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Erlan Karin, the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan role and position in political power system

photo: 7kun.kz
17 June 2024

Almost Vice-President

Officially the position of the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RoK) as it looks now appeared during the constitutional reform of 2022. A series of important changes were then introduced into the political power system of Kazakhstan: the Higher Audit Chamber was created instead of the Audit Committee, and the Constitutional Court instead of the Constitutional Council. The status of Elbasy and Leader of the Nation was terminated for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first RoK President, now he is viewed as the founder of independent Kazakhstan. The mechanisms for the parliament forming and operating changed, the institute of the human-rights ombudsperson appeared, and many other things [1]. In accordance with the amendments and supplements to the Constitution, the State Secretary position was cancelled, and the new position was established the State Counsellor. Simultaneously, Erlan Karin, the incumbent State Secretary, was appointed to this new position. Hence, Karin was the last State Secretary of RoK and the first new State Counsellor, while he remained the main ideologist of Ak-Orda.

Let us remind here that initially the position of the State Secretary was founded by RoK Constitution in 1995. One could see in this both a tribute the post-Soviet fashion of copying Western political structures and severe «operational» necessity. It turned out that for the post-Soviet states the position of the Vice-President in the political power system turned out to be a source of many problems and event attempts to create a parallel power center. In Russian recent history we all remember very well the story with Alexander Rutskoy, the battlefield general and Vice-President and «the hot October» of 1993; for Erik Asanbayev, the Vice-President of Kazakhstan, the situation was less dramatic. In essence, the new position of the State Secretary was to substitute for the eliminated Vice-President, and the assigned functions were mainly in public relations. It should be noted right away that the formal functions and real powers varied between different State Secretaries of RoK, just like their political capital and professional favors of these political heavyweights.

Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst from Kazakhstan, comments: «the story of this position demonstrated that its specific status was changing constantly based on personal factors, current political situation and relations between the State Secretary, the President and the Head of the Administration. In essence, there were two main functions of the State Secretary, which periodically were interchanging: heading the ideological bloc and «assuring the balance» [2]. For quite some time, the Kazakhstan authorities were searching for the optimal model of division of powers at the very upper level due to very close intertwinement of functions between the Head of the Presidential Administration, the State Secretary and Presidential aids. For this reason, there were times when very insignificant duties and just representative functions were assigned to the position of the State Secretary in order to avoid conflicts within the political power system. On the restated version of RoK Constitution based on the proposal by the Head of the State and the members of the task force this conflict capacity was eliminated. After renaming of this position its history is reset, and currently the State Counsellor will be charge of developing recommendations on strategic issues for the Head of the State.

New chronology

The total of politicians with the status of State Secretaries in the recent history of Kazakhstan amounts to 13; there were two Acting State Secretaries (Karim Massimov and Nurlan Nigmatullin), and Marat Tajin held this position twice.

The State Secretaries of Kazakhstan and their terms:

1. Akhmetjan Essimov (4 March 1996 24 October 1996).

2. Abish Kekilbayev (30 October 1996 29 January 2002).

3. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (29 January 2002 13 June 2003).

4. Imangali Tasmagambetov (13 June 2003 9 March 2004).

5. Oralbay Abdykarimov (10 March 2004 15 May 2007).

6. Kanat Saudabayev (15 May 2007 23 January 2012).

7. Muhtar Kul-Muhammed (23 January 2012 16 January 2013).

8. Marat Tajin (16 January 2013 21 January 2014).

9. Acting Karim Massimov (21 January 2014 2 April 2014).

10. Adilbek Dzhaksybekov (2 April 2014 22 October 2014).

11. Acting Nurlan Nigmatullin (22 October 2014 11 November 2014).

12. Gulshara Abykalikova (11 November 2014 25 February 2019).

13. Bakhytdzhan Sagintayev (1 March 2019 24 March 2019).

14. Marat Tajin (24 March 2019 18 September 2019).

15. Krymbek Kusherbayev (18 September 2019 5 January 2022).

16. Erlan Karin (5 January 2022 present).

Regional experts claim that the position of the State Secretary and the assigned powers were established specifically for Akhmetjan Essimov, the close ally of Nursultan Nazarbayev and his informal deputy. The political heavyweight Akhmetjan Essimov is the most experienced politician and the most successful administrator in the history of Kazakhstan. Essimov held practically all higher positions in the country, was responsible for the most difficult areas. For decades he was believed to be the successor of the head of the State. By virtue of a dedicated Presidential Decree, Essimov with his status of the State Secretary was above the Administration of the President and the entire Presidential bloc, he supervised some Commissions with the President together with the National Security Committee, the State Investigative Committee, the General Prosecutors Office, the Audit Committee, etc. After Essimov left the government, mainly PR functions were assigned to the following State Secretaries together with chairing various boards and committees; their responsibilities also included such a vague point as «developing proposals on the main areas of domestic and foreign policy». Sometimes such position was used as a «political foster home» or as a consolation prize for ex-Prime-Ministers (Tokayev, Tasmagambetov) and ex-speaker of the Senate Abdykarimov.

Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst, developed a study of how the powers of the State Secretary were adjusted for specific personalities holding this position and for their political interests. When the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and then Kanat Saudabayev held the positions of the State Secretaries, the foreign affairs bloc was gaining importance. During the terms of Imangali Tasmagambetov Muhtar Kul-Muhammed and Marat Tajin, the domestic policy was more important, and the ideological component strengthened. When Adilbek Dzhaksybekov held this position, he insisted on including the issues of defence and defence industry, as well as the issues of culture and sports in the functions of the State Secretary. Gulshara Abykalikova was the first woman holding the position of the State Secretary, and then she expanded her protocol-related functions, and the defence issues were removed from her powers; at the same time, the family and demographic issues were added. During the term of Krymbek Kusherbayev the foreign policy issues were removed, just like the supervision of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies. And finally, when Erlan Karin was appointed to this position, developing strategic proposals in the domestic policy sphere became the main function of the State Secretary [3].

