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Trumping victory of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and re-start of Kazakhstan political system

photo: president.kz
22 November 2022

Last Sunday, November 20, the extraordinary presidential elections took place in Kazakhstan. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the incumbent head of the state, secured his double-digit victory winning an 81% majority. [1] His adversaries were able to get the voters support only at the level of 1-3%. The international observers (CIS Executive Committee, CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, SCO, CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, OIC, OTG, Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic States) confirmed the legitimacy of the elections. Voter turnout in Kazakhstan (around 70%) and low level of  protest voting («none of the above» candidate got about 5%) allow for calling the extraordinary elections a robust evidence of trust to both Tokayevs figure and to his political course for building «new Kazakhstan». Immediately after the elections, the re-elected President announced the re-start of the entire political system of the country. What is Kazakhstan to expect after the presidential race, what will be results of the political reform and how will this influence the Russian-Kazakhstan relations?

Prerequisites for the victory

The November elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK) turned out an important final point in that stormy political power play that was agitating the country for the entire 2022. Let us remind here that in January Kazakhstan survived through a wave of massive social protest and the bloody coup détat attempt almost causing the very Kazakhstan statehood to collapse. All these events seriously changed the political landscape: firstly, they decreased the level of influence of the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and his team-mates, and secondly, created the prerequisites for transforming the entire political system.

After the «tragic January» events, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev immediately became the political leader having no alternative and the center for the new consolidation of the society. Sociologists marked the dramatic growth of citizens trust to both Tokayev personally and to the presidency institute headed by him. All the other political institutes of Kazakhstan the judicial and parliamentary systems, executive and law enforcement/security authorities are way behind from the standpoint of their ratings. In fact, the incumbent President received not only the absolute supreme power, but also a huge credit of public trust for implementing a package of ambitious reforms.

It is important that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who practically had the «carte blanche» after the «tragic January» events, remained committed to the course for political system democratization proposed by him. Immediately after the turmoil was finished, Tokayev announced ambitious political changes focused on creating «the new Kazakhstan», and then in June he successfully organized the referendum about Constitutional amendments. Let us emphasize that the Constitutional reform was not prepared behind the scenes, but resulted from the meaningful dialogue between the government and the society including experts. The reform took into account the relevant needs and requests of the citizens and legalized some important novelties: establishment of the Constitutional Court, new forms of electing the parliament and the local self-government bodies the Mejlis and maslikhats. In September, Tokayev proposed additional amendments to the RK Constitution including the presidential term reduction only one-time election for seven years. Regional experts emphasize that the President went for reduction in his powers and limitation of his term of office for the sake of creating well-balanced and transparent governance system and forming the new political culture.

Previously it was mentioned that Kazakhstan authorities drew the appropriate lessons from the January events and tried to neutralize the prime causes the growing poverty and archaization, as well as conflicts inside the elites. Being an experienced politician, Tokayev keenly picked up on the main demand of the society and updated it the demand for social justice and the need of reforming the political system succumbing to stardom. Hence, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev focused his major efforts on the re-launch of state institutions and on creating the transparent public control system. Let us remind here, that his election agenda was titled «Fair Kazakhstan for everyone and for all. Now and forever» and comprised three basic principles: fair state, fair economy, fair society. [2] The incumbent President started to methodically untangle the accumulated problems and to propose the constructive ways for their resolution. This ability to timely and adequately respond to the public demand for change is the first and the main factor for the political leader to win.

The second driver of this compelling victory, of course, is the prominent political figure of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev himself. He is a brilliant intellectual, a strong and experienced politician recognized both domestically and on the global arena. Being a top-level diplomat and an excellent negotiator, the leader of Kazakhstan conducted a series of meetings and summits, which provided for international legitimacy of the elections, which were recognized as fair by practically all the global players. Marat Shibutov, an analyst, highlights the valuable leadership features of Tokayev he knows how to stay the trivial things, to make strategic decisions and to assume the responsibility. «During the three years in office, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made numerous decisions, just like the national leader has to. But he is different from others, because many of those decisions were very difficult, which others avoided, and he also made some decisions, which dimmed his own power. Many leaders in such cases could not step outside of their egos and images, but he could», Shibutov writes in his Telegram.

The third driver of Tokayevs victory was his impressive ability not only to consolidate the entire society «bottom-up», but to mediate the conflicts at the top level. The incoherence of the elites was demonstrated during the January coup-détat attempt, but it was replaced by consolidation of the political class for the sake of preserving the sovereignty of Kazakhstan and resolving common problems. In the course of the election campaign, there were many talks about the possibility of the revenge by «the old timers» and forming a united opposition around one of the former political heavyweights. However, the retirees demonstrated due soundness of mind and preferred not to rock the boat in difficult times. In this relation, the observers pay special attention to a very complimentary statement by Imangali Tasmagambetov in support of Tokayev during the 2022 presidential race. The charismatic politician Tasmagambetov has always been nominated as one of the key successors of Nursultan Nazarbayev and then was viewed as a serious candidate for presidency, his words should be viewed as the evidence of the elites recognizing Tokayev a national leader for the next seven years.

