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Kazakhstan’s newly re-elected president faces no easy tasks

April 28, 2015, 19:11 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Nursultan Nazarbayev

Nursultan Nazarbayev


MOSCOW, April 28. /TASS/. Kazakhstan’s early presidential election, in which the incumbent head of state Nursultan Nazarbayev, in office ever since 1989, attained an astounding victory to be elected for a fifth term in a row, was a pre-emptive move in view of a likely worsening of the economic situation toward the end of the year to give the country more time for large-scale reform, analysts say. The tasks facing the head of state in the current international and economic environment is not exactly one might call easy, they add.

Last February, Nazarbayev, who since 2010 has enjoyed the honorary title of the Leader of the Nation, came out with a reform program consisting of just five key points: 1) creation of an up-to-date and professional state machinery; 2) supremacy of law and guarantees of property rights; 3) industrialization and growth based on diversification; 4) national unity; and 5) a transparent and accountable government.

The strategy is pretty clear - creation of a competitive state, less dependent on raw materials export and revenues from it. The proposed political reform among other things will enhance the control and regulatory functions of parliament and expand the political forces represented in it.

The forthcoming period may become decisive in terms of completing Kazakhstan’s transition to an advanced democratic political system, the director of Kazakhstan’s Institute of National Studies, Burikhan Nurmukhammedov, said after the elections. He said Kazakhstan’s political model had every chance to gain a stable development perspective. The authorities’ most important task will be to "preserve a broad consensus of national elites and prevent major conflicts." He described under-developed political institutions and procedures as the key weaknesses of the Kazakh model.

"It is a very specific regime with a heavy Asian flavor, although Nazarbayev has been keen to play down all features of authoritarianism, because the economy is tightly pegged to the world markets of oil and gas," the deputy dean of the world economy and world politics department, Vladimir Suzdaltsev, has told TASS. "This explains why it is important for him to maintain Kazakhstan’s image of a democracy. But Asia will be Asia. Hence the 97% percent of the votes cast for him in the elections."

Suzdaltsev points to the lack of a major real opposition in Kazakhstan.

What makes the economic situation worse is not so much the oil price slump and the adverse effects of the Russian rouble’s fall on the Kazakh economy, as the fact that as integration proceeds, more competitive Russian goods flood the Kazakh market, thereby causing local discontent.

"Economic forecasts for this year are unfavourable. Kazakhstan’s national currency, the tenge, is to come under strong pressures. The elections were held now, while the situation is still under control.

"At the same time one cannot deny that achievements are impressive, indeed. Kazakhstan offers decent conditions for doing business. A young national elite has been trained. Tremendous investment has been made into giving young people education abroad. Many of them have now returned to the country. They are the nation’s main asset. The entire young elite fits in well with Nazarbayev’s policies," Suzdaltsev said.

In the context of the current international security Nazarbayev will find it no easy at all to push ahead with the multi-vectored policy he has successfully conducted throughout the recent years, on the one hand retaining military, political and economic relations with Russia, and on the other hand, having rather close ties with the United States and Europe," Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, has told TASS. "Now there have emerged more restrictions - tougher relations between Russia and the West and the growing role of China. In a situation like this there will be far less room for maneuver."

Economic problems will be inevitable.

"Falling energy prices are a problem for Russia. So they are for Kazakhstan, and to a far greater extent, because Kazakhstan’s dependence on the export of oil and gas is still greater," he said.

And the leading expert at the Development Centre at the Higher School of Economics, Sergey Pukhov, has offered a positive assessment of the reform program the Nazarbayev team has proposed, but at the same time warned they would be no easy to accomplish.

"The programs that have been developed are not bad ones at all and the general vector appears to be correct in principle," he told TASS. "But plans drawn on paper are often different from the way they materialize. The diversification targets have been identified, but their implementation is still far away. The economy is still vulnerable to its heavy dependence on the export of crude oil."

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