Official powers

Decree No. 927 of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan «On the status and powers of the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan, amendments to some decrees of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and cancelling some decrees of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan» dated 14 June 2022 sets the official powers for this position in the following way:

1. The State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan (hereinafter «the State Counsellor») is a public official of the Republic of Kazakhstan appointed to this position and removed from this position by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

2. The State Counsellor shall exercise his/her activities under direct guidance of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, shall be subordinate and accountable to the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

3. Constitution and statutes of the Republic of Kazakhstan, this Decree and other acts of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall constitute the legal framework for the activities of the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

4. The State Counsellor shall exercise the following powers:

1) develop strategic proposals in the sphere of domestic policy for the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan;
2) represent the interests of the Head of the State based on his/her assignment:

  • in interacting with the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan and its chambers, other government agencies, political parties and public associations;
  • In foreign relations;

3) coordinate the activities:

  • in social and humanitarian spheres: education, science, culture and sports;
  • of consulting and advisory bodies to the Head of the State: Commission on counteracting corruption; Commission for national awards; Commission on citizenship issues; Republican Commission on symbols of state and heraldry; Republican Commission on education and training of specialists abroad; Commission on awarding the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the sphere of science and technology named after al-Farabi; Commission on awarding the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the sphere of literature and art named after Abai; National Commission on implementing the program of social conscience modernization; Government Commission on complete rehabilitation of the victims of political repression; National Congress and the Youth Policy Council;

4) supervise the activities of Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies with the President of RoK, coordinate the activities of government analytical agencies in the sphere of social development;
5) coordinate the awarding of the grant «Tauelsizdik Urpaqtary»;
6) exercise other powers in accordance with the assignments of the President of RoK.

5. To exercise the powers established in this Decree, the State Counsellor is entitled to:

1) issue instructions;
2) give assignments to central and local executive agencies on the issues within his/her sphere of competence;
3) attend the meetings of RoK government and consulting/advisory boards with the head of the state;
4) request and receive the required information, documents and other materials from government agencies and public officials on the issues within his/her sphere of competence;
5) establish inter-departmental task forces to draft legal acts of the President of RoK on the issues within his/her sphere of competence, as well as for solving other tasks set by the head of the states.

6. The Administration of the President of RoK shall provide organizational, legal, information, analytical and other support to the State Counsellor [4].

Political biography

Erlan Tynymbayuly Karin was born on 26 May 1976 in Aksu village of Sairam district of Southern Kazakhstan Region (former Chimkent Region). His father Tynymbay Tolepbayuly (born in1941) and mother Nesipkul Badaubekovna (born in1952) brought up four children. Erlan Karin has two elder brothers Shokan (born in 1971) and Bekturgan (born in 1973) and sister Aynash (born in 1978). Erlan Karin is married, his wife Zulfia Didakhmetovna gave birth to two daughters Ayjan (born in 2001), Amina (born in 2002), and a son Beknazar (born in 2005). The State Counsellor has free command of three languages Kazakh, Russian and English.

Erlan Karin graduated from the Aktyubinsk University named after H. Zhubanov (1996) with specialization «teacher of history and geography». In 1999 he graduated from Kazakh State University named after al-Farabi, where he went through the post-graduate studies of the Department of Philosophy and Political Studies. He is a Candidate of Political Sciences, the topic of his thesis is «The domestic policy aspects of the national security of Kazakhstan» (1999, in Kazakh).

He started his professional life in 1992-1997 as a teacher of history and geography in secondary school No.33 of the city of Akhtobe, later he taught at the Aktyubinsk university, was the editor-in-chief of the Aktyubinsk University journal and a political analyst of Diapason newspaper. In 1997-1998, Erlan Karin was a political analyst in the Vremya po newspaper. Then, in 1998-2000 he became a senior research associate of the Center for Political Studies of the Kazakhstan Development Institute, the Vice-Rector of Almaty branch of Moscow Social University, Deputy Director of the Institute of Russia and China. In 2000-2003, Karin was the Director of Central Asia Agency for Political Studies.

The breaking point in his career was 2003 when Erlan Karin took the position of the First Deputy of the new political party Asar, in fact being its chief ideologist. Let us remind here that Asar party was founded by Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of President Nazarbayev. Simultaneously, in 2004-2006, he was the General Director of the International Institute for Modern Politics, and then the Director of the Anti-Terrorist Programs Center and the head of the expert team on Kyrgyzstan. During those years, Karin was also building working relations with two influential politicians Karim Massimov, the Prime Minister, and Nurtay Abykayev, the Chairman of the Committee for National Security.

Karin was quite closely affiliated with the security, defence and law enforcement agencies. The titles of his thesis and the titles of his books provide quite telling evidence: Soldiers of Khalifat: Myths and Realities (2014); Between ISIS* and Al-Kaida*: Guerillas from Central Asia in the Syrian War (2017), co-author with Jacob Zenn; Successor or Succession? Transferring power in Kazakhstan (2014); Balbaltas. From the Orkhon River to the Caspian Sea» (2013). Erlan Karin was also an active adept of Marcial Arts and supervised their development in Kazakhstan. He was the President of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of RoK, the member of the Executive Committee of the Karate Federation of RoK and of a number of other Marcial Arts organizations.

In 2006-2008, Erlan Karin took the position of the political advisor to the Akim of Mangistau Region and became very close to Krymbek Kusherbayev, a political heavyweight. The popular opinion is that they both represent the Junior Juz, and Karin himself comes from Adai clan. Another useful acquaintance from those years Nurlan Nigmatullin, an influential politician, who was, among other things, the head of the Administration of the President of Kazakhstan. Let us emphasize that in February-November 2008 Karin headed the Domestic Policy Sector of the Administration. Starting from November 2008 until August 2013, he was the Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party Nur-Otan, which was also headed by Nurlan Nigmatullin.