The extraordinary elections rationale

We need to review the reasons underpinning Tokayevs decision to go for the extraordinary presidential elections in November 2022 and not to wait until the end of his term in office in late 2024. Three basic factors should be identified among these reasons the foreign policy, the social and economic factor and the domestic policy as the dominating one. The «tragic January» events induced the decisive and rigid actions by President Tokayev. The Kazakh society started viewing him as the «savior of the Motherland», and then as an intellectual leader capable of finding the way out of the political dead-end. If the incumbent authorities turned to a passive waiting mode and if the pace of internal political activity went down, this could lead to negative consequences. For example, to such as reactivation of the united Fronde comprising the pro-Western opposition, the unhappy elites and religious radicals. The materials of the on-going investigation evidence that it was this «grim cocktail» that exploded in January. President Tokayev placed a decisive bet  on being proactive and won, as we can see. After the extraordinary elections were announced, the opposition could not find a single candidate, hence, could not challenge Tokayevs leadership.

The social and economic factor was equally important. Because the growing stratification of the society and inequality in income was one of the prime causes of the «tragic January» events, social justice and fighting poverty became the meaningful agenda of Tokayevs presidential addresses and the election campaign. At present, the Kazakhstan budget allows for implementing the urgent measures of the broad populist program, but in near future there may be problems with filling the public purse. Anti-Russian sanctions and logistical restrictions of the West may badly hurt Kazakhstan due to its close infrastructural ties with Russia. For example, more than 80% of oil exported from Kazakhstan go through the terminals of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) in Novorossiysk, which may become subject to Western embargo or even a military attack. The low-capacity route via the Caspian Sea is more complicated technically and more expensive; according to the experts, it will not be able to substitute for CPC in the next five or seven years. In the situation of all these economic uncertainties, shifting the presidential elections to the current year, which is more favorable, looks a reasonable and balanced decision.

Foreign policy was not last among the factors determining the need for extraordinary elections. Or rather the factor of external influence on the political situation in Kazakhstan. Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst from Kazakhstan, openly speaks about the January events as of a coup détat attempt in the interests of Western stakeholders. In his opinion, the former leaders of the National Security Committee (NSC) used the following plan to destabilize the domestic situation: social protests massive rallies given the «neutrality» of the NSC and the army civilian revolt with participation of the organized crime and religious extremists establishing the pro-Western «government of national confidence». The back-up scenario was radicalization and Islamization of the protest with a threat of growing into the civil war and destabilization of the entire region. The conspirators plans were derailed thanks to Tokayevs decisive actions and timely interference of the CSTO forces. The shift of the elections practically deprives the external stakeholders of the possibility to plan a new interference into the internal affairs of Kazakhstan. [3]

The analysts highlight the important statement by Tokayev during the voting about the priority of the multi-vector policy for Kazakhstan. [4] In essence, the national leader publicly announced the neutrality of Kazakhstan and basing all the decisions solely on the national interests. Clearly, this choice made by Astana does not satisfy the majority of global players. They would like to see Kazakhstan as a more loyal ally, and some of them at the forefront of the Western coalition. However, neither Russia, nor China, nor the West currently do not have effective tools of influencing the domestic political situation in Kazakhstan, as they are too busy with the conflicts around Ukraine and Taiwan. The President of Kazakhstan was efficient in using the open «window of opportunities» to organize his re-election. Figuratively speaking, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev successfully ran for presidency right in the «typhoons eye». This is an evidence of his accurate risk assessment and multi-vector situation analysis.

Top-down revolution

The forthcoming seven years of Tokayevs presidency is quite a lengthy term, especially with account of the current super-speed and turbulence in the global politics. The leader of the Republic of Kazakhstan will have to use this time to cope with many challenges from restructuring the economy currently based on exporting raw materials and creating the new logistics to massive political reform. The integral program of political modernization «from the top» is the pet project of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. All the political reforms in Kazakhstan starting from 2019 until recently were aimed at implementing this program. Erlan Karin, the Secretary of State defined the super-task of the extraordinary elections as follows: It will be not just voting for that or another candidate, but the launch of a new, more democratic model of government, the Constitutional contours of which the citizens of Kazakhstan approved in the course of the July referendum. [5]

Indeed, the enactment of several laws in support of the Constitutional reform was timed to the day of the election. For example, on November 17, the new provision of the law «On amendments and supplements to some legal acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan regulating the implementation of the Presidential address dated 16 March 2022». According to this new provision, all the heads of the regions (akims) and their deputies holding any positions in political parties should become non-partisan within 10 days. The same deadline is given to the Chairperson and judges of the Supreme Court and other courts, the Chairperson and members of the Central Election Commission and of the Higher Audit Chamber, as well as the Ombudsperson for termination of their membership in political parties. In fact, the old governance system is terminated the one based on the Soviet template of the «Order of the Brothers of the Sward», where different branches of power executive, judicial and legislative were subordinate to the ruling political party. Ak-Orda believes, that this step will result in forming the new, drastically different political system.

