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Tokayevs reforms: year of big changes in Kazakhstan

photo: akorda.kz
6 December 2023

A year ago, on November 20, 2022, Kazakhstans President Kassym Jomart Tokayev was reelected for a new seven-year term. The head of state then put forward an election program titled «Just Kazakhstan For All and For Everyone. Now and forever». This impressive document outlined an elaborate course of consistent reforms in all spheres of the countrys life. As a result, at the extraordinary presidential elections President Kassym Jomart Tokayev received more than 80% of the electorates votes and restarted the political system of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK). [1]

To what extent is the construction of the «new Kazakhstan» effective? How are Tokayevs pre-election promises fulfilled today? Why is Kazakhstans experience so important both for Russia and for other post-Soviet states?

Time of changes

Let us note right now that systematic reforms «from above» had begun in Kazakhstan much earlier than Kassym Jomart Tokayev was reelected to a new term in office. The past year 2022 was one of the most difficult, but also the most significant in the entire latest history of the RK. It will be recalled that in that horrible year the country had gone through a wave of mass protests and a bloody attempt of a coup détat which nearly caused the collapse of Kazakhstans statehood. Events of the «tragic January» radically changed the political landscape in Kazakhstan: influence of the «old guard» represented by the associates of the first president Nursultan Nazarbayev has dwindled and at the same time prerequisites appeared to transform the entire political system. [2] It became clear that it is just impossible to continue the former course of «frosting» the society since it is fraught with tragic consequences or even the collapse of the state.

After the January events Kassym Jomart Tokayev actually became a political leader without an alternative and the center of new consolidation of Kazakhstani society. This powerful aspiration for changes transpired vividly during the June nationwide referendum. Its results gave Kassym Jomart Tokayev a carte blanche to carry out a real «revolution from above». During the whole year 2022 President Tokayev twice delivered a message to the people of Kazakhstan in which he initiated radical changes in the sociopolitical and social-economic spheres.  As a result, a large-scale political modernization program was launched, a constitutional reform was carried out and the process of demonopolization and restructuring of the economy was initiated. Actually 2022 may be called with confidence as the year when Kazakhstan initiated comprehensive reforms from above which serve as the only true alternative to the revolution «from below». [3]

The results of the extraordinary presidential elections showed the main thing: the society and the authorities have the common «vision of the future» and the prospects of development for Kazakhstan. This November presidential election started a great election cycle of 2023 based on which both chambers of parliament and maslikhats (local representative bodies) were tangibly renewed. It will be recalled that extraordinary elections of the deputies to the Majilis (lower chamber) of Kazakhstans Parliament were held on March 19, 2023. Simultaneously elections to the maslikhats (local bodies of power) of all levels were held. As a result, the new Majilis was by 70% formed according to the party lists and by 30% from single-mandate constituencies. [4] A month ago Kazakhstan saw for the first time direct elections of the akims (heads of administration) of districts and towns on the regional level. All this shows that democratic transformation in the RK moves consistently and steadily ahead.

In Kazakhstans sociopolitical life the accumulated apathy and stagnancy symptoms were overcome. Fresh faces moved to the foreground, new movements and associations, including political parties, came into the spotlight. «A national kurultai (an assembly established by presidential decree dated June 15, 2022) is an authoritative and serious site», says Kazakhstani political analyst Eduard Poletayev. [5] The establishment of this standing institution elevated the nationwide and expert dialogue to a new political level. Public life became more lively, a search for a new system of basic values commenced. The state began to actively promote the ideology of labor and solidarity, as well as the cult of education. Meritocracy became an important principle for renewing the executive staff and replenishing the authorities. Experts began to actively come to power which, in turn, publicly recognized the expert community as the authors of the current political regime. [6]

Foreign policy

Kazakhstans new state policy manifested itself most clearly in the sphere of international relations. This is quite understandable for President Kassym Jomart Tokayev himself is a professional diplomat and an influential world-class politician. An experienced leader and international negotiator, Tokayev today de-facto is the only political heavy-weight in the post-Soviet environment able to speak equally smoothly with Russia, China, the USA and the EU. These unique qualities of President Tokayev are particularly important under the conditions of western sanctions and a growing turbulence of the world politics. The political style of Tokayevs diplomacy features three main things: proactive foreign policy, its multi-vector nature and pragmatism. Figuratively speaking, Kassym Jomart Tokayev vigorously pursues a «common sense policy» which constantly creates new economic possibilities for Kazakhstan and additional degrees of freedom on the world arena. [7]

Modern Kazakhstan pursues a very balanced, but dynamic foreign policy course in spite of obvious geopolitical challenges. Astana actively develops mutually beneficial cooperation with all the key partners both in the West and in the East. Examples are successful visits by the President of the RK Kassym Jomart Tokayev to Russia, China, Turkey, UAE, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, France, Uzbekistan and many other countries. All these trips imparted a new content to Astanas multi-vector foreign policy under the conditions of instability. The most significant events were return visits to Kazakhstan by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as an apostolic visitation by the Pope Francis. Of special importance are regular meetings of K.J. Tokayev with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. [8] The main outcome of all these meetings is the guarantees of security and sovereignty of Kazakhstan, as well as new understandings with the leading centers of power represented by the USA, EU, China and Russia.

Regional experts note that President Kassym Jomart Tokayev «activated the art of diplomacy in order to build a foreign policy course beneficial to Kazakhstan, employed political pragmatism to respond flexibly to the changing circumstances». All these titanic efforts are made exclusively in the interests of Kazakhstans people and for the development of national economy. «Owing to the fantastic talent of Kassym Jomart Tokayev we manage to balance between Russia and the so-called united West», says Alibek Tazhibayev, Director of the Analytical Research Center Eurasian Monitoring. [9] It is worth noting that Tokayevs new diplomacy pursues, above all, strictly practical goals and not the image ones as before. Kazakhstan gives preference to such multi-vector policy which bears practical fruit: for instance, in the field of modern business and high technologies. Thus, in the near future Kazakhstan becomes and important partner simultaneously both for Russia and the European Union in the sphere of advanced high technologies and relocation of leading western companies.

