Kazakhstan: Senate speaker signals Nazarbayev won't run in 2020

Long-standing laws will grant Nazarbayev much say in running the country after he steps down.

The speaker of Kazakhstan’s parliament has dropped a political bombshell by stating in an interview that President Nursultan Nazarbayev may not run for re-election in 2020.

“He is a very wise man, he is absolutely reasonable. And I think that in 2020 we shall have presidential elections with other candidates,” Tokayev told BBC’s Hard Talk program in an interview aired on June 20.

Tokayev said he was expressing his own personal views in making the forecast, although it is unlikely such a senior official in Kazakhstan would issue the remarks without sanction from higher up. As speaker of the Senate, Tokayev is in formal terms only second in the hierarchy to Nazarbayev.

The date of Nazarbayev’s departure from the top of Kazakhstan’s political pyramid has for years been object of sustained speculation and this may be the clearest indication to date that a definitive exit strategy has been crafted.

There have been tentative signs in the recent past that a transition of sorts is in the offing.

Early in 2017, Nazarbayev, who turns 78 on July 6, issued a televised declaration nebulously outlining his desire to formally dilute the powers of the president and shift toward a more parliamentary form of government.

“The basic essence is that the president will give some of his powers to parliament and the government,” he said in a January 25, 2017, address televised on all national channels. “The proposed reform is a serious redistribution of power and a democratization of the political system as a whole.”

As outlined by Nazarbayev, those reforms will give the executive more powers over running the economy, while the head of state retains control over defense and foreign policy. The head of the Constitutional Council, Kairat Mami, met with Nazarbayev earlier this week to debrief him on the progress being made in progress toward overhauling the constitution, but few details were provided by the president’s office on the substance of the conversation.

In the broader picture, the planned transition toward a highly consensual model of parliamentarianism indicates that Nazarbayev intends to be Kazakhstan’s first and last all-powerful head of state.

Parliament is at present overwhelmingly dominated by Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party. A pair of officially sanctioned ersatz opposition parties have been allowed to occupy 14 out of the legislature’s 107 seats in the directly elected lower house of parliament.

Genuinely confrontational political parties have been either sidelined into irrelevance through harassment and by being ignored by media almost entirely under the thumb of the government or banned altogether. Sensing the prospect of change at the top, some opposition activists are seeking to mobilize in order to seize the initiative in a post-Nazarbayev era, although it is unclear they possess the organizational nous or the public appeal to capitalize on the moment.

Strong legal guarantees have also been put in place for Nazarbayev in anticipation of his departure from office.

In 2010, he was proclaimed Leader of the Nation, a bespoke status endowing him with lifetime powers and immunity from prosecution. Meanwhile, it was made a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in prison to make remarks insulting Nazarbayev. And journalists publishing insulting remarks about Nazarbayev could face a maximum penalty of three years in prison.

To begin with, he made a show of disdaining the Leader of the Nation honorific, which was supposedly the autonomous initiative of lawmakers, and demanded in a performance of modesty that people stop delivering eulogies to him. But when it came time to vetoing the proposal, he disdained the opportunity.

This is all to say that even if Nazarbayev does decide to step down, he will still retain immense influence over running the country.

Kazakhstan: Senate speaker signals Nazarbayev won't run in 2020

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