In accordance with the law, the heads of central executive agencies directly subordinate and accountable to the head of the state will submit their resignations immediately after the inauguration of the newly elected President. This includes such important entities as the Presidential Administration and General Affairs department, the security/law enforcement agencies such as the National Security Committee and the State Guards Service, as well as a number of key agencies. All the akims of regions and metropolitan areas also will resign including the ones appointed under the new procedure. The heads of the newly established Constitutional Court and Higher Audit Chamber will be appointed. It is expected that this powerful «reshuffle wave» will «wash away» a number of heavyweights of Nazarbayevs epoch. This will allow President Tokayev to bring some fresh figures to the forefront and start the new political cycle. The scale of the forthcoming changes is so huge, they may be rightly called «the top-down revolution».

However, the political modernization in Kazakhstan will not finish after the extraordinary presidential elections. The forthcoming elections to the Majilis (the parliament) and maslikhats of all levels scheduled for the first half of 2023 will be the next stage of re-booting the government institutions. Regional experts are convinced that contrary to the calm presidential race, the electoral spring will be very hot. Active campaigning is expected from both political entities and single-mandate candidates including those supported by oligarchs groups and sectoral lobbyists. [6] It is difficult to forecast the elections outcome and the post-elections practices, because it is the second attempt of the «top-down democratization» in the contemporary history. The first attempt known as Gorbachevs «perestroika» failed, because at that time the Soviet leaders had neither any plan for the reforms, not the capabilities for their implementation. We hope that the second attempt will be more successful and all the efforts on behalf of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev focused on re0launching the post-Soviet state will not be in vain or turn out catastrophic.

Value for Russia

A legitimate question arises: how will the current ambitious reforms in Kazakhstan affect the relations between the RF and the RK? Previously we had to remark that post-Soviet Kazakhstan was a peculiar «time machine» for Russia. From the systemic analysis standpoint, our neighbor is a homologic model of the RF on a scale 1:7 in terms of both the territory/population and the economic metrics. Our economies have similar profiles, they are both resource-based, transportation interconnections are very strong, the mentality of the broader public and of the elites is similar, and that is why our countries have many common social and political problems. It is another thing that according to the big systems theory, smaller social organisms have higher beat frequency. To put it simply, the smaller systems are more agile they need to respond to their challenges quicker and to make immediate decisions in order to survive.

The RK political class is more compact and less inertial, it is capable of absorbing new knowledge and of adequately responding to the new challenges. During thirty post-Soviet years Kazakhstan provided numerous innovative examples and models for Russia in Constitutional and political spheres, which we used upon certain adjustment. Tokayevs modernization is especially interesting for Russian experts as it may provide the answer to the key question of the post-Soviet transit. Are the post-Soviet elites capable of top-down management of reforming the corroded political system, or it can only be re-started as the faded engine after a collapse resulting from a military, social or political crisis? The next year will demonstrate, whether the Tokayevs team successfully coped with its historic task. In our opinion, this Kazakhstan experience positive or negative will be of significant value for future electoral cycles in Russia. 

From the geopolitical standpoint, stable and friendly Kazakhstan is the key factor for the security and stability of Russia. And moreover an important factor of our «domestic geopolitics» and even territorial integrity. Kazakhstan is located in that most important communications center, which links Siberian Russia and European Russia. It means that destabilization of Kazakhstan may directly affect the domestic political situation in Russia. Figuratively speaking, from the military and strategic standpoints our countries are «the Siamese twins» closely adherent in the soft underbelly via the worlds longest land frontier. When the US State Department openly speaks about the future plans of «tearing Kazakhstan from Russia», they need to understand: it will not be possible to that easily and painlessly, without the bloodiest consequences. President Tokayev comprehends very well the degree of our deep interconnections and often talks about friendly relations between Kazakhstan and Russia as neighbors granted by the will of God.