A new trend in Tokayevs diplomacy is a further development of the 5+1 format which provides for a much more active cooperation of Central Asia countries on the international arena. At the recent summits the leaders of Central Asia tried to maintain equally good relationship both with the USA and EU and with Russia and China. Presidents of Central Asia republics not only began to meet with the world leaders in the penta-lateral format, but also stepped up bilateral dialogue inside the region. It is noteworthy that within the region of Central Asia the RK occupies leading positions. For example, based on the 2022 results, Kazakhstans GDP amounted to 220.62 billion dollars, that of Uzbekistan 80.4 billion dollars, that of Turkmenistan 36.2 billion dollars, that of Kyrgyzstan 10.9 billion dollars, that of Tadjikistan 10.5 billion dollars. For this reason Astana is viewed by many global players as the main speaker on behalf of the five Central Asia republics in the 5+1 format. This means that Kazakhstan has real prospects to become the first among the «medium powers» which can influence the geopolitical situation in the world to a considerable degree. [10]

Economy

Kassym Jomart Tokayevs election program contained a number of reforms pertaining to not only the political system, but also to the economy and social sphere. In particular, President Tokayev proposed a transition to the new economic model of Kazakhstans development where unfair business practices of monopolists will be excluded. Let us note that these are not just nice words or election campaign slogans. Thus, following the work of the Commission on Demonopolization the following was returned to the state ownership: blocks of shares and participation interests in 14 major share-holding companies and limited liability partnerships, 7 buildings, 163 facilities of railway tracks and installations, automobiles, monetary funds and other property. A special law «On return of illegally acquired assets to the state» was adopted and became a logical continuation of Tokayevs economic and political reforms. As of today, assets worth about 1 trillion tenge were returned to the state. Therefore, the ongoing reforms are aimed at establishing fair and transparent rules in the economy. [11]

A key means to develop Kazakhstans economy is the development of infrastructure. This relates to President Tokayevs initiative concerning the construction of 1,300 km of new railway lines and undertaken repair of 30 thousand km of railway tracks. Of special significance are the decisions on building new railway lines in the direction towards China, Uzbekistan and detour of the Almaty junction. The RKs president approved «The concept of development of the transport and logistic potential up to 2030». The document provides for increasing the volume of transit via the Kazakhstani territory up to 35 mln. tons, including container transit up to 2 mln. TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) by 2030. It is planned to set up border trading hubs and regional transit aviation centers, to renew the rolling stock and take other measures to develop transport. According to Modern Diplomacy, Tokayevs reforms may turn Kazakhstan into a regional transport and logistical hub and make it a key player in the regional and global alliances. [12]

Currently Kazakhstan is facing serious problems related to energy. On the whole, the country suffers from a deficit of electric energy, as well as a series of utility and production accidents caused by the excessive wear of the obsolete Soviet infrastructure. [13] President Tokayev responded to these occurrences in a very speedy and tough way: owners are changed at emergency facilities, state funds are used, major repair is initiated. This can be seen in specific cases: for example, following an accident at the Ekibastuz thermal power plant or a recent emergency at the mine ArcelorMittal Temirtau named after Kostenko. Strategically, President Tokayev proposed a national plan on forming a stable infrastructure backbone in the country. Kazakhstani political expert Marat Shibutov draws attention to the recently signed memorandum on cooperation with Russia on construction of thermal power plants in Kokshetau, Semey and Ust-Kamenogorsk. Agreements on Russian gas supplies to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as projects on construction of new nuclear power plants elevate bilateral interaction in the energy industry to a qualitatively new level and facilitate sustainable development of the RK.

Presidential address «Economic course of a just Kazakhstan» voiced on September 1, 2023 was fully focused on the new economic model. The head of state placed emphasis on justness, inclusiveness and pragmatism as the three principles of the new policy. «Forming a robust industrial backbone of the country» and «providing economic self-sufficiency» were specified as the key tasks of this new model with emphasis being made on the «accelerated development of the processing setor». According to Kassym Jomart Tokayev, the government should mostly pay attention to the interests of national business and conduct a protectionist industrial policy. Ultimately, the year 2023 indicated that Kazakhstani economy gets stabilized after the stress tests in the form of a pandemic and a war of sanctions and gradually gets back to growing. Let us quote the data of the International Monetary Fund, according to which Kazakhstani economy grew by 4.7% from January to September 2023, while during the whole year 2022 the growth was 3.1%. In the opinion of international experts, balancing between the West and the East corresponds more to the pragmatic objectives of Kazakhstani authorities than siding with one party to the conflict. [14]

Social policy

In our view, the concept of a «hearing state» is one of the most successful political initiatives of the past year. Growing poverty and social tension in Kazakhstan, as well as a gigantic gap between the powers that be and the society were one of the prime causes of the «tragic January». For this reason, the first steps in Tokayevs reforms were made in the most topical directions: social sphere, attention to unprotected stratas of the population, raising salaries and increasing benefits, support to children and temporarily unemployed. For example, from September 1 this year in all regions of Kazakhstan 100% of children from socially vulnerable stratas of the population are provided with food in state kindergartens and schools free of charge. According to the official data, in pre-school institutions 97.4 thousand little children and over 1.6 million pupils of primary grades receive hot lunches. This simple, but effective social support measure was immediately highly appreciated by the public.

As for other socio-economic measures, Kazakhstani political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov specified a recent decision to accrue money from the National Fund for Kazakhstani children. «As early as January 1, 2024 all under-age citizens will receive on special savings accounts half the means of the National Funds investment income. Also, before the age of 18 these means will be received by the newly-born Kazakhstanies whose birth increased the countrys population to 20 million people», says A. Chebotaryov.  An important project Digital Family Map in the information and analysis system Smart Data Ukimet has also been implemented. It serves as a basis to implement services on 10 types of benefits and social payments, on provision of subsidized meals to certain categories of students, on deferment of or exemption from military service, on sending notices to persons looking for a job on the possible search for vacancies on the portal Enbek.kz. [15]

Important amendments were introduced into the state policy on youth and social welfare. According to this law, 110 thousand people on average received an allowance to take care of the child under 1.5 years old for non-working parents from the republican budget to the amount of 24.5 bn tenge. 465.1 thousand working parents received from the state a social payment in the event of an income loss, in connection with care for a child under the age of 1.5 years old to the amount of 171 bn tenge. Experts also highly appreciated youth employment support measures. It is extremely important since in the demographically growing Kazakhstan from the total number of employed citizens almost half belongs to the young staffers. Besides, from the beginning of the year a soft lending program was launched for young people aged 21 to 35 years old at the rate of 2.5%. This program makes it possible to open and develop ones business. Eventually, 3683 microcredits were issued from January to September 2023 to the total amount of 16.4 bn tenge. [16]

All these graphic examples with facts and figures prove a key thesis of President Tokayev to the effect that the Kazakhstani state resolutely set its face towards its citizens. The authorities began to hear and understand concerns and needs of an ordinary man, as well as take urgent measures to remedy social disproportions. It is extremely important that the words of the politician Kassym Jomart Tokayev are no different from his deeds and burning issues are not put aside indefinitely. As the analysis of President Tokayevs election platform «Just Kazakhstan For All and For Everyone. Now and forever» indicates, based on the results of 9 months, from the 117 events planned in 2023 26 (22%) were fulfilled, 89 instructions (76%) are being implemented and the risk of default concerns only two items (2%). The strategic course of the incumbent president is aimed at simultaneous transformation of all spheres of the Kazakhstani society where each of the missions assigned serves a common cause building a new «Just Kazakhstan».