In December 2013, Erlan Karin goes to the United States as a visiting professor of the American University in Washington D.C. Upon coming back from October 2014 to February 2017 he occupied a prestigious position of the Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies with the President of RoK. In February there was a new rise in his career: he was appointed the Chairman of the Board of a major media holding JSC RTRK Kazakhstan. From now on, Karins career continued exclusively in the top echelons of power. From 5 April 2019 to 30 July 2020, he was the advisor to the President of RoK, head of the Analysis and Forecast Center with the Administration of the President of RoK. From 30 July 2020 the Presidential Aid. On 5 January 2022 (during the time of the tragic January events, when Karin demonstrated strong support of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev) he was appointed the State Secretary of RoK. Starting from 2022 Karin is the incumbent State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Today, Erlan Karin is positioned as the chief ideologist and strategist of Ak-Orda. Here is a list of some of his other positions: Chairman of the Board of the Kazakhstan Association of Political Studies, member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Chairman of the Kazakhstan Board for International Relations (starting from May 2017); Secretary of the National Council for Public Trust with the President of RoK (starting from 17 July 2019), Deputy Chairman of the National Kurultai of the Republic of Kazakhstan (starting from 14 June 2022). His peers are characterizing him as an excellent organizer, knowledgeable political technologist, easy and calm in communicating and demonstrating careful attitude to national specialists.

Karin was awarded the following orders: Kurmet (2010), Dostyk of the 2nd degree (2019), Barys of the 2nd degree (2022), several anniversary medals (2012, 2016, 2019) [5].

Claim for leadership

On 5 June 2024, Erlan Karin published a strategic article «Consolidation and Development» in the leading state newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda; it had a cross-heading: «Conceptual framework for the policy of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev» [6]. In this article, the State Counsellor highlighted the key milestones of the Presidential policy. Erlan Karin emphasized that a universal concept of Justice lies in the foundation of the modern Kazakh ideology. Respectively, the key ideologeme of the currently implemented policy is a new ideological concept of «Just Kazakhstan». The ideologist of Ak-Orda focuses on the fact that the community demand and the vision of government coincided in the idea of justice. In this aspect, Just Kazakhstan became the consolidating idea for the entire society. «Just Kazakhstan is simultaneously the kernel of the state ideology and the objective of the government policy, as well as the image of the future in the public perception», the State Counsellor emphasized. The analysts say that the term «Just Kazakhstan» is repeated 36 times in Karins text, and «New Kazakhstan» only once.

Erlan Karin also wrote about the concept of the New Ideological Platform. He emphasized that starting from 2019 there were five basic concepts underpinning the policy of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. «The first concept is «Different opinions united nation» provides an answer to the question «WHAT is Justice and Just Kazakhstan?», the State Counsellor wrote. The second concept of the «Hearing State» defines, HOW should Justice be established through the effective feedback from the public. The third concept «Law and Order» determines the choice of methods and means for establishing justice, i.e., provides an answer to the question «WHAT IS THE WAY to establish Justice?». The fourth concept is «Strong President strong Parliament accountable Government» sets the institutional framework for Just Kazakhstan, i.e., provides an answer to the question «WHAT should Just Kazakhstan LOOK LIKE?». And the fifth concept, «Adal Azamat», defines the visible contours of the spiritual and ethical development of our society and further evolution of the civil society answering the question of «WHO shapes the Just Kazakhstan?».

In his article, among other things, Erlan Karin defined «the red lines», which may trigger certain response on behalf of the government. The State Counsellor emphasized that there are adherers of different political views: liberals, socialists, conservatives, the rightists, the leftists, centrists. However, in the process of pluralism development it is important to be focused, first of all, on the general national interests. «The so-called redline should be defined for public discussions. Crossing this redline leads to the risks for national stability and contradicts to the general national interests. The red lines are not a taboo, nor censorship, nor a prohibition to discuss certain topics and issues. This is an appeal for maintaining correctness and restraint in political discussions», Erlan Karin emphasized. This quite tough part of the publication caused furious reaction in the opposition media and social media. It is not quite clear from the voluminous text of the article, where exactly such red lines will be drawn, and that was the fact that caused controversial response of Kazakhstan mass media [7].

The State Counsellor claimed that the public figures, especially the activists, media, bloggers, etc. should not allow for any societal polarization and for escalation of conflicts on such sensitive topics as inter-ethnic relations and the language issue; religious relations; foreign policy issues. At the same time Erlan Karin emphasized that the red lines «are not a taboo, nor censorship, nor a prohibition to discuss certain topics and issues. This is an appeal for maintaining correctness and restraint in political discussions». Russian media immediately noted that the State Counsellor of Kazakhstan Erlan Karin raised his voice against xenophobia and nationalism [8]. This was a slight correction to the image of the chief ideologist of Ak-Orda, the image of «the patron of Kazkah nationalists and Russophobes» already developed in certain Russian media. On the contrary, Kazakhstan media saw certain cues about Russian propagandists attacking the Republic of Kazakhstan. «We need not to take the bait and fakes from outside, we should not follow foreign information and ideological agendas, we need to focus exclusively on our domestic issues. The domestic agenda is no «against anyone or anything», it is «for the sake» and «for the benefit», the State Counsellor concluded.

Kazakhstan experts and analysts believe Karins article to be a strong claim for ideological and political leadership. Within his career and professional development, the State Counsellor is getting ready to repeat, as a minimum, the success of Marat Tajin, the ideologist, who over the recent years was considered to be «the last and the main intellectual of Kazakhstan». The voluminous article of the State Counsellor is meant to set the new «sense matrix», which will be determining the ideology of national and state building of Kazakhstan for a long time. In his publication, Erlan Karin appears as a loyal continuer of the policy of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev focused on building the «Just Kazakhstan». For the first time in many years the foreign policy issues were analyzed. The well-balanced multi-vector policy implemented by Kazakhstan is the most optimal policy with account of the geopolitical position of the country and national interests, one of the high-ranking public officials stated. All this represents the evidence of Karins ambitions going much further than the current status of the «chief ideologist» and being focused on the Presidential chair in future.