In the situation of global confrontation between the RF and the West, Kazakhstan becomes especially important for two reasons. Firstly, as a strategic base, which may be used to explode Central Asia and to dramatically aggravate the situation in Russia, China and the Caspian Region. Secondly, this territory is rich in mineral resources and new transit routes to the global market. As an experienced diplomat, Tokayev understands very well the stabilizing role of Kazakhstan as a geopolitical balancer between Russia and China. Regional experts especially emphasize that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev did not allow to drag Kazakhstan into any conflict of modern global and regional politics. These are strong reasons for Russia (which does not want a «second front» at its Southern frontiers) to welcome the re-election of President Tokayev for the new 7-year term as an understandable and well-tested partner.

From the geopolitical standpoint, the role of Kazakhstan as of a transit territory will be growing including for the North-South and East-West international transport corridors (ITCs). In the context of broad-range anti-Russian sanctions, the Caspian transit becomes the new «Road of Life» for Russia, and it will be difficult to implement this project without participation of Kazakhstan. Analysts emphasize the fact that Kazakhstan together with Turkey and Uzbekistan became the major supplier of various goods under the parallel imports schemes. Kazakhstan officials stated that will not assist Russia in by-passing the Western sanctions, however, our neighbor effectively became the buffer territory for financial transactions and for supplying hi-tec items. K.-J. Tokayev mentioned that relocation of numerous Western companies from Russia to Kazakhstan will help to keep important technology and components in the Russian market. Kazakhstan is strictly abiding by the executed international agreements, including the EAEU-related ones, so there are no grounds to believe that the new Tokayevs term will be a trigger for their revision.

Preliminary conclusions

We may acknowledge here that the compelling victory of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is a vote of confidence in his political course. The success of his election campaign was underpinned by three important drivers: the match between the Presidents policy and the public demand; the prominent figure of Tokayev as an experienced politician and mighty intellectual; his filigree ability to use «the window of opportunities» amidst the turbulent international politics. All these three drivers in combination with the skillful election campaigning allowed for the re-election of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for the new 7-year term with convincing result. Personally, the head of the state stayed away from direct involvement in the presidential race assigning this task to the Peoples Coalition created for his support and the Community Command Center. On one hand, this allowed for save the President from devaluation because of discussions with the second- and third-tier politicians. On the other hand, it mobilized Tokayevs advocates and the supporting partisan entities for active campaigning during the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which are expected to be more tough and competitive.

In the current international political context, stable Kazakhstan becomes the key factor for assuring the security of Russia at its Southern frontiers. Destabilization of Kazakhstan is capable of detonating the entire Central Asian region and may have an adverse effect on domestic political stability of Russia. Another important argument in favor of friendly relations between Moscow and Astana is significant transportation interconnection. Kazakhstan is also viewed as a key hub of the new logistic routes in the Caspian Region, in particular, the North-South MTC. The awareness of such strategic ties between our two countries should prevent both Russian and Kazakhstan politicians from blunt and ill-judged actions. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proved himself as a careful and experienced leader, the reliable and well-tested Russian partner. These are strong reasons for welcoming Tokayevs re-election for the new 7-year term as a new opportunity for constructive and substantial work to the benefit of both nations.

The hazards and risks that Russia and Kazakhstan are facing today are quite real, so we should warn against the post-election euphoria. To prevent potential conflict scenarios, first of all, it is necessary to fine-tune the mechanism of on-going dialogue between politicians of different levels. Special attention should be paid to regular consultations at the level of security agencies and analytical centers providing for the understanding of the reasons underpinning the decision-making and for evaluating the implications of various scenarios. Military cooperation is separate, it includes cooperation within CSTO, in particular developing a clear protocol for provision of mutual assistance in the crisis situations. Kazakhstan is too important for Russia to even allow a hypothetical possibility of Kazakhstan sovereignty collapse.

1. CEC: Tokayev wins with 81.31% vote at the presidential elections in Kazakhstan. RBC, 21.11.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/21/11/2022/637b0a059a7947748aa94da9

2. «Fair Kazakhstan for everyone and for all. Now and forever». Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 28.10.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/solozobov-yurij/spravedlivyj-kazahstan-dlya-vsekh-i-dlya-kazhdogo-sejchas-i-navsegda-38331.shtml

3. On the eve of the presidential elections in Kazakhstan: where did the hysteria around Kassym-Jomart Tokayev come from? Cronos Asia, 18.11.2022. https://cronos.asia/politika/nakanune-vyborov-v-prezidenty-kazahstana-otkuda-vzyalas-isteriya-vokrug-kasym-zhomarta-tokaeva

4. Tokayev: Kazakhstan should be implementing multi-vector policy. RBC, 20.11.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/20/11/2022/6379b77f9a79472d05b6db2c

5. «A new, more democratic type of political system will be formed», Karin. KTK TV, 18.11.2022. https://www.ktk.kz/ru/news/video/2022/11/18/228070/

6. «There will never be a rigid vertical again». Lenta.Ru, 17.11. 2022. https://lenta.ru/articles/2022/11/17/shibutov/

