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Kazakhstan: on the eve of the extraordinary presidential elections

30 September 2022
Yuri BerbekovYuri Berbekov

Yuri Berbekov

CISS expert

«Regular extraordinary elections»

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (ROK), signed the Decree about holding the extraordinary presidential elections on 20 November 2022. [1] «Regular extraordinary elections» is a long-lasting political tradition in Kazakhstan.  This well-tried solution always gave significant benefits for the authorities and broke the plans of the opposition. However, this time the incumbent President publicly determined the entire calendar schedule of the lengthy electoral cycle. In essence, Tokayev announced the start of a big political season, in which all the existing political forces of the country can take part. This is connected with the fact, that immediately after the end of the presidential race, direct preparation to the elections of a different level will commence parliamentary elections and elections maslikhats (local self-government level). To which extent are the results of the presidential race predictable, is the Kazakhstan political class ready for the electoral contest and will the opposition be able to take their chance?

Let us remind here, that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the relay race of the extraordinary elections at different levels in his State of the Nation on September 1. «This is why I am ready to reduce my own time in office and go for the extraordinary presidential elections», the Kazakhstan leader stated. Simultaneously, Tokayev proposed to revise the length and number of offices for the President of the country and recommended to limit the presidency by seven years without a re-election option.

On top of that, elections to the national parliament and local representative bodies were planned for early 2023. The analysts believe this Tokayevs initiative about the early elections cycle to be absolutely in line with the logic of political transformations during the preceding three years: consistent moving away from the «Nazarbayevs model» and building a new power system loyal to Tokayev. 

After the «tragic January» events, the incumbent ROK President suddenly received a free rein to re-organize the political class of Kazakhstan «from scratch», which he immediately used in its entirety. Successful referendum on the Constitutional reform took place on 5 June 2022 and regularized the updated procedure for interaction of the branches of power. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev defined this new formula as follows: «strong President influential parliament accountable government».

In his opinion, redistribution of certain powers from the President to the parliament is finished by now in Kazakhstan. Indeed, noticeable transformations occurred in the political system of the country: for example, regional akims are now elected on a competitive basis. During the next elections to Majilis (parliament) and maslikhats will be elected on a new combined basis party list voting and single-member electoral districts. Constitutional Court was established and will start its activity in January 2023.

As envisioned by Akorda, it was necessary to restart the entire political system including such important institutes as the President, parliament, government and maslikhats in order to launch the new political model of Kazakhstan. All that was used in the special State of the Nation, where the rationale for the extraordinary elections was explained in detail. [2]  

Regional experts are afraid that the launched electoral marathon, which is of a lengthy character (up to six months), may have a negative impact on the government and regulation in the country. One of the potential risks is insufficient readiness of the central and local governments (after significant reshuffle upon the «tragic January» events) for the lengthy election campaign. This may have adverse effects on political stability, on social and economic situation of the country at each stage of the relay race.

The chronicle of the announced victory

The observers state that practically one month has passed from announcing of the extraordinary presidential elections to signing the respective decree. Let us note, that previously all the extraordinary elections in Kazakhstan were announced practically on the day the decree about them was signed. This time Akorda needed such a big time-lag to resolve the legal collision with the future term of office. The existing Constitutional provision permitted only five years for the incumbent President, that is why extraordinary elections this autumn required urgent change of the legal framework, especially taking into account the announced novelty about the seven-year term of office. The situation was being corrected directly in the course of the political process by amending the Constitution at the initiative of the Majilis, even though the President himself intended to initiate the change only after the election. 

The parliament members explained their decision by the exclusive political situation. The also referred to Tokayevs commitment not to run for presidency again. Such readiness of Kazakhstan authorities to change the legal framework for specific elections is an evidence of poor planning and preparation of important political decisions. Regional experts believe that such hasty amendments will impact the legitimacy of the next presidential term of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and reference to the «exclusivity» may become an important precedent allowing him to run for the next seven-year term in 2029. But in any case, the recently published Decree on organizing the extraordinary presidential elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan drew a line under the growing discussions between experts and politicians about possible length of the presidential terms and turned them into practice.