Problems and solutions

As we mentioned earlier, the position of the State Secretary was introduced by the Constitution of Kazakhstan of 1995, and had no strictly defined powers, which were defined each time for a specific political figure. Due to this convincing reason, the package of Constitutional reforms in 2022 included the amendment of re-naming the position of the State Secretary into the State Counsellor for detailing the status and the functions. After Erlan Karin came into this position, his main function was defined as developing the strategic proposals for the President on domestic policies. As we can see, today the zone of responsibility of the State Counsellor also includes foreign policy issues, and many other things. There are two explanations of this phenomenon of the «broader interpretations of functions»: the Constitutional one and the historical one. According to the Constitutional status, the position of the State Counsellor is number five in the state protocol hierarchy after the President, the Prime Minister and the speakers of the parliament chambers. This automatically brings Erlan Karin to the short-list of potential successor of President Tokayev together with Oljas Bektenov, Maulen Ashimbayev, Erlan Koshanov and Murat Nurtleu.

In essence, the PR functions are the main ones for the position of the State Secretary/ State Counsellor together with organizing the activities of a number of commissions (on awards, on citizenship, etc.) and developing recommendations for the President in certain spheres, e.g., in domestic policy. However, in the recent history of Kazakhstan we observed a rather nervous situation being repeated for several times: when the State Secretary remembered his «dormant» Constitutional duties of «almost Vice-President» and demonstrated strong ambitions. We can give an example of Kanat Saudabayev, who was not only successful in chairing OSCE, but also was demonstrating strong ambition for becoming the chief ideologist of the nation. His successors (Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed and Marat Tajin) also performed a similar role of «the chief ideologist and strategist». However, overtime all these three ambitious politicians not only lost all of their positions, but also found themselves in serious political disgrace.

This phenomenon may be explained rather easily: influential State Secretaries started behaving like demiurges and putting themselves above all other figures in political hierarchy, and after that immediately received a consolidated rebuff. It is believed that the new State Counsellor will not repeat the mistakes of the previous State Secretaries and will stay within his official powers defined by Decree No. 927 of the President of RoK dated 14 June 2022. To put it simply, he will continue «to coordinate the activities in social and humanitarian sphere: education, science, culture and sports». For example, more than a year ago Erlan Karin had a meeting with Olga Lyubimova, the RF Minister of Culture, when they discussed the interaction between the countries in the sphere of culture and arts [9]. Erlan Karin emphasized the importance of cooperation between the two countries in the sphere of culture, agreed to continue the bilateral dialogue on culture and humanities. However, nothing is known about the practical results and the effectiveness of this really relevant and useful dialogue.

If we closely look at the political practices during the recent years, we can observe a rather paradoxical situation. The State Counsellor of RoK being in charge of developing the ideology and shaping the image of the future, is now in a peculiar echo-chamber. Erlan Karin meets mainly with his Kazakhstan colleagues and is seldom communicating with Russian experts and analysts, practically does not visit the Russian Federation and has no contacts with Russian elites. Meanwhile, due to his educational background Karin should know very well that the relations between the two neighbor countries are not just history, but geography as well. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has repeated a number of times: «God created Russia and Kazakhstan as neighbors». Our countries should be looking to the future with confidence and jointly cope with the modern challenges not be moving separately with the heads turned backwards. According to his official powers, the State Counsellor of RoK «coordinates the activities of government analytical agencies in the sphere of social development», hence, he can do a lot for systemic collaboration of the RF and RoK expert and analytical centers. Such regular practice of exchange of professional opinions, social surveys and political forecasts will help to overcome the emerging communication gap between Russia and Kazakhstan. Erlan Karin, the new State Counsellor of RoK has all the capabilities for that, as well as the direct support of the President of Kazakhstan.


* ISIS and Al-Kaida are terrorist organizations prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation.

1. Tokayevs reforms: the year of big changes in Kazakhstan. Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 06.12.2023. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/reformy-tokaeva-god-bolshih-peremen-v-kazahstane-38641.shtml

2. State Counsellor instead of State Secretary: new amendments to the Constitution of Kazakhstan. Sputnik Kazakhstan, 27.04.2022. https://ru.sputnik.kz/20220427/gossovetnik-vmesto-gossekretarya-novye-popravki-v-konstitutsiyu-kazakhstana-24481267.html

3. About one strange position. Nomad, 12.10.2021. https://nomad.su/?a=3-202110120036

4. Erlan Tynymbayuly Karin, the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Official website of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 14.06.2022. https://www.akorda.kz/ru/gosudarstvennyy-sekretar-respubliki-kazahstan-karin-erlan-tynymbaevich-502738

5. Erlan Tynymbayuly Karin (personal background information). Zakon.kz. https://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30161717&pos=1;-16#pos=1;-16

6. Consolidation and development. Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, 05.06.2024. https://kazpravda.kz/n/konsolidatsiya-i-razvitie/

7. A lot of justice and red lines for media: Erlan Karin published a strategic article. Orda.kz, 05.06.2024. https://orda.kz/mnogo-spravedlivosti-i-krasnye-linii-dlja-smi-erlan-karin-opublikoval-programmnuju-statju-387298/

8. Erlan Karin, the State Counsellor of Kazakhstan, makes a stand against xenophobia and nationalism. Sputnik Kazakhstan, 05.06.2024. https://ru.sputnik.kz/20240605/gossovetnik-kazakhstana-erlan-karin-vystupil-protiv-ksenofobii-i-natsionalizma-44792787.html

9. The State Counsellor of Kazakhstan and the RF Minister of Culture discussed bilateral cooperation. TASS, 02.03.2023. https://tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/17183073