Revolution from above

Generally, all aspects of the presidents strategy politics, economy, social sphere, ideology form an integrated program of a systemic modernization of Kazakhstan. For this reason, along with the political and economic reforms serious transformations take place simultaneously in the socio-humanitarian sphere, as well in state governance and legal proceedings. The scale of changes that took place in Kazakhstan within just a year after President Tokayevs inauguration proved to be so great that it is possible to openly speak about the real «revolution from above». Its essence is a radical change of the state governance system a transition from the old Soviet system of hands-on management to a conceptually new institutional system as more stable and automatic. The forecast made by the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies last year that after the presidential election Kazakhstans political system will be restarted proved absolutely correct. [17]

President Tokayev is certain that if political modernization «from above» is not undertaken now, it will inevitably begin from «below» and my cause negative developments. An alternative to Tokayevs reforms is a new, even worse stagnation of the country or its sliding into a criminally radical chaos which was vividly demonstrated by the events of «tragic January». Kassym Jomart Tokayev consistently liberalizes Kazakhstans public space conducting vertical modernization «from above», because today the initiative «from below» alone is not enough to carry out such big reforms. President Tokayevs primary mission is to establish a «regular state», as well as new rules of the game and the balance of forces. What is meant here is not just formal re-establishment of Kazakhstan, but transformation of new habits and ways into a «natural and reasonable order of things» accepted by all the society as a norm and basis for further development. [18]

In the post-Soviet space these most essential tasks of systemic political transformation, rotation of elites and conclusion of a new «social contract» today were not properly resolved. Some post-Soviet countries embarked upon the path of recreating hereditary dynasties, others turned into dilapidated showcases of «imitation democracy» of a pro-western type, the third go out of the way to keep the existing «status quo». The events of «tragic January» in Kazakhstan  showed clearly the limit of failure for such stagnating and «selfish» political system and  the whole need for its urgent reforming «from above» because gradual, but inexorable degeneration of «stability» into stagnation of the political and socio-economic development is far from satisfying all, both those on top and at the bottom. When the concept of «political stabilization» becomes historically exhausted, then the new head of state is facing an inevitable problem of a systemic «renewal of the state» and a modernized economic breakthrough.

Change of generations

The success of any revolution from above hinges on its wide support from the bottom and mandatory loyalty of the state apparatus which was well illustrated by the negative casus of Gorbachevs «perestroika». It is an open secret that the second and third echelon of the political class, as well as a broad spectrum of officials, intellectuals and economic elite in Kazakhstan had long been full of failed expectations as to their own career growth. This pent-up discontent and the absence of social lifts superimposed on the objective trend of generation change for a new generation of the elite having no Soviet experience appeared on the political scene and in the economy. All this together became a powerful factor of support to Tokayevs ripe reforms. As was earlier stated in the CISS report, after Kassym Jomart Tokayev came to power and the events of tragic January occurred, Kazakhstans political elite was radically changed by 80%. [19]

It is noteworthy that the average age of Kazakhstani vice-prime ministers are noticeably lower than that of the Russian counterparts and is 43 years, while the age of high rank politicians is about 50 years. As was noted above, meritocracy became an important principle of the executive staff renewal and experts began to come to power actively. Thus, two former directors of the Kazakhstani Institute of Strategic Studies under the president of the RK became highest-rank officials. They are Maulen Ashimbayev, Chairman of the Senate (No.3 in the state protocol) and Erlan Karin, State Councillor (No.5 in the protocol). Many Kazakhstani experts became deputies to the Majilis (RK Parliament). Among them are Marat Bashimov, Kanat Nurov (7th convocation), Aidos Sarym, Erlan Sairov, Samat Nurtaza, Erlan Smailov (7th convocation), Nikita Shatalov, Yulia Kuchinskaya and others.

Analysis shows that approximately every fourth known expert in Kazakhstan today is in demand in the corridors of power. To many of the intellectual class representatives there are also other fast tracks now for a rapid career growth, besides parliament. Thus, Indira Rystina is deputy head of the secretariat of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, while Rasul Jumaly is Kazakhstans Ambassador to the Lebanon. Sayasat Nurbek was first a deputy to the Majilis, then he became the minister of science and higher education. Berik Abdygaliev was a deputy to the Majilis, then he became the akim (head) of the Ulytau region. As Napoleons diplomat Talleyrand noted precisely, «a successful revolution is 100 thousand new vacancies». However, the main purpose of Tokayevs reforms is much broader than «to take away and divide» in a banal fashion. It consists in building a modern «regular state». In this «new political wave» the current Kazakhstani authorities acquire a social base for further modernized transformations.

It is impossible to continue reforms without systemic political transformation and regular rotation of elites, as well as a training system for a new political generation. For this reason various courses and schools to prepare a new generation of analysts and experts have been very active in Kazakhstan in the past several years. Such training is conducted in the Senate of the RK Parliament, in the Kazakhstani Institute of Strategic Studies and in various NGOs. [20] The highest potential cadres are the graduates of the School of Young Experts of the public fund International Institute of Sociology and Politics under the guidance of a well-known analyst Marat Shibutov. Among them there are already acknowledged political analysts, such as: Akbope Abylkasimova, Lilia Manshina, Elena Dmitrieva, Ilyas Baktygaliev, Jomart Amirkhanov and many others. It is important that a new generation of Kazakhstani experts not only carry out professional research and prepare analytical reports, but also are very active in public politics. [21]

Pace and tasks of reforms

The essence of Tokayevs policy is to create a fundamentally new economic and social structure that would ensure not only the completion of the post-Soviet political transit, but also would provide Kazakhstans sustainable future. President Kassym Jomart Tokayev firmly intends to negotiate the trap of «uncompleted modernization», which has afflicted the republics of the former USSR throughout the whole post-Soviet history. His purpose is not just to «strengthen» once again or «stabilize» the power system for the time being, but to namely renew it radically. Earlier we had stated that Kazakhstan is a political time machine for the post-Soviet space since the political processes there run faster, while cohesion and vigor of the elites contribute to innovations and changes. For this reason the success of Tokayevs reforms will be extremely important as a model sample for future transformations both in Russia and in other post-Soviet states.

The success of building a «Just Kazakhstan» today depends more on Kazakhstanies themselves, rather than on the elite. Only the citizens themselves can expedite political processes in the RK: the more actively Kazakhstanies demand the continuation of reforms, the more frequently the authorities will have to make a compromise. Quite often one can hear that reforms in Kazakhstan are going very slowly, but regional experts do not agree with that.

«There are two approaches to reforms. One is radical, the other is incremental when big changes are attained through little steps. Kazakhstan chose the second option of development and, as the world experience indicates, it is exactly the incremental changes that are most sustainable. Many things Tokayev had said in 2019 are impossible to do without what he is doing today, in 2022-2023. For example, it is impossible to modernize the economy without sorting out the issues of illicit enrichment and hidden preferences», explains political analyst Sabina Sadieva. Incremental progress, besides other things, gives Kazakhstani reformers an opportunity to promptly revise and update individual solutions. However, slow introduction of fundamental reforms also entails certain risks for Tokayevs policy of modernization.