Already on the next day, 22 September 2022, the Central held a session and approved the calendar schedule of the key events to prepare and hold the elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. [3] The extraordinary presidential elections will have the following stages: nomination of the candidates from September 23 until October 11; campaigning from October 21 until November 18; election day November 20; summing up the interim results of the elections November 21-22; determination of vote results and registration of the elected President until November 27. Thus, the promised election platform of K.-J. Tokayev defining «the new initiatives targeted at achieving social and economic progress» should be expected not earlier than the second week of October. 

Analysts pay their attention to the fact that Kazakhstan authorities for the first time ever publicly and openly announced the entire schedule of the election cycle. This time is quite enough both for public discussions of the forthcoming elections and for preparation of the potential participants. Who of the Kazakhstan politicians and how will be able to use the opening window of opportunities? Regional experts are sure that the majority of traditional participants of media and political communities in Kazakhstan are unlikely to seriously compete with Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Western experts believe that the election campaign may still bring surprises and difficulties for the authorities, so the presidential race will not be easy and placid, especially given the current geopolitical situation.

Tokayev as the main candidate

However, practically all the political analysts in Kazakhstan are sure that the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will score a convincing victory. They say that the head of the state is in a good shape politically and is practically unbeatable. Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst, emphasizes that Tokayev «this year positioned himself as a tough and decisive leader, initiated wide-sweeping political reforms, and in a certain sense became not just the successor of the «old Kazakhstan», but a successful winner over it». Indeed, numerous public polls in ROK demonstrated that the incumbent President had the highest political rating and was significantly ahead other branches of power and potential political competitors. This sociology allowed for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to successfully complete the staff purges and the Constitution reform, to make a bold claim for reformatting the entire political system of the Republic.

It is known that the tense period prior to official nomination of the candidate is the most significant stage of any presidential race, when a kind of a «bride show» is taking place both inside the domestic political elites and at the international level as well. It is exactly the stage, when a clear favorite of the race becomes obvious, and the confidence in his political victory is formed. We need to make it clear: the professional diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has brilliantly coped with this challenging task. It is enough to look at the extensive international agenda of the President of Kazakhstan during the recent several weeks.

The high-profile visit of the Pope to the World Confessions Congress in the capital of Kazakhstan was extremely important to support the image of the country as a recognized peace-maker and an example of inter-confessional accord. Two other events especially valuable from the political standpoint: the official visit to Kazakhstan by the PRC President, and Tokayevs participation in STO summit in Samarkand, where practically all the leaders of the non-Western World got together. All this was presented inside and outside the country as an obvious and meaningful support of the ROK President and his reform plans. [4]

Kazakhstan media also draw attention to the recent visit by Tokayev to the UN General Assembly. [5] In New York, the President of Kazakhstan held about thirty meetings with representatives of political and diplomatic circles on the sidelines of the General Assembly, including meetings with the EU officials. The main focus of the Kazakhstan media is on diplomatic success of Tokayev: the President «was able to convince the international public in Kazakhstans commitment to remain neutral in todays challenging geopolitical environment».

It was also noticed that from the important rostrum of the General Assembly Kassym-Jomart Tokayev openly emphasized the primacy of sovereignty and territorial integrity based on the UN Charter. Kazakhstan analysts believe that all these elements of the complex diplomatic puzzle come together into a total look of a wise President-diplomat, so critical in a difficult geopolitical situation and having a great influence in the global politics.

Erlan Karin, the State Councellor of Kazakhstan, was quick to say that «against the background of the growing geostrategic turbulence the forthcoming presidential elections should become an important factor of consolidation for our country before entering a new stage of scalous social and economic reforms». In his opinion, the key achievements of Tokayev are «the solidarity of the society, the stability of the state, the capability of the country to adequately respond to any domestic and international challenges». It is believed in the political circles of Kazakhstan that «currently the guarantee of the national security and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan is not its army, whose combat readiness and effectiveness is much lower than those of the Ukraines army, but the international support Tokayev was able to obtain in the course of his participation in the recent session of the UN General Assembly».

Hence, the main point of the election campaign of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is his beneficial image of a successful diplomat and negotiator. This approach looks quite feasible, especially in the environment of escalating social and economic tensions, when there are no simple and quick solutions. The question is whether such verbal investment and international guarantees will work in the conditions of a real military and political crisis.

Who will be Number Three?