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Reports

Erlan Karin, the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan role and position in political power system

photo: 7kun.kz
17 2024

Almost Vice-President

Officially the position of the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RoK) as it looks now appeared during the constitutional reform of 2022. A series of important changes were then introduced into the political power system of Kazakhstan: the Higher Audit Chamber was created instead of the Audit Committee, and the Constitutional Court instead of the Constitutional Council. The status of Elbasy and Leader of the Nation was terminated for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first RoK President, now he is viewed as the founder of independent Kazakhstan. The mechanisms for the parliament forming and operating changed, the institute of the human-rights ombudsperson appeared, and many other things [1]. In accordance with the amendments and supplements to the Constitution, the State Secretary position was cancelled, and the new position was established the State Counsellor. Simultaneously, Erlan Karin, the incumbent State Secretary, was appointed to this new position. Hence, Karin was the last State Secretary of RoK and the first new State Counsellor, while he remained the main ideologist of Ak-Orda.

Let us remind here that initially the position of the State Secretary was founded by RoK Constitution in 1995. One could see in this both a tribute the post-Soviet fashion of copying Western political structures and severe «operational» necessity. It turned out that for the post-Soviet states the position of the Vice-President in the political power system turned out to be a source of many problems and event attempts to create a parallel power center. In Russian recent history we all remember very well the story with Alexander Rutskoy, the battlefield general and Vice-President and «the hot October» of 1993; for Erik Asanbayev, the Vice-President of Kazakhstan, the situation was less dramatic. In essence, the new position of the State Secretary was to substitute for the eliminated Vice-President, and the assigned functions were mainly in public relations. It should be noted right away that the formal functions and real powers varied between different State Secretaries of RoK, just like their political capital and professional favors of these political heavyweights.

Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst from Kazakhstan, comments: «the story of this position demonstrated that its specific status was changing constantly based on personal factors, current political situation and relations between the State Secretary, the President and the Head of the Administration. In essence, there were two main functions of the State Secretary, which periodically were interchanging: heading the ideological bloc and «assuring the balance» [2]. For quite some time, the Kazakhstan authorities were searching for the optimal model of division of powers at the very upper level due to very close intertwinement of functions between the Head of the Presidential Administration, the State Secretary and Presidential aids. For this reason, there were times when very insignificant duties and just representative functions were assigned to the position of the State Secretary in order to avoid conflicts within the political power system. On the restated version of RoK Constitution based on the proposal by the Head of the State and the members of the task force this conflict capacity was eliminated. After renaming of this position its history is reset, and currently the State Counsellor will be charge of developing recommendations on strategic issues for the Head of the State.

New chronology

The total of politicians with the status of State Secretaries in the recent history of Kazakhstan amounts to 13; there were two Acting State Secretaries (Karim Massimov and Nurlan Nigmatullin), and Marat Tajin held this position twice.

The State Secretaries of Kazakhstan and their terms:

1. Akhmetjan Essimov (4 March 1996 24 October 1996).

2. Abish Kekilbayev (30 October 1996 29 January 2002).

3. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (29 January 2002 13 June 2003).

4. Imangali Tasmagambetov (13 June 2003 9 March 2004).

5. Oralbay Abdykarimov (10 March 2004 15 May 2007).

6. Kanat Saudabayev (15 May 2007 23 January 2012).

7. Muhtar Kul-Muhammed (23 January 2012 16 January 2013).

8. Marat Tajin (16 January 2013 21 January 2014).

9. Acting Karim Massimov (21 January 2014 2 April 2014).

10. Adilbek Dzhaksybekov (2 April 2014 22 October 2014).

11. Acting Nurlan Nigmatullin (22 October 2014 11 November 2014).

12. Gulshara Abykalikova (11 November 2014 25 February 2019).

13. Bakhytdzhan Sagintayev (1 March 2019 24 March 2019).

14. Marat Tajin (24 March 2019 18 September 2019).

15. Krymbek Kusherbayev (18 September 2019 5 January 2022).

16. Erlan Karin (5 January 2022 present).

Regional experts claim that the position of the State Secretary and the assigned powers were established specifically for Akhmetjan Essimov, the close ally of Nursultan Nazarbayev and his informal deputy. The political heavyweight Akhmetjan Essimov is the most experienced politician and the most successful administrator in the history of Kazakhstan. Essimov held practically all higher positions in the country, was responsible for the most difficult areas. For decades he was believed to be the successor of the head of the State. By virtue of a dedicated Presidential Decree, Essimov with his status of the State Secretary was above the Administration of the President and the entire Presidential bloc, he supervised some Commissions with the President together with the National Security Committee, the State Investigative Committee, the General Prosecutors Office, the Audit Committee, etc. After Essimov left the government, mainly PR functions were assigned to the following State Secretaries together with chairing various boards and committees; their responsibilities also included such a vague point as «developing proposals on the main areas of domestic and foreign policy». Sometimes such position was used as a «political foster home» or as a consolation prize for ex-Prime-Ministers (Tokayev, Tasmagambetov) and ex-speaker of the Senate Abdykarimov.

Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst, developed a study of how the powers of the State Secretary were adjusted for specific personalities holding this position and for their political interests. When the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and then Kanat Saudabayev held the positions of the State Secretaries, the foreign affairs bloc was gaining importance. During the terms of Imangali Tasmagambetov Muhtar Kul-Muhammed and Marat Tajin, the domestic policy was more important, and the ideological component strengthened. When Adilbek Dzhaksybekov held this position, he insisted on including the issues of defence and defence industry, as well as the issues of culture and sports in the functions of the State Secretary. Gulshara Abykalikova was the first woman holding the position of the State Secretary, and then she expanded her protocol-related functions, and the defence issues were removed from her powers; at the same time, the family and demographic issues were added. During the term of Krymbek Kusherbayev the foreign policy issues were removed, just like the supervision of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies. And finally, when Erlan Karin was appointed to this position, developing strategic proposals in the domestic policy sphere became the main function of the State Secretary [3].