Threats and risks

One of the major risks at this phase is the possibility of revanchism on the part of the «old Kazakhstan». After the January events there is apprehension that all possible destructive elements, including some oligarhic groups and followers of the notorious Mukhtar Ablyazov, may legalize their activities. The first president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev recently admitted that many political figures in the country met with hostility his plans to transfer his authority to Kassym Jomart Tokayev. His new book of memoirs «My life. From dependence to freedom» says that Tokayevs opponents had «dreamt of taking up the position of president» themselves as a successor. Nursultan Nazarbayev believes that one of the reasons the opposition had stepped up their activities that led to the January protests of 2022 was his decision to transfer leadership in the ruling party «Nur Otan» (renamed into «Amanat») to Kassym Jomart Tokayev. [22]

Another grave risk, according to experts, is just a plain lack of competencies among the implementers of reforms since the state is now governed by the officials from the second/third echelon. «The number of young cadres in the executive positions in the central state bodies of power has increased dramatically. The problem is that people who had not passed through a school of serious work at production sites, in the regions, become, nevertheless, heads of structural units of ministries and agencies», says political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov. [23] As practice shows, the new cadres either procrastinate a decision at a critical point of time or show all sorts of ill-considered initiatives. The materials of the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies also noted problems with the «cadre bench» in Kazakhstan where there is a great deficit of good organizers and operators. It so happens that the same people who had been responsible for the economy for the past 5-10 years and who had not distinguished themselves ideologically or organizationally are responsible for the economy today. [24]

The third importasnt risk, according to experts, is politization of religion and a growing archaization of the lower classes of the society. As was earlier noted in the CISS report, speeches by the incumbent president of Kazakhstan skirt around the most difficult issue of the «tragic January» confrontation between the authorities and the criminal Islamist groups. Here a serious and long struggle is imminent since this phenomenon has both the social base and the internal factors of support. Let us give a simple example: at the time when Kazakhstan gained independence there were only 68 mosques in the country, now there are more than fifty times more 3600 mosques. The biggest number of religious communities is concentrated in the southern part of Kazakhstan where the highest birth rate is observed at the same time. Kazakhstans economy and politics are just unable to keep pace with this demographically religious boom. Today it is high time to admit publicly that Islamization and radicalization is a big and long-term problem for Kazakhstan. [25]

The fourth risk, according to experts, consists in the pressure of external circumstances being exerted on the modernization reforms in Kazakhstan. Among the significant factors are a negative impact of secondary western sanctions, destabilization of the region from outside and a growing media influence by pro-western forces. «Further aggravation of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine may have a negative impact on the inter-ethnic relations in Kazakhstan. We already see claims in various media outlets and social networks against Kazakhstani citizens of the Russian ethnic origin to the effect that nearly all of them may become the «fifth column», though there are actually no grounds for such suspicions», political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov stated. The theme of constant intensification of pro-western and Ukrainian special propaganda in the Russian-speaking media of Kazakhstan is obviously underestimated and should become the subject of a separate expert survey.

New challenges

In our view, all the above-listed threats and risks quite adequately describe a wide range of various challenges to the reforms of President Tokayev. However, one important thing in the system of risks is now still a taboo: direct acts of sabotage by the western special services against the leading politicians and the very statehood of Kazakhstan. It will be recalled that on April 3, 2022 the Kazakhstani counterintelligence detained a foreign agent, a citizen of the RK, who had planned an attempt on the life of Kassym Jomart Tokayev and a number of high-ranking state officials. According to the data of Kazakhstans National Security Committee (NSC), the suspect was also going to commit terrorist acts against the personnel of special services and law enforcement agencies. According to the information now available, this is far from being a single case of such subversive activities, but, rather, a graphic indicator of an alarming trend on intensified activities of the western special services.

A well-informed political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev openly speaks about the western footprint in this case. He notes that the «ex-prime minister, ex-head of the Presidential Administration and ex-Chairman of the NSC [Karim Masimov] was known to have close ties with the British and American business circles». It is highly likely that Karim Masimov had attempted a coup détat camouflaged as a «popular uprising» on orders from them to form Kazakhstans leadership loyal to the West and headed by himself, as well as to destabilize the situation on the borders with Russia and China, the expert concluded. Apparently, as to the prime cause of the «tragic January» events, there are a still a number of forbidden topics and figures of silence since public disclosure of those who had really orchestrated the coup détat could drastically complicate the international position of Kazakhstan.

A recent session of the council of heads of security agencies and special services of the CIS member states noted an active participation of western special services in creating a «belt of instability» at the southern borders of the Commonwealth. Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov warned that a leading role in destabilizing the situation in this region is played by the American and British special services. «Using the facilities of several training camps bandits are trained to develop modern weapons skills, including the arsenals left behind by the western coalition, to use remotely piloted vehicles, advanced means of communications and reconnaissance», the FSB Chief stated. It will be recalled that Russia and Kazakhstan have a similar structure of resource-based economy and an extended infrastructure of transportation. However, attacks against the facilities of the oil and gas complex and logistic hubs are today one of the priority targets for international terrorism which was clearly demonstrated by the recent events.

New threats can be prevented not only by the joint efforts of the RF and RK special services, but also through a combination of analytical and expert capabilities of our countries. It appears that the expert communities of Russia and Kazakhstan should constantly work together in order to detect possible challenges and to develop original scenarios to counter them. It is necessary to set up a high level expert group that could make regular reports to the presidents of the RF and RK on the objective status of affairs near our borders and about problems in bilateral relations. As was noted repeatedly in the materials of the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, Russia is interested in the stability of the independent and sovereign Kazakhstan as her key ally and a close neighbor. Among all significant topics within the sight of the CISS Kazakhstan is given priority. We shall continue to pay special attention to the situation in the RK, apply all possible efforts for further development and consolidation of allied relationship between Moscow and Astana.

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9. Year of Tokayev's presidentship: what transformations and reforms were carried out. BaigeNews.kz, 26.11.2023. https://baigenews.kz/god-prezidentstva-tokaeva-kakie-preobrazovaniya-i-reformy-byli-provedeny_164753/

10. How Tokayev's wise diplomacy may extricate Kazakhstan from an economic dead end. Review and analysis journal Exclusive, 02.10. 2023. https://exclusive.kz/kak-mudraya-diplomatiya-tokaeva-mozhet-vyvesti-kazahstan-iz-politicheskogo-tupika/

11. Return of assets and fighting shadow economy. How Tokayev's election program works. Tengrinews.kz, 22.11.2023. https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/vozvrat-aktivov-borba-tenevoy-ekonomikoy-rabotaet-517675/

12. Tokayev's reforms may turn Kazakhstan into a key player in the regional and global economic alliances Modern Diplomacy. Information agency Inbusiness.kz, 12.09.2023. https://inbusiness.kz/ru/news/reformy-tokaeva-mogut-prevratit-kazahstan-v-klyuchevogo-igroka-v-regionalnyh-i-globalnyh-ekonomicheskih-alyansah

13. Tokayev changed management of the mine owner after an accident with 32 victims. RBK, 28.10.2023. https://www.rbc.ru/polics/28/10/2023/653cd5099a79479269a463ed

14. Kazakhstan accelerates economic growth using both Russian and Western investments. «Kommersant», 22.11.2023. https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/6351247

15. Year of changes: how Tokayev's election program is fulfilled. Zakon.kz, 21.11.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/stati/6414638-god-peremen-kak-vypolnyaetsya-predvybornaya-programma-tokaeva.html

16. A year since Tokayev's inauguration: what was done in this time. El.kz, 23.11.2023. https://el.kz/ru/god-so-dnya-inauguratsii-tokaeva-chto-sdelano-za-eto-vremya_97847/