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Reports

Trumping victory of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and re-start of Kazakhstan political system

photo: president.kz
22 2022

Last Sunday, November 20, the extraordinary presidential elections took place in Kazakhstan. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the incumbent head of the state, secured his double-digit victory winning an 81% majority. [1] His adversaries were able to get the voters support only at the level of 1-3%. The international observers (CIS Executive Committee, CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, SCO, CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, OIC, OTG, Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic States) confirmed the legitimacy of the elections. Voter turnout in Kazakhstan (around 70%) and low level of  protest voting («none of the above» candidate got about 5%) allow for calling the extraordinary elections a robust evidence of trust to both Tokayevs figure and to his political course for building «new Kazakhstan». Immediately after the elections, the re-elected President announced the re-start of the entire political system of the country. What is Kazakhstan to expect after the presidential race, what will be results of the political reform and how will this influence the Russian-Kazakhstan relations?

Prerequisites for the victory

The November elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK) turned out an important final point in that stormy political power play that was agitating the country for the entire 2022. Let us remind here that in January Kazakhstan survived through a wave of massive social protest and the bloody coup détat attempt almost causing the very Kazakhstan statehood to collapse. All these events seriously changed the political landscape: firstly, they decreased the level of influence of the first President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev and his team-mates, and secondly, created the prerequisites for transforming the entire political system.

After the «tragic January» events, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev immediately became the political leader having no alternative and the center for the new consolidation of the society. Sociologists marked the dramatic growth of citizens trust to both Tokayev personally and to the presidency institute headed by him. All the other political institutes of Kazakhstan the judicial and parliamentary systems, executive and law enforcement/security authorities are way behind from the standpoint of their ratings. In fact, the incumbent President received not only the absolute supreme power, but also a huge credit of public trust for implementing a package of ambitious reforms.

It is important that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who practically had the «carte blanche» after the «tragic January» events, remained committed to the course for political system democratization proposed by him. Immediately after the turmoil was finished, Tokayev announced ambitious political changes focused on creating «the new Kazakhstan», and then in June he successfully organized the referendum about Constitutional amendments. Let us emphasize that the Constitutional reform was not prepared behind the scenes, but resulted from the meaningful dialogue between the government and the society including experts. The reform took into account the relevant needs and requests of the citizens and legalized some important novelties: establishment of the Constitutional Court, new forms of electing the parliament and the local self-government bodies the Mejlis and maslikhats. In September, Tokayev proposed additional amendments to the RK Constitution including the presidential term reduction only one-time election for seven years. Regional experts emphasize that the President went for reduction in his powers and limitation of his term of office for the sake of creating well-balanced and transparent governance system and forming the new political culture.

Previously it was mentioned that Kazakhstan authorities drew the appropriate lessons from the January events and tried to neutralize the prime causes the growing poverty and archaization, as well as conflicts inside the elites. Being an experienced politician, Tokayev keenly picked up on the main demand of the society and updated it the demand for social justice and the need of reforming the political system succumbing to stardom. Hence, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev focused his major efforts on the re-launch of state institutions and on creating the transparent public control system. Let us remind here, that his election agenda was titled «Fair Kazakhstan for everyone and for all. Now and forever» and comprised three basic principles: fair state, fair economy, fair society. [2] The incumbent President started to methodically untangle the accumulated problems and to propose the constructive ways for their resolution. This ability to timely and adequately respond to the public demand for change is the first and the main factor for the political leader to win.

The second driver of this compelling victory, of course, is the prominent political figure of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev himself. He is a brilliant intellectual, a strong and experienced politician recognized both domestically and on the global arena. Being a top-level diplomat and an excellent negotiator, the leader of Kazakhstan conducted a series of meetings and summits, which provided for international legitimacy of the elections, which were recognized as fair by practically all the global players. Marat Shibutov, an analyst, highlights the valuable leadership features of Tokayev he knows how to stay the trivial things, to make strategic decisions and to assume the responsibility. «During the three years in office, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made numerous decisions, just like the national leader has to. But he is different from others, because many of those decisions were very difficult, which others avoided, and he also made some decisions, which dimmed his own power. Many leaders in such cases could not step outside of their egos and images, but he could», Shibutov writes in his Telegram.

The third driver of Tokayevs victory was his impressive ability not only to consolidate the entire society «bottom-up», but to mediate the conflicts at the top level. The incoherence of the elites was demonstrated during the January coup-détat attempt, but it was replaced by consolidation of the political class for the sake of preserving the sovereignty of Kazakhstan and resolving common problems. In the course of the election campaign, there were many talks about the possibility of the revenge by «the old timers» and forming a united opposition around one of the former political heavyweights. However, the retirees demonstrated due soundness of mind and preferred not to rock the boat in difficult times. In this relation, the observers pay special attention to a very complimentary statement by Imangali Tasmagambetov in support of Tokayev during the 2022 presidential race. The charismatic politician Tasmagambetov has always been nominated as one of the key successors of Nursultan Nazarbayev and then was viewed as a serious candidate for presidency, his words should be viewed as the evidence of the elites recognizing Tokayev a national leader for the next seven years.