Official powers

Decree No. 927 of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan «On the status and powers of the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan, amendments to some decrees of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and cancelling some decrees of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan» dated 14 June 2022 sets the official powers for this position in the following way:

1. The State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan (hereinafter «the State Counsellor») is a public official of the Republic of Kazakhstan appointed to this position and removed from this position by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

2. The State Counsellor shall exercise his/her activities under direct guidance of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, shall be subordinate and accountable to the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

3. Constitution and statutes of the Republic of Kazakhstan, this Decree and other acts of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan shall constitute the legal framework for the activities of the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

4. The State Counsellor shall exercise the following powers:

1) develop strategic proposals in the sphere of domestic policy for the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan;
2) represent the interests of the Head of the State based on his/her assignment:

  • in interacting with the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan and its chambers, other government agencies, political parties and public associations;
  • In foreign relations;

3) coordinate the activities:

  • in social and humanitarian spheres: education, science, culture and sports;
  • of consulting and advisory bodies to the Head of the State: Commission on counteracting corruption; Commission for national awards; Commission on citizenship issues; Republican Commission on symbols of state and heraldry; Republican Commission on education and training of specialists abroad; Commission on awarding the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the sphere of science and technology named after al-Farabi; Commission on awarding the State Prize of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the sphere of literature and art named after Abai; National Commission on implementing the program of social conscience modernization; Government Commission on complete rehabilitation of the victims of political repression; National Congress and the Youth Policy Council;

4) supervise the activities of Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies with the President of RoK, coordinate the activities of government analytical agencies in the sphere of social development;
5) coordinate the awarding of the grant «Tauelsizdik Urpaqtary»;
6) exercise other powers in accordance with the assignments of the President of RoK.

5. To exercise the powers established in this Decree, the State Counsellor is entitled to:

1) issue instructions;
2) give assignments to central and local executive agencies on the issues within his/her sphere of competence;
3) attend the meetings of RoK government and consulting/advisory boards with the head of the state;
4) request and receive the required information, documents and other materials from government agencies and public officials on the issues within his/her sphere of competence;
5) establish inter-departmental task forces to draft legal acts of the President of RoK on the issues within his/her sphere of competence, as well as for solving other tasks set by the head of the states.

6. The Administration of the President of RoK shall provide organizational, legal, information, analytical and other support to the State Counsellor [4].

Political biography

Erlan Tynymbayuly Karin was born on 26 May 1976 in Aksu village of Sairam district of Southern Kazakhstan Region (former Chimkent Region). His father Tynymbay Tolepbayuly (born in1941) and mother Nesipkul Badaubekovna (born in1952) brought up four children. Erlan Karin has two elder brothers Shokan (born in 1971) and Bekturgan (born in 1973) and sister Aynash (born in 1978). Erlan Karin is married, his wife Zulfia Didakhmetovna gave birth to two daughters Ayjan (born in 2001), Amina (born in 2002), and a son Beknazar (born in 2005). The State Counsellor has free command of three languages Kazakh, Russian and English.

Erlan Karin graduated from the Aktyubinsk University named after H. Zhubanov (1996) with specialization «teacher of history and geography». In 1999 he graduated from Kazakh State University named after al-Farabi, where he went through the post-graduate studies of the Department of Philosophy and Political Studies. He is a Candidate of Political Sciences, the topic of his thesis is «The domestic policy aspects of the national security of Kazakhstan» (1999, in Kazakh).

He started his professional life in 1992-1997 as a teacher of history and geography in secondary school No.33 of the city of Akhtobe, later he taught at the Aktyubinsk university, was the editor-in-chief of the Aktyubinsk University journal and a political analyst of Diapason newspaper. In 1997-1998, Erlan Karin was a political analyst in the Vremya po newspaper. Then, in 1998-2000 he became a senior research associate of the Center for Political Studies of the Kazakhstan Development Institute, the Vice-Rector of Almaty branch of Moscow Social University, Deputy Director of the Institute of Russia and China. In 2000-2003, Karin was the Director of Central Asia Agency for Political Studies.

The breaking point in his career was 2003 when Erlan Karin took the position of the First Deputy of the new political party Asar, in fact being its chief ideologist. Let us remind here that Asar party was founded by Dariga Nazarbayeva, the daughter of President Nazarbayev. Simultaneously, in 2004-2006, he was the General Director of the International Institute for Modern Politics, and then the Director of the Anti-Terrorist Programs Center and the head of the expert team on Kyrgyzstan. During those years, Karin was also building working relations with two influential politicians Karim Massimov, the Prime Minister, and Nurtay Abykayev, the Chairman of the Committee for National Security.

Karin was quite closely affiliated with the security, defence and law enforcement agencies. The titles of his thesis and the titles of his books provide quite telling evidence: Soldiers of Khalifat: Myths and Realities (2014); Between ISIS* and Al-Kaida*: Guerillas from Central Asia in the Syrian War (2017), co-author with Jacob Zenn; Successor or Succession? Transferring power in Kazakhstan (2014); Balbaltas. From the Orkhon River to the Caspian Sea» (2013). Erlan Karin was also an active adept of Marcial Arts and supervised their development in Kazakhstan. He was the President of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of RoK, the member of the Executive Committee of the Karate Federation of RoK and of a number of other Marcial Arts organizations.

In 2006-2008, Erlan Karin took the position of the political advisor to the Akim of Mangistau Region and became very close to Krymbek Kusherbayev, a political heavyweight. The popular opinion is that they both represent the Junior Juz, and Karin himself comes from Adai clan. Another useful acquaintance from those years Nurlan Nigmatullin, an influential politician, who was, among other things, the head of the Administration of the President of Kazakhstan. Let us emphasize that in February-November 2008 Karin headed the Domestic Policy Sector of the Administration. Starting from November 2008 until August 2013, he was the Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party Nur-Otan, which was also headed by Nurlan Nigmatullin.