17. After elections Kazakhstan may expect «revolution from above». «Nezavisimaya Gazeta», 20.11.2022. https://www.ng.ru/cis/2022-11-20/5_8594_kazakhstan.html

18. Results of parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan: triumph of «peoples democracy». Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 22.03.2023. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/itogi-parlamentskih-vyborov-v-kazahstana-torzhestvo-narodnoj-demokratii-38414.shtml

19. Russia and Kazakhstan: road map up to 2030. Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 12.10.2023. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/rossiya-i-kazahstan-dorozhnaya-karta-do-2030-goda-38498.shtml

20. The call for applications was announced to participate in the third intake of the project «Taldau Mektebi School of Analytics». Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan - official site, 25.11.2023. https://senate.parlam.kz/ru-RU/news/details/9152

21. The School of Young Experts was opened in Almaty. Dialog.kz, 07.06. 2022. https://dialog.kz/articles/politika/2022-06-07/v-almaty-nachala-rabotu-shkola-molodyh-ekspertov

22. Sara Alpysovna, second family and Kantar. What Nazarbayev wrote in his memoirs. TengriNews.kz, 01.12.2023. https://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/sara-alpyisovna-vtoraya-semya-kantar-napisal-nazarbaev-svoih-518745/

23. Political analysts: radical and revanchist groups may interfere with the Kazakhstan of the future. «Golos naroda», 24.11.2023. https://golos-naroda.kz/23314-politologi-kazakhstanu-budushchego-mogut-pomeshat-radikaly-i-revanshisty-1700795165/

24. Extraordinary election in Kazakhstan. Tokayev acts proactively. Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 04.09.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/vneocherednye-prezidentskie-vybory-v-kazahstane-tokaev-dejstvuet-na-operezhenie-38273.shtml

25. After Elbasy. Fundamentals of reforming the «Nazarbayev system». Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 20.02.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/sektor-kazahstana-kisi/posle-elbasy-osnovnye-napravleniya-reformirovaniya-sistemy-nazarbaeva-38012.shtml

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Reports

Tokayevs reforms: year of big changes in Kazakhstan

photo: akorda.kz
6 2023

A year ago, on November 20, 2022, Kazakhstans President Kassym Jomart Tokayev was reelected for a new seven-year term. The head of state then put forward an election program titled «Just Kazakhstan For All and For Everyone. Now and forever». This impressive document outlined an elaborate course of consistent reforms in all spheres of the countrys life. As a result, at the extraordinary presidential elections President Kassym Jomart Tokayev received more than 80% of the electorates votes and restarted the political system of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK). [1]

To what extent is the construction of the «new Kazakhstan» effective? How are Tokayevs pre-election promises fulfilled today? Why is Kazakhstans experience so important both for Russia and for other post-Soviet states?

Time of changes

Let us note right now that systematic reforms «from above» had begun in Kazakhstan much earlier than Kassym Jomart Tokayev was reelected to a new term in office. The past year 2022 was one of the most difficult, but also the most significant in the entire latest history of the RK. It will be recalled that in that horrible year the country had gone through a wave of mass protests and a bloody attempt of a coup détat which nearly caused the collapse of Kazakhstans statehood. Events of the «tragic January» radically changed the political landscape in Kazakhstan: influence of the «old guard» represented by the associates of the first president Nursultan Nazarbayev has dwindled and at the same time prerequisites appeared to transform the entire political system. [2] It became clear that it is just impossible to continue the former course of «frosting» the society since it is fraught with tragic consequences or even the collapse of the state.

After the January events Kassym Jomart Tokayev actually became a political leader without an alternative and the center of new consolidation of Kazakhstani society. This powerful aspiration for changes transpired vividly during the June nationwide referendum. Its results gave Kassym Jomart Tokayev a carte blanche to carry out a real «revolution from above». During the whole year 2022 President Tokayev twice delivered a message to the people of Kazakhstan in which he initiated radical changes in the sociopolitical and social-economic spheres.  As a result, a large-scale political modernization program was launched, a constitutional reform was carried out and the process of demonopolization and restructuring of the economy was initiated. Actually 2022 may be called with confidence as the year when Kazakhstan initiated comprehensive reforms from above which serve as the only true alternative to the revolution «from below». [3]

The results of the extraordinary presidential elections showed the main thing: the society and the authorities have the common «vision of the future» and the prospects of development for Kazakhstan. This November presidential election started a great election cycle of 2023 based on which both chambers of parliament and maslikhats (local representative bodies) were tangibly renewed. It will be recalled that extraordinary elections of the deputies to the Majilis (lower chamber) of Kazakhstans Parliament were held on March 19, 2023. Simultaneously elections to the maslikhats (local bodies of power) of all levels were held. As a result, the new Majilis was by 70% formed according to the party lists and by 30% from single-mandate constituencies. [4] A month ago Kazakhstan saw for the first time direct elections of the akims (heads of administration) of districts and towns on the regional level. All this shows that democratic transformation in the RK moves consistently and steadily ahead.

In Kazakhstans sociopolitical life the accumulated apathy and stagnancy symptoms were overcome. Fresh faces moved to the foreground, new movements and associations, including political parties, came into the spotlight. «A national kurultai (an assembly established by presidential decree dated June 15, 2022) is an authoritative and serious site», says Kazakhstani political analyst Eduard Poletayev. [5] The establishment of this standing institution elevated the nationwide and expert dialogue to a new political level. Public life became more lively, a search for a new system of basic values commenced. The state began to actively promote the ideology of labor and solidarity, as well as the cult of education. Meritocracy became an important principle for renewing the executive staff and replenishing the authorities. Experts began to actively come to power which, in turn, publicly recognized the expert community as the authors of the current political regime. [6]

Foreign policy

Kazakhstans new state policy manifested itself most clearly in the sphere of international relations. This is quite understandable for President Kassym Jomart Tokayev himself is a professional diplomat and an influential world-class politician. An experienced leader and international negotiator, Tokayev today de-facto is the only political heavy-weight in the post-Soviet environment able to speak equally smoothly with Russia, China, the USA and the EU. These unique qualities of President Tokayev are particularly important under the conditions of western sanctions and a growing turbulence of the world politics. The political style of Tokayevs diplomacy features three main things: proactive foreign policy, its multi-vector nature and pragmatism. Figuratively speaking, Kassym Jomart Tokayev vigorously pursues a «common sense policy» which constantly creates new economic possibilities for Kazakhstan and additional degrees of freedom on the world arena. [7]

Modern Kazakhstan pursues a very balanced, but dynamic foreign policy course in spite of obvious geopolitical challenges. Astana actively develops mutually beneficial cooperation with all the key partners both in the West and in the East. Examples are successful visits by the President of the RK Kassym Jomart Tokayev to Russia, China, Turkey, UAE, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, France, Uzbekistan and many other countries. All these trips imparted a new content to Astanas multi-vector foreign policy under the conditions of instability. The most significant events were return visits to Kazakhstan by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as an apostolic visitation by the Pope Francis. Of special importance are regular meetings of K.J. Tokayev with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. [8] The main outcome of all these meetings is the guarantees of security and sovereignty of Kazakhstan, as well as new understandings with the leading centers of power represented by the USA, EU, China and Russia.