The announced extraordinary presidential elections stirred the up to now sleeping political class of Kazakhstan, many politicians and public figures even those from the second and the third tier woke up all of a sudden and claimed they were ready to participate in the race. Burikhan Nurmukhamedov, a political analyst, who long ago himself participated in election battles, ironically compares the political opposition of Kazakhstan with a careless student, who sleeps all the way through the term, but «comes to life» only before the exams: «That is why, every three five years, the opposition wakes up only before the elections and every time finds itself in a completely «new» country».

The second peculiarity of the Kazakhstan opposition is that it is «autocratic and not competitive». It is genetically uncapable of association and generation of alternative ideas; for that strong reason, Nurmukhamedov concludes, «the authorities set the tone, and opposition cannot compete with their initiatives». [6]

Andrei Chebotarev, a well-known Kazakhstan political analyst, defines another significant challenge for the opposition candidates: the statutory «filters» limiting the contenders for the position of the top leader of the country. According to Article 41 of the ROK Constitution and Articles 54-55 of the Law «On Elections», the candidate for the presidency shall be older than 40 years old, have higher education, be fluent in Kazakh language, contribute 50 minimal wages and stay in the country for 15 last years. In addition to these language and legal filters there are two more, which are the most important ones: firstly, the candidate should have at least 5-year record of working as a public servant or elected official. Secondly, the candidate should be nominated only by a political party or other nation-wide non-governmental association. With account of these requirements and the current political situation, Chebotarev defined the list of potential competitors of the incumbent President during the forthcoming race. [7]

Most likely, the sparring-partners for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will come traditionally from the parliamentary opposition the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan («Ak Zhol») and Peoples Democratic Patriotic Party («Auyl»). For example, Daniya Espayeva and Toleutay Rakhimbekov, the participants of the previous presidential campaign. Other parties, e.g., Peoples Party of Kazakhstan and its chairman Ermuhamet Ertisbayev, the ex-Minister of culture and information, the so-called «Nazarbayevs nightingale», already rushed to express their support of Tokayev. Some prominent candidates, such as Amirzhan Kosanov and Nurzhan Altayev, and a number of other figures, on the contrary, expressed their willingness to participate in the race, but they have obvious problems with funding and public support. [8]

Other contenders that deserved to be mentioned here are the President of the Parliamentarianism Development Foundation, a bright politician Zauresh Battalova, and representatives of the new Peoples Environmental Party («Baytak»).

An analyst from Kazakhstan Marat Shibutov believes that «the result of the presidential election is quite forecastable, the only question is: how many votes will be cast for «none-of-the-above» and who will come up Number Three». The non-public surveys show that the main Tokayevs antagonist is the new field in the ballot, which reads «none-of-the-above». Almost 15% of the respondents are ready to vote in that way, which indicates the high level of protest voting and simultaneously absence of a prominent opposition candidate capable of accumulating such protest.

Political analysts in Kazakhstan believe that the former ruling elite may nominate potential alternative candidates for presidency. We can identify the following right-hand men of the ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev: Aslan Musin, Bulat Utemuratov, Adylbek Zhaksybekov and charismatic Imangali Tasmagambetov. There are signs of Akorda having an intense «political horse-trading» with the old-timers preferring to see these heavyweights among the allies rather than among the opponents. For example, they could be offered inviolability of property and the positions of senators or Majilis members with account of the future parliamentary elections.

Risks and threats

The Kazakhstan Presidents decision about extraordinary presidential elections on 20 November 2022 and parliamentary elections in H1 2023 actuated the pre-election relay, every stage of which may trigger a full-fledged social and political crisis. Both the presidential race and the parliamentary campaigns will take place in the conditions of the growing turbulence in foreign policy and complete uncertainty about the timeline for resolving the conflict between Russia and the West, in the context of growing pressure of sanctions leading to noticeable worsening of social and economic situation. The specific feature of the forthcoming elections is the early disclosure of the entire schedule of the future campaigns, which, on one hand, puts severe limitations on their deadlines, but on the other hand opens the predefined sensitivities for the domestic opposition and external players.

