Incumbent Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on March 11 accepted the Nur Otan party’s nomination to be the party’s candidate in the April 26 early presidential election and laid out his policy priorities for another term.
In accepting the nomination, Nazarbayev noted the achievements of independent Kazakhstan and presented new approaches and policies, including those in the new Nurly Zhol economic policy, which is aimed at addressing global challenges.
“Firstly, avoid negative impacts from external factors on state-building. Secondly, maintain the momentum of development. Third, provide the conditions for further development. Fourth, continue advancing toward joining the 30 [most-developed] countries in the world,” he said.
Amid economic crises, falling oil prices and geopolitical instability, Nazarbayev stressed the need for non-standard and strong responses to global challenges to Kazakhstan statehood, putting forward institutional reforms in five key areas: establishing a modern, professional and autonomous state apparatus; solidifying the rule of law; achieving industrialisation and economic growth based on diversification; unifying as a single nation for the future; and functioning as a transparent and accountable government.
He underlined that in conjunction these reforms would strengthen the state and facilitate its entry into the 30 most-developed countries in the world.
“The five institutional reforms are the five steps, which the country should take in that order. Only in this case, our reforms will be effective and the society and the state will be united and stable. All successful states went through this path,” Nazarbayev said.
“It is a way to implement the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. Each of the five institutional reforms is a huge task and [important] for the country. The success of these reforms can be achieved only with the firm will of the government and the people. The proposed measures will radically change the system of social relations. To carry them out, I propose to establish a National Commission on Modernisation under the President. It will coordinate the implementation of the whole set of reforms. Thus, our central task in the forthcoming years is to start and gradually implement these five institutional reforms,” he added.
Elaborating on the reforms, he underlined the significance of overhauling the civil service, noting that it should be “professional and autonomous” and based on a career model rather than the current positional one. Nazarbayev also highlighted the need to toughen requirements for judges and increase the responsibility of police officers toward the people as it would create conditions for implementing economic reforms to establish a solid middle class.
“The middle class should be considered as the basis of the Kazakhstan nation and the source forming a professional state apparatus. It is the driving force, the most interested in the rule of law, accountability to the people and the country’s stability. Therefore, it is a broad middle class that is the core of the formation of national identity,” he said.
Addressing industrialisation, Nazarbayev underlined existing distortions in the system of state support for agriculture and proposed implementing approximately 10 large-scale projects involving multinational companies in the processing industry.
Other transformations will affect simplification of the tariff policy in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, diversification of the economy, development of small- and medium-sized businesses in the service sector and introducing legislation of the special status of Almaty as a regional and international finance centre.
The President also touched upon intercultural and inter-ethnic accord, a highly relevant issue for the country, which includes more than 130 nationalities. In Mr. Nazarbayev’s opinion, the simultaneous use of Kazakh, Russian and English were a key to success in preserving harmony and enhancing the competitiveness of the multinational society of Kazakhstan.
New Run in Kazakhstan?
On April 26 Kazakhstan will vote to choose the next president, as a way to respond to global economic and regional socio-political crisis. On February 25 Nursultan Nazarbayev took the decision to hold advanced poll, one year before the natural end of term of office, after that many state officials called for new election.
The proposal came from the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (APK), an institutional body that represents ethnic groups of the country. Soon after, it was the presidential party Nur Otan to back the idea, followed by the Prime Minister and by the two houses of Parliament. Almost all political spectrum supported the initiative, with the declared intention to extend Nazarbayev’s mandate as president of the country, in order to let him, according to APK, “successfully steer the country in this period of global trials”.
Nazarbayev, indeed, still enjoys a widespread popularity in the country. In 2011 he was re-elected with an overwhelmingly majority and no real alternative from opposition emerged during the last years, due to the fact that the presidential bloc is still united.
However, even if at a first glance the call for early election seems to say nothing new about the Central Asian country, the events of the last days reveal much about the political choices of the last months.
With the decision to hold an advance poll, Kazakh political establishment intends to prevent the deterioration of national social climate and to breathe new life into economic reforms.
Modernization and political stability are key issues for Kazakhstan, especially if we consider that these two elements act as forces of consolidation of a society characterized by a broad ethnic and religious diversity.
For this reason, the negative economic outlook expected for the next years is seen not only as part of difficult times that will come, but as a potential source of social and political destabilization for Kazakhstan.
In 2014 Kazakhstan’s economy grew less than expected and with a rate much lower than those registered in previous years. For 2015 national GDP is going to grow even slower, between 1% and 2%.
Kazakhstan has cautiously promoted a moderate stance in inter-ethnic issue. In fact, since the gaining of independence, the aim of Nazarbayev was the strengthening of social concord, in order to avoid the disintegration of a country which is home of 130 nationalities and 17 religious communities.
With the decision to hold a new election, Kazakh élite is giving a response to all speculations about its future, in particular those regarding territorial integrity and ethnic concord, put into question by foreign media and politicians during 2014. Moreover, election is aimed to assure the continuity of a policy directed to build a multi-ethnic and secular state and, at the same time, to send out a signal about the will to protect the political and territorial unity of the country.
So, it isn’t surprising that Nazarbayev, during his annual speech to the nation on November 11, confirmed that stability political and social concord are fundamental factors for Kazakhstan in order to overcome the next years. Without them – according to Kazakh president- even economic development could be at risk. It’s for this reason that in the speech of February 25, when he announced the new election, he talked of “unity” and “stability”.
Economic development and social concord have been priorities present in the actual Kazakhstan, but now they acquire a new and stronger significance. The last year was marked by events that are part of world economic and geopolitical crisis that can produce their effects even in the internal affairs of the State.
In the past, economic development has been a mean to assure the survival of the country in a difficult post-soviet transition and to achieve the fundamental national interests. Nazarbayev has been successful in realising a huge economic growth, elevating the quality of life of Kazakhstani people and as a consequence, granting stability.
Therefore, election is seen as the opportunity to continue the programmed economic reforms and to implement the new ambitious plan Nurly Jol, announced last year, a comprehensive program of investments aimed to revitalise and diversify country’s economy.
Thanks to its “multi-vector” foreign policy, Kazakhstan succeed to impose itself as a reliable international player, acting as protagonist in Eurasian integration projects, cultivating strategic partnership with Russia and China and establishing closer ties with West and EU, as confirmed by the recent Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in Brussels.
In a period of political and economic turbulence, the maintenance of stability could be an important result not only for Kazakhstan and its ruling class, but also for the entire region.