Regional experts note that President Kassym Jomart Tokayev «activated the art of diplomacy in order to build a foreign policy course beneficial to Kazakhstan, employed political pragmatism to respond flexibly to the changing circumstances». All these titanic efforts are made exclusively in the interests of Kazakhstans people and for the development of national economy. «Owing to the fantastic talent of Kassym Jomart Tokayev we manage to balance between Russia and the so-called united West», says Alibek Tazhibayev, Director of the Analytical Research Center Eurasian Monitoring. [9] It is worth noting that Tokayevs new diplomacy pursues, above all, strictly practical goals and not the image ones as before. Kazakhstan gives preference to such multi-vector policy which bears practical fruit: for instance, in the field of modern business and high technologies. Thus, in the near future Kazakhstan becomes and important partner simultaneously both for Russia and the European Union in the sphere of advanced high technologies and relocation of leading western companies.

A new trend in Tokayevs diplomacy is a further development of the 5+1 format which provides for a much more active cooperation of Central Asia countries on the international arena. At the recent summits the leaders of Central Asia tried to maintain equally good relationship both with the USA and EU and with Russia and China. Presidents of Central Asia republics not only began to meet with the world leaders in the penta-lateral format, but also stepped up bilateral dialogue inside the region. It is noteworthy that within the region of Central Asia the RK occupies leading positions. For example, based on the 2022 results, Kazakhstans GDP amounted to 220.62 billion dollars, that of Uzbekistan 80.4 billion dollars, that of Turkmenistan 36.2 billion dollars, that of Kyrgyzstan 10.9 billion dollars, that of Tadjikistan 10.5 billion dollars. For this reason Astana is viewed by many global players as the main speaker on behalf of the five Central Asia republics in the 5+1 format. This means that Kazakhstan has real prospects to become the first among the «medium powers» which can influence the geopolitical situation in the world to a considerable degree. [10]

Economy

Kassym Jomart Tokayevs election program contained a number of reforms pertaining to not only the political system, but also to the economy and social sphere. In particular, President Tokayev proposed a transition to the new economic model of Kazakhstans development where unfair business practices of monopolists will be excluded. Let us note that these are not just nice words or election campaign slogans. Thus, following the work of the Commission on Demonopolization the following was returned to the state ownership: blocks of shares and participation interests in 14 major share-holding companies and limited liability partnerships, 7 buildings, 163 facilities of railway tracks and installations, automobiles, monetary funds and other property. A special law «On return of illegally acquired assets to the state» was adopted and became a logical continuation of Tokayevs economic and political reforms. As of today, assets worth about 1 trillion tenge were returned to the state. Therefore, the ongoing reforms are aimed at establishing fair and transparent rules in the economy. [11]

A key means to develop Kazakhstans economy is the development of infrastructure. This relates to President Tokayevs initiative concerning the construction of 1,300 km of new railway lines and undertaken repair of 30 thousand km of railway tracks. Of special significance are the decisions on building new railway lines in the direction towards China, Uzbekistan and detour of the Almaty junction. The RKs president approved «The concept of development of the transport and logistic potential up to 2030». The document provides for increasing the volume of transit via the Kazakhstani territory up to 35 mln. tons, including container transit up to 2 mln. TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) by 2030. It is planned to set up border trading hubs and regional transit aviation centers, to renew the rolling stock and take other measures to develop transport. According to Modern Diplomacy, Tokayevs reforms may turn Kazakhstan into a regional transport and logistical hub and make it a key player in the regional and global alliances. [12]

Currently Kazakhstan is facing serious problems related to energy. On the whole, the country suffers from a deficit of electric energy, as well as a series of utility and production accidents caused by the excessive wear of the obsolete Soviet infrastructure. [13] President Tokayev responded to these occurrences in a very speedy and tough way: owners are changed at emergency facilities, state funds are used, major repair is initiated. This can be seen in specific cases: for example, following an accident at the Ekibastuz thermal power plant or a recent emergency at the mine ArcelorMittal Temirtau named after Kostenko. Strategically, President Tokayev proposed a national plan on forming a stable infrastructure backbone in the country. Kazakhstani political expert Marat Shibutov draws attention to the recently signed memorandum on cooperation with Russia on construction of thermal power plants in Kokshetau, Semey and Ust-Kamenogorsk. Agreements on Russian gas supplies to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as projects on construction of new nuclear power plants elevate bilateral interaction in the energy industry to a qualitatively new level and facilitate sustainable development of the RK.

Presidential address «Economic course of a just Kazakhstan» voiced on September 1, 2023 was fully focused on the new economic model. The head of state placed emphasis on justness, inclusiveness and pragmatism as the three principles of the new policy. «Forming a robust industrial backbone of the country» and «providing economic self-sufficiency» were specified as the key tasks of this new model with emphasis being made on the «accelerated development of the processing setor». According to Kassym Jomart Tokayev, the government should mostly pay attention to the interests of national business and conduct a protectionist industrial policy. Ultimately, the year 2023 indicated that Kazakhstani economy gets stabilized after the stress tests in the form of a pandemic and a war of sanctions and gradually gets back to growing. Let us quote the data of the International Monetary Fund, according to which Kazakhstani economy grew by 4.7% from January to September 2023, while during the whole year 2022 the growth was 3.1%. In the opinion of international experts, balancing between the West and the East corresponds more to the pragmatic objectives of Kazakhstani authorities than siding with one party to the conflict. [14]

Social policy

In our view, the concept of a «hearing state» is one of the most successful political initiatives of the past year. Growing poverty and social tension in Kazakhstan, as well as a gigantic gap between the powers that be and the society were one of the prime causes of the «tragic January». For this reason, the first steps in Tokayevs reforms were made in the most topical directions: social sphere, attention to unprotected stratas of the population, raising salaries and increasing benefits, support to children and temporarily unemployed. For example, from September 1 this year in all regions of Kazakhstan 100% of children from socially vulnerable stratas of the population are provided with food in state kindergartens and schools free of charge. According to the official data, in pre-school institutions 97.4 thousand little children and over 1.6 million pupils of primary grades receive hot lunches. This simple, but effective social support measure was immediately highly appreciated by the public.