Akorda was counting on quick and efficient presidential race using the positive image of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as an influential diplomat and experienced negotiator capable of obtaining the neutrality and stability guarantees for Kazakhstan from practically all the global centers of power. However, in the current conditions of foreign policy brinkmanship, all the previous commitments and verbal investments may turn out null and void in a blink of an eye. Reasonable questions arise: to which extent will the international security guarantees work in the context of a real military and political crisis? And who and how will assure the stability of Kazakhstan in a regional or territorial conflict: the CSTO military forces again, the UN peacekeepers or the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army?

The domestic political risks of the presidential campaign are brought down to minimum, but not completely eliminated. On one hand, Tokayev does not have serious political adversaries inside the country so far, and the majority of the politicians viewed as candidates of the raggle-taggle opposition are nothing but sparring partners. On the other hand, we cannot exclude the probability of the «old Kazakhstan» representatives currently out of the game taking up the empty opposition niche or making a serious political competition. Today the old-timers are keeping their political intentions to themselves, but we can observe the consolidation of the active elite members striving for political revenge, maybe by using non-parliamentary methods.

The half-year election cycle, which just took off, may have a negative impact on the public administration and regulation in Kazakhstan. Every stage of the multi-tier election campaign will be extremely challenging for the state machine weakened by massive personnel purges after the «tragic January». The abundance of the reforms proposed by the President with the purpose of winning the votes will inevitably face the shortage of administrative and financial resources needed for their practical implementation. A big number of populist decisions of the authorities will not be thoroughly figured out in advance and supported by the resources, hence, the gap with the pre-agreed strategic plans and projects may appear. That may lead to a negative «performers effect» and cause sabotage at the national and local government levels in the process of implementing the presidential assignments, which will adversely affect the election campaign.

Conclusions

The nearest two months of the extraordinary presidential race in Kazakhstan will be a harsh challenge for the authorities. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev shifted the election timeline two years ahead to derail the plans of potential consolidation of the domestic opposition and of external players. However, this presidential election will take place in the context of unprecedented turbulence of the global politics and permanent growth of social and economic tension caused by Western sanctions and the global logistics problems.

Akorda does not have reliable levers to mitigate these two prerequisites or simple and quick solutions to eliminate them. All the previously achieved agreements and neutrality guarantees may suddenly be zeroed-out at the point of bifurcation of the big system. The media and political systems of Kazakhstan are open for external information influence, which creates additional risk. All this makes us view the forthcoming presidential race in Kazakhstan as a bold and outrageous, but very dangerous social experiment.

1. On scheduling the extraordinary elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Akorda.kz, 21.09.2022. https://akorda.kz/ru/o-naznachenii-vneocherednyh-vyborov-prezidenta-respubliki-kazahstan-2184328

2. State of the nation by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the President of Kazakhstan. Akorda.kz, 21.09.2022. https://akorda.kz/ru/obrashchenie-glavy-gosudarstva-kasym-zhomarta-tokaeva-k-narodu-kazahstana-2184920

3. The calendar schedule approved for the main actions to plan and carry out the elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 20 November 2022. Central Election Commission of ROK, 22.09.2022. https://www.election.gov.kz/rus/news/releases/index.php?ID=7264

4. Xi Jinping during his meeting with Tokayev promised to support Kazakhstan. Voice of America, 15.09.2022. https://www.golosameriki.com/a/xi-meets-with-kazakhs/6748420.html

5. What was the reason for Tokayev to fly to the US? Kursiv.kz, 21.09.2022. https://kz.kursiv.media/2022-09-21/zachem-tokaev-ezdil-v-ssha/

6. Opposition is Kazakhstan is autocratic and not competitive. QMonitor.KZ, 23.09.2022. https://qmonitor.kz/politics/4430

7. Andrei Chebotarev: Who is capable of fighting for the presidency in Kazakhstan? Turan Press, 05.09.2022. https://turanpress.kz/politika-i-vlast/3157-kto-sposoben-poborotsja-za-post-prezidenta-kazahstana.html

8. Meyram Kazhyken, the head of the initiative group of Yntymaq Party, is ready to take part in the presidential race. Vlast.kz, 26.09.2022. https://vlast.kz/novosti/51815-glava-iniciativnoj-gruppy-partii-yntymaq-mejram-kazyken-gotov-ucastvovat-v-prezidentskih-vyborah.html

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Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies
Publications

