23.11.2022 Author: Viktoria Panfilova

Tokayev’s policies will focus on Russia, China and the West

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was re-elected as the President of Kazakhstan. He was supported by 81.31% of voters in the snap election on November 20.  Thus, Tokayev confirmed his legitimacy and the citizens of the republic opted for New Kazakhstan, the program proposed by the head of state. The election was calm, despite warnings from the National Security Committee of impending destabilization attempts by radical groups. One of these was detained the day before. Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, came to support Tokayev in the election, promising Kazakhstan to compensate for the damage from the sanctions imposed on Russia if Astana breaks its friendship with Moscow.

The only troublemakers were small protests in Alma-Ata by representatives of unregistered associations – “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan,” “Oyan, Qazagstan!” and the Western-funded “Democratic Party.” The protesters held placards saying “No election without choice.” On the one hand, the requirement is fair enough. In addition to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, five other candidates ran, two of them women. All of them are almost unknown even within Kazakhstan and have no coherent program or even much desire to compete against the head of state. This was evident from their campaigning and the debates that took place a week before the election day. Clearly they were only chosen as sparring partners. So there is no one now to challenge Tokayev’s leadership.

Heavyweights such as former Kazakhstan prime ministers Imangali Tasmagambetov, Askar Mamin and other politicians from First President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s team, withdrew. The opposition is fragmented and, even for the elections, was unable to agree and field a single candidate.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, as acting head of state, stood out against this background. After the January events, he has enjoyed a high approval rating, people have shown their trust in him and continue to do so. Plus, Tokayev used his best qualities as a professional diplomat – he has organized an impressive international support campaign, perhaps unprecedented in Kazakhstan’s history. First and foremost are the visits of several heads of state, including Russia and China, and the summits – CICA, CIS and Central Asia-Russia. This provided Tokayev with international legitimization for the forthcoming elections.

For citizens, Tokayev offered a concrete program of action for the near future. Its main slogan is “A fair Kazakhstan for everyone.” “The idea of fairness will underpin every decision we make, every action we take. We start from the principle that our greatest asset and competitive advantage is our people. Therefore, we will firmly follow the formula: not man for the state, but the state for man,” Tokayev said, outlining the program.

Tokayev also promised to create real political competition in Kazakhstan. “We are creating conditions for civilized discussion between the parties and public debate. All civil society institutions will play an important role in the new political system,” he said, also supporting the expansion of local executive powers.

It should be recalled that the early elections were initiated by Tokayev himself. He first ran for president back in 2019 as Nazarbayev’s successor; this time, he went into the election as an independent, self-reliant politician who has been through a great school of political struggle, and as a result won convincingly by a huge margin. Thus, he confirmed his status as leader, secured the support of the citizens and put an end to the transit of power.

Tokayev described the elections as historic, ushering in a new political era. He promised that all the main government institutions would be reformed in the future: “We will clearly and consistently implement constitutional reform. We are transitioning to a new form of political order for the country. Fundamental changes will take place in the economy. We will improve the welfare of citizens. We need unity to make all these goals a reality. That is why I call on all of you to be united!”.

Tokayev expects new political parties to take part in next year’s parliamentary elections, which means new faces will show up in parliament, including “those representing opposition views.”

Tokayev began to implement reforms more decisively after the events of January 5, 2022. At the time, there were mass protests across the country over rising gas prices. The protests later turned into riots, with protesters demanding the resignation of the government. 230 people were killed in street clashes with security forces, of whom 19 were military personnel. CSTO forces came to the rescue and secured the country’s strategic facilities. Following the suppression of the riots, which now appear to have been backed by Kazakhstan’s elites, Karim Masimov, the chairman of the National Security Committee, his two deputies and several hundred others were arrested as they rampaged through Alma-Ata and other cities in the country. Coincidentally or not, Karim Masimov’s closed trial began on the eve of the election. He is accused of treason.

First President Nursultan Nazarbayev is careful to distance himself from his former ally. For instance, when asked by journalists after voting at his polling station in the Astana Opera Theater, Nazarbayev said he was curious about who could be behind Masimov. He compared him to Judas. “Masimov worked with me for many years, but how can you know? Did Jesus Christ know that Judas sitting next to him was a betrayer? We are not gods, so we will wait until the trial is over and we will all, I think, find out,” Nazarbayev said, causing some confusion among journalists: Jesus Christ actually knew about Judas’ betrayal.

Incidentally, according to the Telegram channel Nursultansky Solovey, citing UlysMedia, Karim Masimov and members of his family had Hungarian citizenship. Moreover, Budapest made a request to Astana for Masimov’s extradition to Hungary. The former National Security Committee chief himself has allegedly been actively working for the US for the past 20 years.

However, the US and the EU have long been active in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. But with the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, the region has come under increased scrutiny from the West. Several regional events took place in a short time: the C5+1 foreign ministers’ meeting in Washington (Central Asia – USA), the Central Asia-Russia summit in Astana, the Central Asia-South Korea summit in Seoul and, finally, the Central Asia-EU summit and the visit to the region by Charles Michel and Josep Borrell and US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu. They all suggest that countries in the region “benefit” from the sanctions regime imposed on Russia. Those countries that are reluctant to cooperate are pressured, under the threat of secondary sanctions, to abandon engagement with Russia.

There are also carrots from the EU, which, according to Borrell, has invested 105 billion euros in the Central Asian states over the past ten years. The EU sees Central Asia as a near future partner in terms of the relocation of its industrial plants and logistics to Kazakhstan. Political scientist Yury Solozobov, director of regional programs at the Caspian Institute for Strategic Studies, said supply chains are being reshaped by the embargoes, sanctions and changes in global trends to shift the economy to Asia. The focus is not only on China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” program, but also on the “North-South” Trans-Caspian routes. This is one of the routes of the future to which the EU is paying attention.

Kazakhstan has a chance to become one of the centers of Western production, targeting markets in Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union and Central Asia, among others. More than 300 companies are getting prepared for relocation. As Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said earlier, “50 of them have already received a new registration.”

The EU is also discussing energy plans with the region. Europe, according to Borrell, is trying to find new supply options to avoid buying gas from Russia. “The EU intends to expand economic cooperation with the countries of Central Asia, including through the construction of new transport corridors bypassing Russia,” Borrell said during the visit to Astana. He clarified that the development of the Trans-Caspian transport route had been discussed in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan benefits from this and, as Tokayev noted, will continue to pursue a multi-vector policy. “I think that, given our geopolitical position, given the fact that we have over $500 billion involved in our economy and large multinational companies operating in the market, the country should conduct a multi-vector foreign policy and obey the UN Charter,” President of Kazakhstan believes.

Astana, while developing relations with the West, remains a reliable rear for Russia. According to Solozobov, only two countries are showing impressive growth in Russian imports, including critical components, and those are Turkey and Kazakhstan.

Viktoria Panfilova, journalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.

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