As for other socio-economic measures, Kazakhstani political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov specified a recent decision to accrue money from the National Fund for Kazakhstani children. «As early as January 1, 2024 all under-age citizens will receive on special savings accounts half the means of the National Funds investment income. Also, before the age of 18 these means will be received by the newly-born Kazakhstanies whose birth increased the countrys population to 20 million people», says A. Chebotaryov.  An important project Digital Family Map in the information and analysis system Smart Data Ukimet has also been implemented. It serves as a basis to implement services on 10 types of benefits and social payments, on provision of subsidized meals to certain categories of students, on deferment of or exemption from military service, on sending notices to persons looking for a job on the possible search for vacancies on the portal Enbek.kz. [15]

Important amendments were introduced into the state policy on youth and social welfare. According to this law, 110 thousand people on average received an allowance to take care of the child under 1.5 years old for non-working parents from the republican budget to the amount of 24.5 bn tenge. 465.1 thousand working parents received from the state a social payment in the event of an income loss, in connection with care for a child under the age of 1.5 years old to the amount of 171 bn tenge. Experts also highly appreciated youth employment support measures. It is extremely important since in the demographically growing Kazakhstan from the total number of employed citizens almost half belongs to the young staffers. Besides, from the beginning of the year a soft lending program was launched for young people aged 21 to 35 years old at the rate of 2.5%. This program makes it possible to open and develop ones business. Eventually, 3683 microcredits were issued from January to September 2023 to the total amount of 16.4 bn tenge. [16]

All these graphic examples with facts and figures prove a key thesis of President Tokayev to the effect that the Kazakhstani state resolutely set its face towards its citizens. The authorities began to hear and understand concerns and needs of an ordinary man, as well as take urgent measures to remedy social disproportions. It is extremely important that the words of the politician Kassym Jomart Tokayev are no different from his deeds and burning issues are not put aside indefinitely. As the analysis of President Tokayevs election platform «Just Kazakhstan For All and For Everyone. Now and forever» indicates, based on the results of 9 months, from the 117 events planned in 2023 26 (22%) were fulfilled, 89 instructions (76%) are being implemented and the risk of default concerns only two items (2%). The strategic course of the incumbent president is aimed at simultaneous transformation of all spheres of the Kazakhstani society where each of the missions assigned serves a common cause building a new «Just Kazakhstan».

Revolution from above

Generally, all aspects of the presidents strategy politics, economy, social sphere, ideology form an integrated program of a systemic modernization of Kazakhstan. For this reason, along with the political and economic reforms serious transformations take place simultaneously in the socio-humanitarian sphere, as well in state governance and legal proceedings. The scale of changes that took place in Kazakhstan within just a year after President Tokayevs inauguration proved to be so great that it is possible to openly speak about the real «revolution from above». Its essence is a radical change of the state governance system a transition from the old Soviet system of hands-on management to a conceptually new institutional system as more stable and automatic. The forecast made by the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies last year that after the presidential election Kazakhstans political system will be restarted proved absolutely correct. [17]

President Tokayev is certain that if political modernization «from above» is not undertaken now, it will inevitably begin from «below» and my cause negative developments. An alternative to Tokayevs reforms is a new, even worse stagnation of the country or its sliding into a criminally radical chaos which was vividly demonstrated by the events of «tragic January». Kassym Jomart Tokayev consistently liberalizes Kazakhstans public space conducting vertical modernization «from above», because today the initiative «from below» alone is not enough to carry out such big reforms. President Tokayevs primary mission is to establish a «regular state», as well as new rules of the game and the balance of forces. What is meant here is not just formal re-establishment of Kazakhstan, but transformation of new habits and ways into a «natural and reasonable order of things» accepted by all the society as a norm and basis for further development. [18]

In the post-Soviet space these most essential tasks of systemic political transformation, rotation of elites and conclusion of a new «social contract» today were not properly resolved. Some post-Soviet countries embarked upon the path of recreating hereditary dynasties, others turned into dilapidated showcases of «imitation democracy» of a pro-western type, the third go out of the way to keep the existing «status quo». The events of «tragic January» in Kazakhstan  showed clearly the limit of failure for such stagnating and «selfish» political system and  the whole need for its urgent reforming «from above» because gradual, but inexorable degeneration of «stability» into stagnation of the political and socio-economic development is far from satisfying all, both those on top and at the bottom. When the concept of «political stabilization» becomes historically exhausted, then the new head of state is facing an inevitable problem of a systemic «renewal of the state» and a modernized economic breakthrough.

Change of generations

The success of any revolution from above hinges on its wide support from the bottom and mandatory loyalty of the state apparatus which was well illustrated by the negative casus of Gorbachevs «perestroika». It is an open secret that the second and third echelon of the political class, as well as a broad spectrum of officials, intellectuals and economic elite in Kazakhstan had long been full of failed expectations as to their own career growth. This pent-up discontent and the absence of social lifts superimposed on the objective trend of generation change for a new generation of the elite having no Soviet experience appeared on the political scene and in the economy. All this together became a powerful factor of support to Tokayevs ripe reforms. As was earlier stated in the CISS report, after Kassym Jomart Tokayev came to power and the events of tragic January occurred, Kazakhstans political elite was radically changed by 80%. [19]

It is noteworthy that the average age of Kazakhstani vice-prime ministers are noticeably lower than that of the Russian counterparts and is 43 years, while the age of high rank politicians is about 50 years. As was noted above, meritocracy became an important principle of the executive staff renewal and experts began to come to power actively. Thus, two former directors of the Kazakhstani Institute of Strategic Studies under the president of the RK became highest-rank officials. They are Maulen Ashimbayev, Chairman of the Senate (No.3 in the state protocol) and Erlan Karin, State Councillor (No.5 in the protocol). Many Kazakhstani experts became deputies to the Majilis (RK Parliament). Among them are Marat Bashimov, Kanat Nurov (7th convocation), Aidos Sarym, Erlan Sairov, Samat Nurtaza, Erlan Smailov (7th convocation), Nikita Shatalov, Yulia Kuchinskaya and others.

Analysis shows that approximately every fourth known expert in Kazakhstan today is in demand in the corridors of power. To many of the intellectual class representatives there are also other fast tracks now for a rapid career growth, besides parliament. Thus, Indira Rystina is deputy head of the secretariat of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, while Rasul Jumaly is Kazakhstans Ambassador to the Lebanon. Sayasat Nurbek was first a deputy to the Majilis, then he became the minister of science and higher education. Berik Abdygaliev was a deputy to the Majilis, then he became the akim (head) of the Ulytau region. As Napoleons diplomat Talleyrand noted precisely, «a successful revolution is 100 thousand new vacancies». However, the main purpose of Tokayevs reforms is much broader than «to take away and divide» in a banal fashion. It consists in building a modern «regular state». In this «new political wave» the current Kazakhstani authorities acquire a social base for further modernized transformations.

It is impossible to continue reforms without systemic political transformation and regular rotation of elites, as well as a training system for a new political generation. For this reason various courses and schools to prepare a new generation of analysts and experts have been very active in Kazakhstan in the past several years. Such training is conducted in the Senate of the RK Parliament, in the Kazakhstani Institute of Strategic Studies and in various NGOs. [20] The highest potential cadres are the graduates of the School of Young Experts of the public fund International Institute of Sociology and Politics under the guidance of a well-known analyst Marat Shibutov. Among them there are already acknowledged political analysts, such as: Akbope Abylkasimova, Lilia Manshina, Elena Dmitrieva, Ilyas Baktygaliev, Jomart Amirkhanov and many others. It is important that a new generation of Kazakhstani experts not only carry out professional research and prepare analytical reports, but also are very active in public politics. [21]

Pace and tasks of reforms

The essence of Tokayevs policy is to create a fundamentally new economic and social structure that would ensure not only the completion of the post-Soviet political transit, but also would provide Kazakhstans sustainable future. President Kassym Jomart Tokayev firmly intends to negotiate the trap of «uncompleted modernization», which has afflicted the republics of the former USSR throughout the whole post-Soviet history. His purpose is not just to «strengthen» once again or «stabilize» the power system for the time being, but to namely renew it radically. Earlier we had stated that Kazakhstan is a political time machine for the post-Soviet space since the political processes there run faster, while cohesion and vigor of the elites contribute to innovations and changes. For this reason the success of Tokayevs reforms will be extremely important as a model sample for future transformations both in Russia and in other post-Soviet states.