Kazakhstan: on the eve of the extraordinary presidential elections

30 2022
Yuri Berbekov

Yuri Berbekov

CISS expert

«Regular extraordinary elections»

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (ROK), signed the Decree about holding the extraordinary presidential elections on 20 November 2022. [1] «Regular extraordinary elections» is a long-lasting political tradition in Kazakhstan.  This well-tried solution always gave significant benefits for the authorities and broke the plans of the opposition. However, this time the incumbent President publicly determined the entire calendar schedule of the lengthy electoral cycle. In essence, Tokayev announced the start of a big political season, in which all the existing political forces of the country can take part. This is connected with the fact, that immediately after the end of the presidential race, direct preparation to the elections of a different level will commence parliamentary elections and elections maslikhats (local self-government level). To which extent are the results of the presidential race predictable, is the Kazakhstan political class ready for the electoral contest and will the opposition be able to take their chance?

Let us remind here, that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced the relay race of the extraordinary elections at different levels in his State of the Nation on September 1. «This is why I am ready to reduce my own time in office and go for the extraordinary presidential elections», the Kazakhstan leader stated. Simultaneously, Tokayev proposed to revise the length and number of offices for the President of the country and recommended to limit the presidency by seven years without a re-election option.

On top of that, elections to the national parliament and local representative bodies were planned for early 2023. The analysts believe this Tokayevs initiative about the early elections cycle to be absolutely in line with the logic of political transformations during the preceding three years: consistent moving away from the «Nazarbayevs model» and building a new power system loyal to Tokayev. 

After the «tragic January» events, the incumbent ROK President suddenly received a free rein to re-organize the political class of Kazakhstan «from scratch», which he immediately used in its entirety. Successful referendum on the Constitutional reform took place on 5 June 2022 and regularized the updated procedure for interaction of the branches of power. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev defined this new formula as follows: «strong President influential parliament accountable government».

In his opinion, redistribution of certain powers from the President to the parliament is finished by now in Kazakhstan. Indeed, noticeable transformations occurred in the political system of the country: for example, regional akims are now elected on a competitive basis. During the next elections to Majilis (parliament) and maslikhats will be elected on a new combined basis party list voting and single-member electoral districts. Constitutional Court was established and will start its activity in January 2023.

As envisioned by Akorda, it was necessary to restart the entire political system including such important institutes as the President, parliament, government and maslikhats in order to launch the new political model of Kazakhstan. All that was used in the special State of the Nation, where the rationale for the extraordinary elections was explained in detail. [2]  

Regional experts are afraid that the launched electoral marathon, which is of a lengthy character (up to six months), may have a negative impact on the government and regulation in the country. One of the potential risks is insufficient readiness of the central and local governments (after significant reshuffle upon the «tragic January» events) for the lengthy election campaign. This may have adverse effects on political stability, on social and economic situation of the country at each stage of the relay race.

The chronicle of the announced victory

The observers state that practically one month has passed from announcing of the extraordinary presidential elections to signing the respective decree. Let us note, that previously all the extraordinary elections in Kazakhstan were announced practically on the day the decree about them was signed. This time Akorda needed such a big time-lag to resolve the legal collision with the future term of office. The existing Constitutional provision permitted only five years for the incumbent President, that is why extraordinary elections this autumn required urgent change of the legal framework, especially taking into account the announced novelty about the seven-year term of office. The situation was being corrected directly in the course of the political process by amending the Constitution at the initiative of the Majilis, even though the President himself intended to initiate the change only after the election. 

The parliament members explained their decision by the exclusive political situation. The also referred to Tokayevs commitment not to run for presidency again. Such readiness of Kazakhstan authorities to change the legal framework for specific elections is an evidence of poor planning and preparation of important political decisions. Regional experts believe that such hasty amendments will impact the legitimacy of the next presidential term of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, and reference to the «exclusivity» may become an important precedent allowing him to run for the next seven-year term in 2029. But in any case, the recently published Decree on organizing the extraordinary presidential elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan drew a line under the growing discussions between experts and politicians about possible length of the presidential terms and turned them into practice.

