Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Kazakhstan: Waiting for Change

Source: International Crisis Group 

Resource-led economic growth cannot mask the need for reforms in Kazakhstan as labour unrest, social divisions and a growing Islamist movement threaten the country’s stability.

In its latest report, Kazakhstan: Waiting for Change, the International Crisis Group examines the prospects for stability as the era of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, 73, who has ruled for more than twenty years, comes to a close. His government has spurred the country’s role in the global energy sector but left it with weak political institutions, corruption, censored media and frequent infringement of human rights. Popular resentment is slowly growing. Consolidating the state’s stability, in particular through a smooth succession, is urgent in a situation of internal but also external challenges. The 2014 pullout of international forces from Afghanistan could well further weaken stability in Central Asia as a whole. Young Kazakhs, like their peers in neighbouring states, have been drawn to the jihadi struggle and may be tempted to bring it back home.

The report’s major findings are:
  • Since Kazakhstan hosted the 2010 OSCE summit, it has enacted laws that systematically curtail political and personal liberties. Opposition politicians, the media and civil society face fines and imprisonment for criticising the government. The concentration of power in the hands of a small group, the weakness of the political institutions and the overwhelming concentration of economic growth in the cities of Astana and Almaty threaten to undo gains made in the past two decades.
  • Young Kazakhs, especially in the western regions, are turning increasingly to Islam as a means of political expression and a source of identity distinct from the self-advancement they associate with the ruling classes.
  • In a post-Nazarbayev era, an individual or group will likely need to tighten control in order to consolidate power. Kazakhstan’s political institutions are not designed for competition or pluralism. There is a strong danger of infighting, and thus further instability, among the political and economic elites. In the event of popular protests, demonstrators would run the risk of exciting security forces already prone to deadly crackdowns.
  • Nazarbayev should swiftly put in place and explain his succession policy. The West should push harder for compliance with basic human rights norms. Without meaningful progress here, Kazakhstan’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017-2018 should not be supported. 
“If it doesn’t make a significant effort to push forward with political, social and economic reforms, Kazakhstan risks becoming just another authoritarian regime that squandered the advantages bestowed on it by abundant natural resources”, says Deirdre Tynan, Crisis Group’s Central Asia Project Director.

“Kazakhstan needs a stable system of government harnessed to an independent parliament and judicial system that works because it has inherent integrity, not because a supreme leader is pulling it along”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group’s Program Director for Europe and Central Asia.“If there is a lack of political will to do this, Kazakhstan will face a period of stagnation and ideological upheaval that will move the country backwards”.