. So, what happened was inevitable,” said former diplomat Kazbek Beisebaev.

According to him, the president made this decision because resignation took place on a holiday when everyone was relaxed. However, most probably Nursultan Nazarbayev was made aware of this decision in advance.

Political analyst Talgat Mamyraiymov shares the same opinion. According to him, the resignation of Nazarbayeva is somewhat a political strategy to “comfort” the public and some members of elite.

However, political analyst and co-founder of Oyan Kazakhstan movement, Dimash Alzhanov, thinks the dismissal of Dariga Nazarbayeva was demonstrative and this decision was made by Nazarbayev with the involvement of the opposition. Family scandals with her son that were widely covered by the media had a negative impact on her status in her father’s eyes.

Dariga Nazarbayeva. Photo: tengrinews.kz

A race for power?

Some political analysts think the race for power is gaining momentum, while others think the transition of power is finally over. 

Photo courtesy of Yerkin Baidarov

“I think it’s just the beginning. And after a while we’ll hear about new appointments and reshuffles. The removal of Dariga Nazarbayeva does not mean her political activity is over. Moreover, it can mean that she will be offered a new post with a “reset” option. There are many options. She could be an ambassador to Russia, a prime minister, a chief of the Security Council, deputy of the head of the ruling party, etc.,” political analyst Yerkin Baidarov said noting that any of these posts can be seen as a new milestone in the political biography of Dariga Nazarbayeva on her way to the pinnacle of power.

According to the expert, the race for power is gaining momentum. There are plenty of supporters of the ex-president who are loyal personally to him and owe their status to him. Tokayev has few such people.

Talgat Mamyraiymov. Photo: camonitor.kz

In turn, political analyst Talgat Mamyraiymov thinks that the race for power began last year, and the resignation of Dariga Nazarbayeva is a sign of the acute phase of the race.

“Nazarbayev might think that Dariga, one of his closest relatives, would not be able to protect his interests in future in politics. Therefore, he might want to change the camp of his “followers.” It means that Dariga would probably have other functions in the new political structure of power, where the parliament will be making the structure of the government and monitoring its operations. However, it is possible that another close relative of Nazarbayev would climb the political ladder,” Mamyrayimov said.

Dimash Alzhanov. Photo: voxpopuli.kz

But political analyst Alzhanov emphasised that the key issue was that Kazakhstan had no formal rules and procedures of political race and transition of power. Elections as a mechanism of peaceful transition of power are not functioning, while the public political activity is prohibited.

“In this situation, intrigues and behind-the-scenes struggle dominate. We don’t even know all participants that have some impact on political decision-makers. Formal institutions have lost their importance, and family members hold key positions, and their relations and conflicts have shaped the political agenda” co-founder of the Oyan Kazakhstan said.

Nursultan Nazarbayev and his daughter Dariga, 2016. Photo: Reuters

What is going to happen with Dariga Nazarbayeva?

Andrei Chebotarev. Photo: spp.almau.edu.kz

Director of the Alternative Centre of Relevant Studies Andrei Chebotarev noted that at the end of 2019 there were some reasons to expect that Dariga Nazarbayeva was prepared for the post of the chair of Nur Otan party and for further participation in future parliamentary election on behalf of the party and possible transfer to the Mazhilis either with the new convocation of this house or at the expiry of her office in the Senate.

“At least, this position in current conditions seems more reliable than that of an appointed senator. At first, the session announced by the leader of Nur Otan last autumn was cancelled and then the extended session of the Political Board, where the decision on transfer of chair in the party could have been voiced, was cancelled. Nevertheless, such transfer is possible before the year is out. There’s only one question – who will lead the party, the head of state or ex-chair of the Senate? The transfer of the post of the chair of Nur Otan to Tokayev is logically possible in terms of the staged transition of power and strengthening of his position as the successor of Yelbasy,” Chebotarev said.

Another option in favour of Dariga Nazarbayeva, according to the expert, would be her return to the government as vice prime minister.

“However, I don’t rule out the possibility that the dismissal of Nazarbayeva from the Senate is the result of the conflict inside elites that somehow affected the assets controlled by her and her inner circle or interests of other special interest groups. In this case, it is either another preventive measure, or avoidance of the actions of opponents, which took place in the past,” Chebotarev said.

According to experts, further activity of the eldest daughter of ex-president in the political field of the country can be undefined for some time.

“Recently, Dariga Nazarbayeva has acquired much experience of a public official. She can use this experience further. Therefore, as I’ve already said, we’ll see her in a new position. However, anything can happen both in the life of the political elite and country in general in the times when everything is illusive and when there’s conflict between the “clans” and their preferences,” Yerkin Baidarov said.

In general, experts noted that biography of Nazarbayeva shows that she gets back after troubles and lull, either on her own or at the suggestion of her father, and is full of energy. Thus, the political biography of Dariga Nazarbayeva is not over yet.

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