Already on the next day, 22 September 2022, the Central held a session and approved the calendar schedule of the key events to prepare and hold the elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. [3] The extraordinary presidential elections will have the following stages: nomination of the candidates from September 23 until October 11; campaigning from October 21 until November 18; election day November 20; summing up the interim results of the elections November 21-22; determination of vote results and registration of the elected President until November 27. Thus, the promised election platform of K.-J. Tokayev defining «the new initiatives targeted at achieving social and economic progress» should be expected not earlier than the second week of October. 

Analysts pay their attention to the fact that Kazakhstan authorities for the first time ever publicly and openly announced the entire schedule of the election cycle. This time is quite enough both for public discussions of the forthcoming elections and for preparation of the potential participants. Who of the Kazakhstan politicians and how will be able to use the opening window of opportunities? Regional experts are sure that the majority of traditional participants of media and political communities in Kazakhstan are unlikely to seriously compete with Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Western experts believe that the election campaign may still bring surprises and difficulties for the authorities, so the presidential race will not be easy and placid, especially given the current geopolitical situation.

Tokayev as the main candidate

However, practically all the political analysts in Kazakhstan are sure that the incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will score a convincing victory. They say that the head of the state is in a good shape politically and is practically unbeatable. Daniyar Ashimbayev, a political analyst, emphasizes that Tokayev «this year positioned himself as a tough and decisive leader, initiated wide-sweeping political reforms, and in a certain sense became not just the successor of the «old Kazakhstan», but a successful winner over it». Indeed, numerous public polls in ROK demonstrated that the incumbent President had the highest political rating and was significantly ahead other branches of power and potential political competitors. This sociology allowed for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to successfully complete the staff purges and the Constitution reform, to make a bold claim for reformatting the entire political system of the Republic.

It is known that the tense period prior to official nomination of the candidate is the most significant stage of any presidential race, when a kind of a «bride show» is taking place both inside the domestic political elites and at the international level as well. It is exactly the stage, when a clear favorite of the race becomes obvious, and the confidence in his political victory is formed. We need to make it clear: the professional diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has brilliantly coped with this challenging task. It is enough to look at the extensive international agenda of the President of Kazakhstan during the recent several weeks.

The high-profile visit of the Pope to the World Confessions Congress in the capital of Kazakhstan was extremely important to support the image of the country as a recognized peace-maker and an example of inter-confessional accord. Two other events especially valuable from the political standpoint: the official visit to Kazakhstan by the PRC President, and Tokayevs participation in STO summit in Samarkand, where practically all the leaders of the non-Western World got together. All this was presented inside and outside the country as an obvious and meaningful support of the ROK President and his reform plans. [4]

Kazakhstan media also draw attention to the recent visit by Tokayev to the UN General Assembly. [5] In New York, the President of Kazakhstan held about thirty meetings with representatives of political and diplomatic circles on the sidelines of the General Assembly, including meetings with the EU officials. The main focus of the Kazakhstan media is on diplomatic success of Tokayev: the President «was able to convince the international public in Kazakhstans commitment to remain neutral in todays challenging geopolitical environment».

It was also noticed that from the important rostrum of the General Assembly Kassym-Jomart Tokayev openly emphasized the primacy of sovereignty and territorial integrity based on the UN Charter. Kazakhstan analysts believe that all these elements of the complex diplomatic puzzle come together into a total look of a wise President-diplomat, so critical in a difficult geopolitical situation and having a great influence in the global politics.

Erlan Karin, the State Councellor of Kazakhstan, was quick to say that «against the background of the growing geostrategic turbulence the forthcoming presidential elections should become an important factor of consolidation for our country before entering a new stage of scalous social and economic reforms». In his opinion, the key achievements of Tokayev are «the solidarity of the society, the stability of the state, the capability of the country to adequately respond to any domestic and international challenges». It is believed in the political circles of Kazakhstan that «currently the guarantee of the national security and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan is not its army, whose combat readiness and effectiveness is much lower than those of the Ukraines army, but the international support Tokayev was able to obtain in the course of his participation in the recent session of the UN General Assembly».

Hence, the main point of the election campaign of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is his beneficial image of a successful diplomat and negotiator. This approach looks quite feasible, especially in the environment of escalating social and economic tensions, when there are no simple and quick solutions. The question is whether such verbal investment and international guarantees will work in the conditions of a real military and political crisis.

Who will be Number Three?