The extraordinary elections rationale

We need to review the reasons underpinning Tokayevs decision to go for the extraordinary presidential elections in November 2022 and not to wait until the end of his term in office in late 2024. Three basic factors should be identified among these reasons the foreign policy, the social and economic factor and the domestic policy as the dominating one. The «tragic January» events induced the decisive and rigid actions by President Tokayev. The Kazakh society started viewing him as the «savior of the Motherland», and then as an intellectual leader capable of finding the way out of the political dead-end. If the incumbent authorities turned to a passive waiting mode and if the pace of internal political activity went down, this could lead to negative consequences. For example, to such as reactivation of the united Fronde comprising the pro-Western opposition, the unhappy elites and religious radicals. The materials of the on-going investigation evidence that it was this «grim cocktail» that exploded in January. President Tokayev placed a decisive bet  on being proactive and won, as we can see. After the extraordinary elections were announced, the opposition could not find a single candidate, hence, could not challenge Tokayevs leadership.

The social and economic factor was equally important. Because the growing stratification of the society and inequality in income was one of the prime causes of the «tragic January» events, social justice and fighting poverty became the meaningful agenda of Tokayevs presidential addresses and the election campaign. At present, the Kazakhstan budget allows for implementing the urgent measures of the broad populist program, but in near future there may be problems with filling the public purse. Anti-Russian sanctions and logistical restrictions of the West may badly hurt Kazakhstan due to its close infrastructural ties with Russia. For example, more than 80% of oil exported from Kazakhstan go through the terminals of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) in Novorossiysk, which may become subject to Western embargo or even a military attack. The low-capacity route via the Caspian Sea is more complicated technically and more expensive; according to the experts, it will not be able to substitute for CPC in the next five or seven years. In the situation of all these economic uncertainties, shifting the presidential elections to the current year, which is more favorable, looks a reasonable and balanced decision.

Foreign policy was not last among the factors determining the need for extraordinary elections. Or rather the factor of external influence on the political situation in Kazakhstan. Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst from Kazakhstan, openly speaks about the January events as of a coup détat attempt in the interests of Western stakeholders. In his opinion, the former leaders of the National Security Committee (NSC) used the following plan to destabilize the domestic situation: social protests massive rallies given the «neutrality» of the NSC and the army civilian revolt with participation of the organized crime and religious extremists establishing the pro-Western «government of national confidence». The back-up scenario was radicalization and Islamization of the protest with a threat of growing into the civil war and destabilization of the entire region. The conspirators plans were derailed thanks to Tokayevs decisive actions and timely interference of the CSTO forces. The shift of the elections practically deprives the external stakeholders of the possibility to plan a new interference into the internal affairs of Kazakhstan. [3]

The analysts highlight the important statement by Tokayev during the voting about the priority of the multi-vector policy for Kazakhstan. [4] In essence, the national leader publicly announced the neutrality of Kazakhstan and basing all the decisions solely on the national interests. Clearly, this choice made by Astana does not satisfy the majority of global players. They would like to see Kazakhstan as a more loyal ally, and some of them at the forefront of the Western coalition. However, neither Russia, nor China, nor the West currently do not have effective tools of influencing the domestic political situation in Kazakhstan, as they are too busy with the conflicts around Ukraine and Taiwan. The President of Kazakhstan was efficient in using the open «window of opportunities» to organize his re-election. Figuratively speaking, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev successfully ran for presidency right in the «typhoons eye». This is an evidence of his accurate risk assessment and multi-vector situation analysis.

Top-down revolution

The forthcoming seven years of Tokayevs presidency is quite a lengthy term, especially with account of the current super-speed and turbulence in the global politics. The leader of the Republic of Kazakhstan will have to use this time to cope with many challenges from restructuring the economy currently based on exporting raw materials and creating the new logistics to massive political reform. The integral program of political modernization «from the top» is the pet project of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. All the political reforms in Kazakhstan starting from 2019 until recently were aimed at implementing this program. Erlan Karin, the Secretary of State defined the super-task of the extraordinary elections as follows: It will be not just voting for that or another candidate, but the launch of a new, more democratic model of government, the Constitutional contours of which the citizens of Kazakhstan approved in the course of the July referendum. [5]

Indeed, the enactment of several laws in support of the Constitutional reform was timed to the day of the election. For example, on November 17, the new provision of the law «On amendments and supplements to some legal acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan regulating the implementation of the Presidential address dated 16 March 2022». According to this new provision, all the heads of the regions (akims) and their deputies holding any positions in political parties should become non-partisan within 10 days. The same deadline is given to the Chairperson and judges of the Supreme Court and other courts, the Chairperson and members of the Central Election Commission and of the Higher Audit Chamber, as well as the Ombudsperson for termination of their membership in political parties. In fact, the old governance system is terminated the one based on the Soviet template of the «Order of the Brothers of the Sward», where different branches of power executive, judicial and legislative were subordinate to the ruling political party. Ak-Orda believes, that this step will result in forming the new, drastically different political system.