In December 2013, Erlan Karin goes to the United States as a visiting professor of the American University in Washington D.C. Upon coming back from October 2014 to February 2017 he occupied a prestigious position of the Director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies with the President of RoK. In February there was a new rise in his career: he was appointed the Chairman of the Board of a major media holding JSC RTRK Kazakhstan. From now on, Karins career continued exclusively in the top echelons of power. From 5 April 2019 to 30 July 2020, he was the advisor to the President of RoK, head of the Analysis and Forecast Center with the Administration of the President of RoK. From 30 July 2020 the Presidential Aid. On 5 January 2022 (during the time of the tragic January events, when Karin demonstrated strong support of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev) he was appointed the State Secretary of RoK. Starting from 2022 Karin is the incumbent State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Today, Erlan Karin is positioned as the chief ideologist and strategist of Ak-Orda. Here is a list of some of his other positions: Chairman of the Board of the Kazakhstan Association of Political Studies, member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Chairman of the Kazakhstan Board for International Relations (starting from May 2017); Secretary of the National Council for Public Trust with the President of RoK (starting from 17 July 2019), Deputy Chairman of the National Kurultai of the Republic of Kazakhstan (starting from 14 June 2022). His peers are characterizing him as an excellent organizer, knowledgeable political technologist, easy and calm in communicating and demonstrating careful attitude to national specialists.

Karin was awarded the following orders: Kurmet (2010), Dostyk of the 2nd degree (2019), Barys of the 2nd degree (2022), several anniversary medals (2012, 2016, 2019) [5].

Claim for leadership

On 5 June 2024, Erlan Karin published a strategic article «Consolidation and Development» in the leading state newspaper Kazakhstanskaya Pravda; it had a cross-heading: «Conceptual framework for the policy of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev» [6]. In this article, the State Counsellor highlighted the key milestones of the Presidential policy. Erlan Karin emphasized that a universal concept of Justice lies in the foundation of the modern Kazakh ideology. Respectively, the key ideologeme of the currently implemented policy is a new ideological concept of «Just Kazakhstan». The ideologist of Ak-Orda focuses on the fact that the community demand and the vision of government coincided in the idea of justice. In this aspect, Just Kazakhstan became the consolidating idea for the entire society. «Just Kazakhstan is simultaneously the kernel of the state ideology and the objective of the government policy, as well as the image of the future in the public perception», the State Counsellor emphasized. The analysts say that the term «Just Kazakhstan» is repeated 36 times in Karins text, and «New Kazakhstan» only once.

Erlan Karin also wrote about the concept of the New Ideological Platform. He emphasized that starting from 2019 there were five basic concepts underpinning the policy of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. «The first concept is «Different opinions united nation» provides an answer to the question «WHAT is Justice and Just Kazakhstan?», the State Counsellor wrote. The second concept of the «Hearing State» defines, HOW should Justice be established through the effective feedback from the public. The third concept «Law and Order» determines the choice of methods and means for establishing justice, i.e., provides an answer to the question «WHAT IS THE WAY to establish Justice?». The fourth concept is «Strong President strong Parliament accountable Government» sets the institutional framework for Just Kazakhstan, i.e., provides an answer to the question «WHAT should Just Kazakhstan LOOK LIKE?». And the fifth concept, «Adal Azamat», defines the visible contours of the spiritual and ethical development of our society and further evolution of the civil society answering the question of «WHO shapes the Just Kazakhstan?».

In his article, among other things, Erlan Karin defined «the red lines», which may trigger certain response on behalf of the government. The State Counsellor emphasized that there are adherers of different political views: liberals, socialists, conservatives, the rightists, the leftists, centrists. However, in the process of pluralism development it is important to be focused, first of all, on the general national interests. «The so-called redline should be defined for public discussions. Crossing this redline leads to the risks for national stability and contradicts to the general national interests. The red lines are not a taboo, nor censorship, nor a prohibition to discuss certain topics and issues. This is an appeal for maintaining correctness and restraint in political discussions», Erlan Karin emphasized. This quite tough part of the publication caused furious reaction in the opposition media and social media. It is not quite clear from the voluminous text of the article, where exactly such red lines will be drawn, and that was the fact that caused controversial response of Kazakhstan mass media [7].

The State Counsellor claimed that the public figures, especially the activists, media, bloggers, etc. should not allow for any societal polarization and for escalation of conflicts on such sensitive topics as inter-ethnic relations and the language issue; religious relations; foreign policy issues. At the same time Erlan Karin emphasized that the red lines «are not a taboo, nor censorship, nor a prohibition to discuss certain topics and issues. This is an appeal for maintaining correctness and restraint in political discussions». Russian media immediately noted that the State Counsellor of Kazakhstan Erlan Karin raised his voice against xenophobia and nationalism [8]. This was a slight correction to the image of the chief ideologist of Ak-Orda, the image of «the patron of Kazkah nationalists and Russophobes» already developed in certain Russian media. On the contrary, Kazakhstan media saw certain cues about Russian propagandists attacking the Republic of Kazakhstan. «We need not to take the bait and fakes from outside, we should not follow foreign information and ideological agendas, we need to focus exclusively on our domestic issues. The domestic agenda is no «against anyone or anything», it is «for the sake» and «for the benefit», the State Counsellor concluded.

Kazakhstan experts and analysts believe Karins article to be a strong claim for ideological and political leadership. Within his career and professional development, the State Counsellor is getting ready to repeat, as a minimum, the success of Marat Tajin, the ideologist, who over the recent years was considered to be «the last and the main intellectual of Kazakhstan». The voluminous article of the State Counsellor is meant to set the new «sense matrix», which will be determining the ideology of national and state building of Kazakhstan for a long time. In his publication, Erlan Karin appears as a loyal continuer of the policy of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev focused on building the «Just Kazakhstan». For the first time in many years the foreign policy issues were analyzed. The well-balanced multi-vector policy implemented by Kazakhstan is the most optimal policy with account of the geopolitical position of the country and national interests, one of the high-ranking public officials stated. All this represents the evidence of Karins ambitions going much further than the current status of the «chief ideologist» and being focused on the Presidential chair in future.