The announced extraordinary presidential elections stirred the up to now sleeping political class of Kazakhstan, many politicians and public figures even those from the second and the third tier woke up all of a sudden and claimed they were ready to participate in the race. Burikhan Nurmukhamedov, a political analyst, who long ago himself participated in election battles, ironically compares the political opposition of Kazakhstan with a careless student, who sleeps all the way through the term, but «comes to life» only before the exams: «That is why, every three five years, the opposition wakes up only before the elections and every time finds itself in a completely «new» country».

The second peculiarity of the Kazakhstan opposition is that it is «autocratic and not competitive». It is genetically uncapable of association and generation of alternative ideas; for that strong reason, Nurmukhamedov concludes, «the authorities set the tone, and opposition cannot compete with their initiatives». [6]

Andrei Chebotarev, a well-known Kazakhstan political analyst, defines another significant challenge for the opposition candidates: the statutory «filters» limiting the contenders for the position of the top leader of the country. According to Article 41 of the ROK Constitution and Articles 54-55 of the Law «On Elections», the candidate for the presidency shall be older than 40 years old, have higher education, be fluent in Kazakh language, contribute 50 minimal wages and stay in the country for 15 last years. In addition to these language and legal filters there are two more, which are the most important ones: firstly, the candidate should have at least 5-year record of working as a public servant or elected official. Secondly, the candidate should be nominated only by a political party or other nation-wide non-governmental association. With account of these requirements and the current political situation, Chebotarev defined the list of potential competitors of the incumbent President during the forthcoming race. [7]

Most likely, the sparring-partners for Kassym-Jomart Tokayev will come traditionally from the parliamentary opposition the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan («Ak Zhol») and Peoples Democratic Patriotic Party («Auyl»). For example, Daniya Espayeva and Toleutay Rakhimbekov, the participants of the previous presidential campaign. Other parties, e.g., Peoples Party of Kazakhstan and its chairman Ermuhamet Ertisbayev, the ex-Minister of culture and information, the so-called «Nazarbayevs nightingale», already rushed to express their support of Tokayev. Some prominent candidates, such as Amirzhan Kosanov and Nurzhan Altayev, and a number of other figures, on the contrary, expressed their willingness to participate in the race, but they have obvious problems with funding and public support. [8]

Other contenders that deserved to be mentioned here are the President of the Parliamentarianism Development Foundation, a bright politician Zauresh Battalova, and representatives of the new Peoples Environmental Party («Baytak»).

An analyst from Kazakhstan Marat Shibutov believes that «the result of the presidential election is quite forecastable, the only question is: how many votes will be cast for «none-of-the-above» and who will come up Number Three». The non-public surveys show that the main Tokayevs antagonist is the new field in the ballot, which reads «none-of-the-above». Almost 15% of the respondents are ready to vote in that way, which indicates the high level of protest voting and simultaneously absence of a prominent opposition candidate capable of accumulating such protest.

Political analysts in Kazakhstan believe that the former ruling elite may nominate potential alternative candidates for presidency. We can identify the following right-hand men of the ex-President Nursultan Nazarbayev: Aslan Musin, Bulat Utemuratov, Adylbek Zhaksybekov and charismatic Imangali Tasmagambetov. There are signs of Akorda having an intense «political horse-trading» with the old-timers preferring to see these heavyweights among the allies rather than among the opponents. For example, they could be offered inviolability of property and the positions of senators or Majilis members with account of the future parliamentary elections.

Risks and threats

The Kazakhstan Presidents decision about extraordinary presidential elections on 20 November 2022 and parliamentary elections in H1 2023 actuated the pre-election relay, every stage of which may trigger a full-fledged social and political crisis. Both the presidential race and the parliamentary campaigns will take place in the conditions of the growing turbulence in foreign policy and complete uncertainty about the timeline for resolving the conflict between Russia and the West, in the context of growing pressure of sanctions leading to noticeable worsening of social and economic situation. The specific feature of the forthcoming elections is the early disclosure of the entire schedule of the future campaigns, which, on one hand, puts severe limitations on their deadlines, but on the other hand opens the predefined sensitivities for the domestic opposition and external players.

