Political life under Nazarbayev
Contrary to the expectations of many observers, the independent Kazakhstan developed peacefully in the first quarter of a century, despite the initially tense socio-economic situation and the very multinational composition of its population. Despite statements to the contrary by Kazakh politicians, there was no democratization, on the contrary, there was a gradual development towards an autocratic presidential regime. Neither the population nor the small and fragmented political opposition responded to this, as did the increasing corruption, to resolute resistance. As the president’s power increased, the pressure on his few critics grew. For the first time, the current economic crisis seems to have caused such dissatisfaction among the general public that it is openly expressing it. The government is responding with increasing pressure on civil society and the media.
After the financial crisis of 2008 could still be overcome without major shocks, the widespread image of a stable Kazakhstan was shaken for the first time in 2011. On the one hand, there were several smaller Islamist terrorist attacks, until then the country had not been considered threatened by Islamism. Second, a month-long strike by oil workers in the town of Schanaosen in the Mangistau area on the Caspian Sea was violently ended after almost nine months of trying to sit out the problem instead of solving it. The process and responsibilities are still unclear, It is clear that security forces went off unexpectedly on 16/12/2011 against gathered in the main square of the city of strikers and their families, shots were fired and several people to death arrived. It is still not possible to come to terms with the tragic events.
According to constructmaterials, the leadership of the country reacted to these events with measures that led to a considerable worsening of the domestic political climate. The judicial processing of the events had a one-sided effect. Opposition politicians, journalists and public figures, as well as the well-known theater producers Bulat Atabajew who had been involved in the case Zhanaozen were arrested and criminally prosecuted. Whether the socio-economic causes of the unrest on site have changed for the better is controversial. The country’s leadership, ie President Nazarbayev, reacted to these challenges on a national basis with new programs and laws, best known is Strategy 2050. In 2013, a new anti-terror law, followed by an anti-terror strategy, was passed, followed by a costly program to combat religious extremism and terrorism in March 2018. Tightening of criminal law worries human rights activists because they violate fundamental rights and see the activities of NGOs threatened. Several politically motivated religious extremism trials in 2018 are of great concern.
Since 2014, the country has been experiencing an economic crisis of this magnitude, triggered by the problems of the Russian economy and the globally falling oil price. The strategy Nurly Zhol (Bright Path) was in response in November 2014 announced that wanted to boost especially with infrastructure the economy, of course, but also austerity measures – to the price of bread – is required. After his re-election, Nazarbayev announced a plan of 100 (reform) steps in May 2015 in five areas: establishing an effective state apparatus, ensuring the rule of law, promoting industrialization and economic growth, developing national identity and unity, and increasing the accountability of the government. The upcoming domestic and foreign policy challenges were enormous, and the events of spring 2016 had to worry the leadership. The population, which had long reacted with astonishingly calmness to the crisis and its consequences, took to the streets, triggered by the project of a new land law, for the first time in relatively large numbers and in various provincial towns. As usual, the state reacted with arrests, Accusations and harsh judgments, but was also forced to freeze the bill. Immediately after calm was restored, several terrorist attacks took place at the same time in Aktobe in western Kazakhstan, where the protests against the law had also started. The government has obviously been completely taken by surprise by the events and is doing a major SalafiTerror cell responsible for it. Even if it is officially assured that the situation is under control, the situation in the west – and presumably also in the country’s leadership – remains tense. All the more so, as on July 18, 2016 the inner calm was shaken again when an apparently Islamist individual perpetrator with a criminal past stormed a police station in Almaty and killed five people. As early as autumn 2016, the suspects were sentenced to harsh sentences: in the case of the Aktobe attacks, prison sentences of up to 25 years were pronounced for terrorism, and the Almaty attacker was even killed for terrorism. With a moratorium on the death penalty in Kazakhstan, the sentence is likely to be converted to life. However, several politicians and lawyers are currently calling for the death penalty to be implemented in the event of terrorism. The year 2017 has brought no new Islamist attacks, but workers have tried in several places, with strikes to their demands giving – and were it legally prosecuted. Security policy measures as well as the socio-economic and geopolitical situation of the country at the beginning of 2018 are seen slightly skeptical and as waiting for major changes to be expected after the end of the Nazarbayev era. In the summer of 2018, the murder of a prominent athlete prompted thought about the police force and necessary reforms.
Although human rights organizations had long criticized the situation in Kazakhstan, not only because of the restrictions on the freedom of the press and the conditions in the oil industry, the country was approved by the UN General Assembly on November 12, 2012 with an overwhelming majority for the period 2013-15 in the UN Human Rights Council elected. The human rights situation has not improved since then, and AI is making serious accusations against security agencies – including torture. Organizers of strikes and demonstrations are relentlessly persecuted.
President Nazarbayev hired a number of former Western statesmen to advise them, and they have come under criticism in the Western press, including in Germany. The way we dealt with two former comrades-in-arms of Nazarbayev, who fled to Western Europe from a not only politically motivated criminal prosecution in Kazakhstan and who are employed by the judiciary and the press, also ensures a critical image in our newspapers. The former head of the BTA bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov officially prosecuted on suspicion of embezzlement, according to many observers, but rather because of its critical attitude towards the president, had long feared extradition from France to Russia or Ukraine, but was unexpectedly in December 2016 released. Beginning in June 2017 he was in Kazakhstan in absentia to twenty years in prison, not only for economic crimes, but including forming a criminal association, condemned. (In the autumn of 2020 he was granted political asylum in France, but legal proceedings against him for embezzlement are also being initiated there at the instigation of Kazakhstan. The President’s former son-in-law, Rachat Aliyev (arrested in Austria in June 2014) was found dead in his prison cell in February 2015. The authorities assume suicide, but this is questioned.
Is the beginning of a new era?
Even after the election of the successor to First President Nazarbayev by the population, there was still no calm in the larger cities of Kazakhstan. Very different sections of the population repeatedly express their dissatisfaction in public for different reasons and reasons (for more democracy, against China or for better socio-economic support), without politicians and security forces having yet found a way to deal with it in a de-escalating way. At the suggestion of President Tokayev, a new National Council for Public Confidence was formed, which is supposed to serve the dialogue with the population, its hand-picked composition but one does not expect that. In the absence of alternatives, a growing number of citizens see demonstrations as a means of reform. Well-known political activists and demonstrators who take to the streets against the new president and for political change are relentlessly persecuted, although the UN Human Rights Council, including international organizations, have criticized the Kazakh authorities for their actions against political demonstrations. Protests that demand more democracy are controlled and vilified as being controlled and denigrated by the exiled public enemy No. 1, Mukhtar Ablyazov. (Ablyazov himself criticizes the new opposition and distances himself from it.)
Claims that are not politically justified are apparently tried to calm down with promises and social improvements. Political reform demands are closed to, or rather symbolic proposals for change are made, as with the new right to demonstrate or in the case of the possible admission of new parties. A formalized real opposition movement had dissolved again shortly after its formation.