In accordance with the law, the heads of central executive agencies directly subordinate and accountable to the head of the state will submit their resignations immediately after the inauguration of the newly elected President. This includes such important entities as the Presidential Administration and General Affairs department, the security/law enforcement agencies such as the National Security Committee and the State Guards Service, as well as a number of key agencies. All the akims of regions and metropolitan areas also will resign including the ones appointed under the new procedure. The heads of the newly established Constitutional Court and Higher Audit Chamber will be appointed. It is expected that this powerful «reshuffle wave» will «wash away» a number of heavyweights of Nazarbayevs epoch. This will allow President Tokayev to bring some fresh figures to the forefront and start the new political cycle. The scale of the forthcoming changes is so huge, they may be rightly called «the top-down revolution».

However, the political modernization in Kazakhstan will not finish after the extraordinary presidential elections. The forthcoming elections to the Majilis (the parliament) and maslikhats of all levels scheduled for the first half of 2023 will be the next stage of re-booting the government institutions. Regional experts are convinced that contrary to the calm presidential race, the electoral spring will be very hot. Active campaigning is expected from both political entities and single-mandate candidates including those supported by oligarchs groups and sectoral lobbyists. [6] It is difficult to forecast the elections outcome and the post-elections practices, because it is the second attempt of the «top-down democratization» in the contemporary history. The first attempt known as Gorbachevs «perestroika» failed, because at that time the Soviet leaders had neither any plan for the reforms, not the capabilities for their implementation. We hope that the second attempt will be more successful and all the efforts on behalf of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev focused on re0launching the post-Soviet state will not be in vain or turn out catastrophic.

Value for Russia

A legitimate question arises: how will the current ambitious reforms in Kazakhstan affect the relations between the RF and the RK? Previously we had to remark that post-Soviet Kazakhstan was a peculiar «time machine» for Russia. From the systemic analysis standpoint, our neighbor is a homologic model of the RF on a scale 1:7 in terms of both the territory/population and the economic metrics. Our economies have similar profiles, they are both resource-based, transportation interconnections are very strong, the mentality of the broader public and of the elites is similar, and that is why our countries have many common social and political problems. It is another thing that according to the big systems theory, smaller social organisms have higher beat frequency. To put it simply, the smaller systems are more agile they need to respond to their challenges quicker and to make immediate decisions in order to survive.

The RK political class is more compact and less inertial, it is capable of absorbing new knowledge and of adequately responding to the new challenges. During thirty post-Soviet years Kazakhstan provided numerous innovative examples and models for Russia in Constitutional and political spheres, which we used upon certain adjustment. Tokayevs modernization is especially interesting for Russian experts as it may provide the answer to the key question of the post-Soviet transit. Are the post-Soviet elites capable of top-down management of reforming the corroded political system, or it can only be re-started as the faded engine after a collapse resulting from a military, social or political crisis? The next year will demonstrate, whether the Tokayevs team successfully coped with its historic task. In our opinion, this Kazakhstan experience positive or negative will be of significant value for future electoral cycles in Russia. 

From the geopolitical standpoint, stable and friendly Kazakhstan is the key factor for the security and stability of Russia. And moreover an important factor of our «domestic geopolitics» and even territorial integrity. Kazakhstan is located in that most important communications center, which links Siberian Russia and European Russia. It means that destabilization of Kazakhstan may directly affect the domestic political situation in Russia. Figuratively speaking, from the military and strategic standpoints our countries are «the Siamese twins» closely adherent in the soft underbelly via the worlds longest land frontier. When the US State Department openly speaks about the future plans of «tearing Kazakhstan from Russia», they need to understand: it will not be possible to that easily and painlessly, without the bloodiest consequences. President Tokayev comprehends very well the degree of our deep interconnections and often talks about friendly relations between Kazakhstan and Russia as neighbors granted by the will of God.