Problems and solutions

As we mentioned earlier, the position of the State Secretary was introduced by the Constitution of Kazakhstan of 1995, and had no strictly defined powers, which were defined each time for a specific political figure. Due to this convincing reason, the package of Constitutional reforms in 2022 included the amendment of re-naming the position of the State Secretary into the State Counsellor for detailing the status and the functions. After Erlan Karin came into this position, his main function was defined as developing the strategic proposals for the President on domestic policies. As we can see, today the zone of responsibility of the State Counsellor also includes foreign policy issues, and many other things. There are two explanations of this phenomenon of the «broader interpretations of functions»: the Constitutional one and the historical one. According to the Constitutional status, the position of the State Counsellor is number five in the state protocol hierarchy after the President, the Prime Minister and the speakers of the parliament chambers. This automatically brings Erlan Karin to the short-list of potential successor of President Tokayev together with Oljas Bektenov, Maulen Ashimbayev, Erlan Koshanov and Murat Nurtleu.

In essence, the PR functions are the main ones for the position of the State Secretary/ State Counsellor together with organizing the activities of a number of commissions (on awards, on citizenship, etc.) and developing recommendations for the President in certain spheres, e.g., in domestic policy. However, in the recent history of Kazakhstan we observed a rather nervous situation being repeated for several times: when the State Secretary remembered his «dormant» Constitutional duties of «almost Vice-President» and demonstrated strong ambitions. We can give an example of Kanat Saudabayev, who was not only successful in chairing OSCE, but also was demonstrating strong ambition for becoming the chief ideologist of the nation. His successors (Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed and Marat Tajin) also performed a similar role of «the chief ideologist and strategist». However, overtime all these three ambitious politicians not only lost all of their positions, but also found themselves in serious political disgrace.

This phenomenon may be explained rather easily: influential State Secretaries started behaving like demiurges and putting themselves above all other figures in political hierarchy, and after that immediately received a consolidated rebuff. It is believed that the new State Counsellor will not repeat the mistakes of the previous State Secretaries and will stay within his official powers defined by Decree No. 927 of the President of RoK dated 14 June 2022. To put it simply, he will continue «to coordinate the activities in social and humanitarian sphere: education, science, culture and sports». For example, more than a year ago Erlan Karin had a meeting with Olga Lyubimova, the RF Minister of Culture, when they discussed the interaction between the countries in the sphere of culture and arts [9]. Erlan Karin emphasized the importance of cooperation between the two countries in the sphere of culture, agreed to continue the bilateral dialogue on culture and humanities. However, nothing is known about the practical results and the effectiveness of this really relevant and useful dialogue.

If we closely look at the political practices during the recent years, we can observe a rather paradoxical situation. The State Counsellor of RoK being in charge of developing the ideology and shaping the image of the future, is now in a peculiar echo-chamber. Erlan Karin meets mainly with his Kazakhstan colleagues and is seldom communicating with Russian experts and analysts, practically does not visit the Russian Federation and has no contacts with Russian elites. Meanwhile, due to his educational background Karin should know very well that the relations between the two neighbor countries are not just history, but geography as well. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has repeated a number of times: «God created Russia and Kazakhstan as neighbors». Our countries should be looking to the future with confidence and jointly cope with the modern challenges not be moving separately with the heads turned backwards. According to his official powers, the State Counsellor of RoK «coordinates the activities of government analytical agencies in the sphere of social development», hence, he can do a lot for systemic collaboration of the RF and RoK expert and analytical centers. Such regular practice of exchange of professional opinions, social surveys and political forecasts will help to overcome the emerging communication gap between Russia and Kazakhstan. Erlan Karin, the new State Counsellor of RoK has all the capabilities for that, as well as the direct support of the President of Kazakhstan.


* ISIS and Al-Kaida are terrorist organizations prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation.

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2. State Counsellor instead of State Secretary: new amendments to the Constitution of Kazakhstan. Sputnik Kazakhstan, 27.04.2022. https://ru.sputnik.kz/20220427/gossovetnik-vmesto-gossekretarya-novye-popravki-v-konstitutsiyu-kazakhstana-24481267.html

3. About one strange position. Nomad, 12.10.2021. https://nomad.su/?a=3-202110120036

4. Erlan Tynymbayuly Karin, the State Counsellor of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Official website of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 14.06.2022. https://www.akorda.kz/ru/gosudarstvennyy-sekretar-respubliki-kazahstan-karin-erlan-tynymbaevich-502738

5. Erlan Tynymbayuly Karin (personal background information). Zakon.kz. https://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30161717&pos=1;-16#pos=1;-16

6. Consolidation and development. Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, 05.06.2024. https://kazpravda.kz/n/konsolidatsiya-i-razvitie/

7. A lot of justice and red lines for media: Erlan Karin published a strategic article. Orda.kz, 05.06.2024. https://orda.kz/mnogo-spravedlivosti-i-krasnye-linii-dlja-smi-erlan-karin-opublikoval-programmnuju-statju-387298/

8. Erlan Karin, the State Counsellor of Kazakhstan, makes a stand against xenophobia and nationalism. Sputnik Kazakhstan, 05.06.2024. https://ru.sputnik.kz/20240605/gossovetnik-kazakhstana-erlan-karin-vystupil-protiv-ksenofobii-i-natsionalizma-44792787.html

9. The State Counsellor of Kazakhstan and the RF Minister of Culture discussed bilateral cooperation. TASS, 02.03.2023. https://tass.ru/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/17183073