Kazakhstan’s new president vows to pursue controlled democratisation

File photo. Presidential candidate Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev speaks at a polling station after voting in the presidential election in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, 9 June 2019. [Igor Kovalenko/EPA/EFE]

Kazakhstan’s new president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, delivered on Monday (2 September) his first major speech following his election last June, defining his policies in all fields of the economy and society.

Kazakhstan is a country rich in resources, with a relatively small population and a huge territory, and keen to attract foreign investment. The EU as a whole is the number one investor in Kazakhstan.

Tokayev won the 9 June poll with 70% of the votes, in elections disputed by seven candidates – a novelty in terms of pluralism for the former Soviet republic.

Tokayev triumphs in Kazakh elections amid tensions

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the political “child” of former president Nursultan Nazarbayev who ruled Kazakhstan since Soviet times, was overwhelmingly elected as the new leader of the country on Sunday (9 June), in a vote closely watched by international observers.

In his first state-of-the-nation address he delivered in the Kazakh parliament, he promised to oppose ‘unsystematic political liberalisation’ and instead carry reforms ‘without running ahead’.

“World experience shows that explosive, unsystematic political liberalization leads to the destabilization of the domestic political situation and even to the loss of statehood”, Tokayev said. He added:

“Therefore, we will carry out political reforms without “running ahead”, but consistently, persistently and thoughtfully. Our fundamental principle: successful economic reforms are no longer possible without the modernisation of the country’s socio-political life.”

Tokayev insisted on the idea of statehood, which was a major achievement of his predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose major achievement should be seen in nation-building, after more than 70 years of communism.

He said the formula for the stability of the state was “a strong President – an influential Parliament – an accountable Government”, adding that this was not yet a fait accompli, but a goal towards which the country should move at an accelerated pace.

He also developed the concept of a state “capable of hearing” its citizens.

“Our common task is to implement the concept of a state capable of hearing, which quickly and efficiently responds to all constructive requests of citizens. Only through a constant dialogue of power and society can a harmonious state be built in the context of modern geopolitics”, Tokayev told parliament.

Regarding party politics, he said the ruling Nur Otan party should cooperate with other political forces that pursue a constructive policy for the benefit of society. He insisted that problems of society should not be decided “in the streets”.

“The main problems that concern our society should be discussed and find their solution in the Parliament and in the framework of civil dialogue, but not in the streets”, he stated.

He said that as head of state, he sees his task as contributing to the development of a multi-party system, political competition and pluralism of opinions in the country. The upcoming elections to the Mazhilis of the parliament (the lower house) and maslikhats (local representative bodies) should contribute to the further development of the multi-party system in the country, he added.

Tokayev reminded that according to the constitution, Kazakh citizens have the right to freedom of expression.

“If peaceful actions do not pursue the goal of violating the law and rest of citizens, then you need to go forward and give permission for them to be carried out in the manner prescribed by law, to allocate special places for this. Moreover, not on the outskirts of cities. But any calls for unconstitutional actions, hooligan actions will be suppressed within the framework of the law”, he said.

The president also reaffirmed the need to strengthen the role of the Kazakh language as a state language.

“Role of the Kazakh language as the state language will be strengthened and the time will come when it will turn into a language of interethnic communication. For that, however, we all need to work together,” said the head of state.

At present, Russian is at least as present as Kazakh in public communication and the media. Former President Nazarbayev delivered his speeches mostly in Russian.

The Kazakh press focuses on the goal cutting down a quarter of civil servants from 2020 to 2024. This is in Tokayev’s words is intended to leave workers that are more productive and provide them with material incentives. The other issue at the centre of attention is the proposed exemption of micro and small businesses from taxes on core activities for three years starting from 2020.

Tokayev also said that agricultural land would not be sold to foreigners, and any unused agricultural land would be seized by the state.

Kazakhstan is a strong supporter of China’s Belt and Road initiative, but is also taking measures to protect is sovereignty faced with such huge and ambitious neighbour.

The President said the number of state companies should be reduced, but warned of the need of a careful approach in strategic sectors, to prevent a substitution of state-owned monopolies by private monopolies.

A large part of his one-hour speech was devoted to improving living standards for the Kazakh people.

“We have entered a new stage in the reform of the country. We must fulfill the assigned tasks in a quality manner. Every resident of our country should feel positive changes”, he stated.

The Kazakhs today are much more prosperous than in the defunct Soviet Union, but the goal set by Nursultan Nazarayev is to transform the country in one of the world’s 30 most developed countries by 2030, with the corresponding living standards. Nazarbayev left power to allow a younger politician to attain this goal.

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