In the situation of global confrontation between the RF and the West, Kazakhstan becomes especially important for two reasons. Firstly, as a strategic base, which may be used to explode Central Asia and to dramatically aggravate the situation in Russia, China and the Caspian Region. Secondly, this territory is rich in mineral resources and new transit routes to the global market. As an experienced diplomat, Tokayev understands very well the stabilizing role of Kazakhstan as a geopolitical balancer between Russia and China. Regional experts especially emphasize that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev did not allow to drag Kazakhstan into any conflict of modern global and regional politics. These are strong reasons for Russia (which does not want a «second front» at its Southern frontiers) to welcome the re-election of President Tokayev for the new 7-year term as an understandable and well-tested partner.

From the geopolitical standpoint, the role of Kazakhstan as of a transit territory will be growing including for the North-South and East-West international transport corridors (ITCs). In the context of broad-range anti-Russian sanctions, the Caspian transit becomes the new «Road of Life» for Russia, and it will be difficult to implement this project without participation of Kazakhstan. Analysts emphasize the fact that Kazakhstan together with Turkey and Uzbekistan became the major supplier of various goods under the parallel imports schemes. Kazakhstan officials stated that will not assist Russia in by-passing the Western sanctions, however, our neighbor effectively became the buffer territory for financial transactions and for supplying hi-tec items. K.-J. Tokayev mentioned that relocation of numerous Western companies from Russia to Kazakhstan will help to keep important technology and components in the Russian market. Kazakhstan is strictly abiding by the executed international agreements, including the EAEU-related ones, so there are no grounds to believe that the new Tokayevs term will be a trigger for their revision.

Preliminary conclusions

We may acknowledge here that the compelling victory of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is a vote of confidence in his political course. The success of his election campaign was underpinned by three important drivers: the match between the Presidents policy and the public demand; the prominent figure of Tokayev as an experienced politician and mighty intellectual; his filigree ability to use «the window of opportunities» amidst the turbulent international politics. All these three drivers in combination with the skillful election campaigning allowed for the re-election of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for the new 7-year term with convincing result. Personally, the head of the state stayed away from direct involvement in the presidential race assigning this task to the Peoples Coalition created for his support and the Community Command Center. On one hand, this allowed for save the President from devaluation because of discussions with the second- and third-tier politicians. On the other hand, it mobilized Tokayevs advocates and the supporting partisan entities for active campaigning during the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which are expected to be more tough and competitive.

In the current international political context, stable Kazakhstan becomes the key factor for assuring the security of Russia at its Southern frontiers. Destabilization of Kazakhstan is capable of detonating the entire Central Asian region and may have an adverse effect on domestic political stability of Russia. Another important argument in favor of friendly relations between Moscow and Astana is significant transportation interconnection. Kazakhstan is also viewed as a key hub of the new logistic routes in the Caspian Region, in particular, the North-South MTC. The awareness of such strategic ties between our two countries should prevent both Russian and Kazakhstan politicians from blunt and ill-judged actions. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proved himself as a careful and experienced leader, the reliable and well-tested Russian partner. These are strong reasons for welcoming Tokayevs re-election for the new 7-year term as a new opportunity for constructive and substantial work to the benefit of both nations.

The hazards and risks that Russia and Kazakhstan are facing today are quite real, so we should warn against the post-election euphoria. To prevent potential conflict scenarios, first of all, it is necessary to fine-tune the mechanism of on-going dialogue between politicians of different levels. Special attention should be paid to regular consultations at the level of security agencies and analytical centers providing for the understanding of the reasons underpinning the decision-making and for evaluating the implications of various scenarios. Military cooperation is separate, it includes cooperation within CSTO, in particular developing a clear protocol for provision of mutual assistance in the crisis situations. Kazakhstan is too important for Russia to even allow a hypothetical possibility of Kazakhstan sovereignty collapse.

1. CEC: Tokayev wins with 81.31% vote at the presidential elections in Kazakhstan. RBC, 21.11.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/21/11/2022/637b0a059a7947748aa94da9

2. «Fair Kazakhstan for everyone and for all. Now and forever». Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, 28.10.2022. https://caspian.institute/product/solozobov-yurij/spravedlivyj-kazahstan-dlya-vsekh-i-dlya-kazhdogo-sejchas-i-navsegda-38331.shtml

3. On the eve of the presidential elections in Kazakhstan: where did the hysteria around Kassym-Jomart Tokayev come from? Cronos Asia, 18.11.2022. https://cronos.asia/politika/nakanune-vyborov-v-prezidenty-kazahstana-otkuda-vzyalas-isteriya-vokrug-kasym-zhomarta-tokaeva

4. Tokayev: Kazakhstan should be implementing multi-vector policy. RBC, 20.11.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/20/11/2022/6379b77f9a79472d05b6db2c

5. «A new, more democratic type of political system will be formed», Karin. KTK TV, 18.11.2022. https://www.ktk.kz/ru/news/video/2022/11/18/228070/

6. «There will never be a rigid vertical again». Lenta.Ru, 17.11. 2022. https://lenta.ru/articles/2022/11/17/shibutov/