Akorda was counting on quick and efficient presidential race using the positive image of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as an influential diplomat and experienced negotiator capable of obtaining the neutrality and stability guarantees for Kazakhstan from practically all the global centers of power. However, in the current conditions of foreign policy brinkmanship, all the previous commitments and verbal investments may turn out null and void in a blink of an eye. Reasonable questions arise: to which extent will the international security guarantees work in the context of a real military and political crisis? And who and how will assure the stability of Kazakhstan in a regional or territorial conflict: the CSTO military forces again, the UN peacekeepers or the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army?

The domestic political risks of the presidential campaign are brought down to minimum, but not completely eliminated. On one hand, Tokayev does not have serious political adversaries inside the country so far, and the majority of the politicians viewed as candidates of the raggle-taggle opposition are nothing but sparring partners. On the other hand, we cannot exclude the probability of the «old Kazakhstan» representatives currently out of the game taking up the empty opposition niche or making a serious political competition. Today the old-timers are keeping their political intentions to themselves, but we can observe the consolidation of the active elite members striving for political revenge, maybe by using non-parliamentary methods.

The half-year election cycle, which just took off, may have a negative impact on the public administration and regulation in Kazakhstan. Every stage of the multi-tier election campaign will be extremely challenging for the state machine weakened by massive personnel purges after the «tragic January». The abundance of the reforms proposed by the President with the purpose of winning the votes will inevitably face the shortage of administrative and financial resources needed for their practical implementation. A big number of populist decisions of the authorities will not be thoroughly figured out in advance and supported by the resources, hence, the gap with the pre-agreed strategic plans and projects may appear. That may lead to a negative «performers effect» and cause sabotage at the national and local government levels in the process of implementing the presidential assignments, which will adversely affect the election campaign.

Conclusions

The nearest two months of the extraordinary presidential race in Kazakhstan will be a harsh challenge for the authorities. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev shifted the election timeline two years ahead to derail the plans of potential consolidation of the domestic opposition and of external players. However, this presidential election will take place in the context of unprecedented turbulence of the global politics and permanent growth of social and economic tension caused by Western sanctions and the global logistics problems.

Akorda does not have reliable levers to mitigate these two prerequisites or simple and quick solutions to eliminate them. All the previously achieved agreements and neutrality guarantees may suddenly be zeroed-out at the point of bifurcation of the big system. The media and political systems of Kazakhstan are open for external information influence, which creates additional risk. All this makes us view the forthcoming presidential race in Kazakhstan as a bold and outrageous, but very dangerous social experiment.

1. On scheduling the extraordinary elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Akorda.kz, 21.09.2022. https://akorda.kz/ru/o-naznachenii-vneocherednyh-vyborov-prezidenta-respubliki-kazahstan-2184328

2. State of the nation by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the President of Kazakhstan. Akorda.kz, 21.09.2022. https://akorda.kz/ru/obrashchenie-glavy-gosudarstva-kasym-zhomarta-tokaeva-k-narodu-kazahstana-2184920

3. The calendar schedule approved for the main actions to plan and carry out the elections of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 20 November 2022. Central Election Commission of ROK, 22.09.2022. https://www.election.gov.kz/rus/news/releases/index.php?ID=7264

4. Xi Jinping during his meeting with Tokayev promised to support Kazakhstan. Voice of America, 15.09.2022. https://www.golosameriki.com/a/xi-meets-with-kazakhs/6748420.html

5. What was the reason for Tokayev to fly to the US? Kursiv.kz, 21.09.2022. https://kz.kursiv.media/2022-09-21/zachem-tokaev-ezdil-v-ssha/

6. Opposition is Kazakhstan is autocratic and not competitive. QMonitor.KZ, 23.09.2022. https://qmonitor.kz/politics/4430

7. Andrei Chebotarev: Who is capable of fighting for the presidency in Kazakhstan? Turan Press, 05.09.2022. https://turanpress.kz/politika-i-vlast/3157-kto-sposoben-poborotsja-za-post-prezidenta-kazahstana.html

8. Meyram Kazhyken, the head of the initiative group of Yntymaq Party, is ready to take part in the presidential race. Vlast.kz, 26.09.2022. https://vlast.kz/novosti/51815-glava-iniciativnoj-gruppy-partii-yntymaq-mejram-kazyken-gotov-ucastvovat-v-prezidentskih-vyborah.html