The success of building a «Just Kazakhstan» today depends more on Kazakhstanies themselves, rather than on the elite. Only the citizens themselves can expedite political processes in the RK: the more actively Kazakhstanies demand the continuation of reforms, the more frequently the authorities will have to make a compromise. Quite often one can hear that reforms in Kazakhstan are going very slowly, but regional experts do not agree with that.

«There are two approaches to reforms. One is radical, the other is incremental when big changes are attained through little steps. Kazakhstan chose the second option of development and, as the world experience indicates, it is exactly the incremental changes that are most sustainable. Many things Tokayev had said in 2019 are impossible to do without what he is doing today, in 2022-2023. For example, it is impossible to modernize the economy without sorting out the issues of illicit enrichment and hidden preferences», explains political analyst Sabina Sadieva. Incremental progress, besides other things, gives Kazakhstani reformers an opportunity to promptly revise and update individual solutions. However, slow introduction of fundamental reforms also entails certain risks for Tokayevs policy of modernization.

Threats and risks

One of the major risks at this phase is the possibility of revanchism on the part of the «old Kazakhstan». After the January events there is apprehension that all possible destructive elements, including some oligarhic groups and followers of the notorious Mukhtar Ablyazov, may legalize their activities. The first president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev recently admitted that many political figures in the country met with hostility his plans to transfer his authority to Kassym Jomart Tokayev. His new book of memoirs «My life. From dependence to freedom» says that Tokayevs opponents had «dreamt of taking up the position of president» themselves as a successor. Nursultan Nazarbayev believes that one of the reasons the opposition had stepped up their activities that led to the January protests of 2022 was his decision to transfer leadership in the ruling party «Nur Otan» (renamed into «Amanat») to Kassym Jomart Tokayev. [22]

Another grave risk, according to experts, is just a plain lack of competencies among the implementers of reforms since the state is now governed by the officials from the second/third echelon. «The number of young cadres in the executive positions in the central state bodies of power has increased dramatically. The problem is that people who had not passed through a school of serious work at production sites, in the regions, become, nevertheless, heads of structural units of ministries and agencies», says political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov. [23] As practice shows, the new cadres either procrastinate a decision at a critical point of time or show all sorts of ill-considered initiatives. The materials of the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies also noted problems with the «cadre bench» in Kazakhstan where there is a great deficit of good organizers and operators. It so happens that the same people who had been responsible for the economy for the past 5-10 years and who had not distinguished themselves ideologically or organizationally are responsible for the economy today. [24]

The third importasnt risk, according to experts, is politization of religion and a growing archaization of the lower classes of the society. As was earlier noted in the CISS report, speeches by the incumbent president of Kazakhstan skirt around the most difficult issue of the «tragic January» confrontation between the authorities and the criminal Islamist groups. Here a serious and long struggle is imminent since this phenomenon has both the social base and the internal factors of support. Let us give a simple example: at the time when Kazakhstan gained independence there were only 68 mosques in the country, now there are more than fifty times more 3600 mosques. The biggest number of religious communities is concentrated in the southern part of Kazakhstan where the highest birth rate is observed at the same time. Kazakhstans economy and politics are just unable to keep pace with this demographically religious boom. Today it is high time to admit publicly that Islamization and radicalization is a big and long-term problem for Kazakhstan. [25]

The fourth risk, according to experts, consists in the pressure of external circumstances being exerted on the modernization reforms in Kazakhstan. Among the significant factors are a negative impact of secondary western sanctions, destabilization of the region from outside and a growing media influence by pro-western forces. «Further aggravation of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine may have a negative impact on the inter-ethnic relations in Kazakhstan. We already see claims in various media outlets and social networks against Kazakhstani citizens of the Russian ethnic origin to the effect that nearly all of them may become the «fifth column», though there are actually no grounds for such suspicions», political analyst Andrei Chebotaryov stated. The theme of constant intensification of pro-western and Ukrainian special propaganda in the Russian-speaking media of Kazakhstan is obviously underestimated and should become the subject of a separate expert survey.

New challenges

In our view, all the above-listed threats and risks quite adequately describe a wide range of various challenges to the reforms of President Tokayev. However, one important thing in the system of risks is now still a taboo: direct acts of sabotage by the western special services against the leading politicians and the very statehood of Kazakhstan. It will be recalled that on April 3, 2022 the Kazakhstani counterintelligence detained a foreign agent, a citizen of the RK, who had planned an attempt on the life of Kassym Jomart Tokayev and a number of high-ranking state officials. According to the data of Kazakhstans National Security Committee (NSC), the suspect was also going to commit terrorist acts against the personnel of special services and law enforcement agencies. According to the information now available, this is far from being a single case of such subversive activities, but, rather, a graphic indicator of an alarming trend on intensified activities of the western special services.

A well-informed political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev openly speaks about the western footprint in this case. He notes that the «ex-prime minister, ex-head of the Presidential Administration and ex-Chairman of the NSC [Karim Masimov] was known to have close ties with the British and American business circles». It is highly likely that Karim Masimov had attempted a coup détat camouflaged as a «popular uprising» on orders from them to form Kazakhstans leadership loyal to the West and headed by himself, as well as to destabilize the situation on the borders with Russia and China, the expert concluded. Apparently, as to the prime cause of the «tragic January» events, there are a still a number of forbidden topics and figures of silence since public disclosure of those who had really orchestrated the coup détat could drastically complicate the international position of Kazakhstan.

A recent session of the council of heads of security agencies and special services of the CIS member states noted an active participation of western special services in creating a «belt of instability» at the southern borders of the Commonwealth. Director of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov warned that a leading role in destabilizing the situation in this region is played by the American and British special services. «Using the facilities of several training camps bandits are trained to develop modern weapons skills, including the arsenals left behind by the western coalition, to use remotely piloted vehicles, advanced means of communications and reconnaissance», the FSB Chief stated. It will be recalled that Russia and Kazakhstan have a similar structure of resource-based economy and an extended infrastructure of transportation. However, attacks against the facilities of the oil and gas complex and logistic hubs are today one of the priority targets for international terrorism which was clearly demonstrated by the recent events.

New threats can be prevented not only by the joint efforts of the RF and RK special services, but also through a combination of analytical and expert capabilities of our countries. It appears that the expert communities of Russia and Kazakhstan should constantly work together in order to detect possible challenges and to develop original scenarios to counter them. It is necessary to set up a high level expert group that could make regular reports to the presidents of the RF and RK on the objective status of affairs near our borders and about problems in bilateral relations. As was noted repeatedly in the materials of the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, Russia is interested in the stability of the independent and sovereign Kazakhstan as her key ally and a close neighbor. Among all significant topics within the sight of the CISS Kazakhstan is given priority. We shall continue to pay special attention to the situation in the RK, apply all possible efforts for further development and consolidation of allied relationship between Moscow and Astana.

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