In recent years, Kazakhstan has looked as one of the leaders of the fastest growing state in the post-Soviet space. But the events of this week and the reaction to them from the part of the authorities raise questions over the adequacy of such assessments.
On Sunday in the city of Aktobe in the north-west of the country, the group of armed men seized two weapons’ stores and broke into the territory of the military unit. As a result of the shootings, 18 people were killed and about 40 wounded. On Monday, the Interior Ministry called the incident a terrorist attack, and its performers - "radical adherents of non-traditional religious movements." The National Security Committee reported on the disclosure of the coup plans, which allegedly were being prepared by the prominent businessman Tokhtar Tuleshov (under detention since January). At the same time, he was also called the organizer of the May demonstrations in several cities against the land reform).
The President Nursultan Nazarbayev reacted to the incident only on Wednesday. According to him, the terroristic attacks in Aktobe were carried out by people who have received instructions from abroad. The leader of the State also accused and condemned "color revolutions". Thus, by doing this, culturally he became closer to his partners Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, who have long mastered such a rhetoric.
Kazakhstan is being increasingly compared with Singapore, and his authoritarian, but enlightened leader -with Lee Kuan Yew. The early presidential elections (during which Nazarbayev received 97%) are explained by the need to facilitate the reform and ensure the smooth transformation of the personalistic regime. The program of economic reforms is being highly appreciated by the experts, it is built into a large-scale reform project, concerning the state apparatus, property rights’ security, transparency and accountability of the State. The country is actively attracting foreign investments - 50% comes from the EU; 20% - from the US, 8% - from China. According to the Eurasian Development Bank, the Chinese investments in Kazakhstan exceed investments in Russia in more than 10 times.
The industrialization plans, increasing the share of small and medium-sized businesses, educational orientation to the Western standards all seem reasonable. But in order to implement nice reforms plans into reality, the country needs a political framework, says political analyst Vladimir Frolov.
The power should be diversified, more powers should be delegated to the Parliament, more political forces should unite their actions working there. There was the chance for doing this during the parliamentary elections at the beginning of the year, but it has not been used - the same composition of the fractions remained, 82% was received by the presidential party "Nur Otan". However, according to political scientist Vasily Kashin, authoritarian modernization according to Singapore model is just designed for monolithic personalistic regime and the corresponding administrative advantages.
However, the economic crisis caused by falling oil prices (in 2016 the Kazakh GDP growth could reach 0.1% against 4.3% in 2014 and 1.2% in 2015), reveals the weaknesses of the Kazakh political system, the most important of which is the uncertainty of power transition from the aging solitary ruler. The growth of social tension (take, for example, May meetings), forces the Kazakh authorities to be nervous: the last time in 2011, social tension is turned into bloody unrest in oil town Zhanaozen, which was rigidly suppressed by the authorities.
The elite is also nervous and already uncertain about the future. In this situation, the most advantageous are the "investments in tension" created by the security forces. They are intended to force the President to the “tightening of the screws” and increasing of severe control. And the events in Aktobe - too defiant for an ordinary criminal story - could represent a useful instrument of such investment.
According to Frolov, it can have disastrous consequences for the regime. Nazarbayev cannot live forever, and the policy of crackdown and potential successors’ ousting can extremely complicate the process of authority transition after his death. If the security forces will be able to bring the President around to the usage of the external threats’ scenario, the ability to manipulate him will grow, while the chances of ensuring the peaceful power transition will decrease.