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Kazakhstan's Rich-Poor Divide Hits Nazarbayev’s Radar

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is fond of lauding his oil-rich country’s economic successes – but now he has acknowledged that they are not trickling down to everyone.

Speaking at the Council of Entrepreneurs on April 10, Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan’s growing rich-poor divide had hit his personal radar and ordered his government to bridge it, Tengri News reported.

Officials must examine “how many poor people we have, what the difference between the rich and poor is – and the difference in our country is substantial,” Nazarbayev – whose close family members include millionaires and billionaires – told Kazakhstan’s top entrepreneurs. “I have especially engaged in [studying] this.”

Nazarbayev cited statistics showing that 8 percent of households have incomes of less than 15,000 tenge ($100) per person, below the official minimum salary of 18,660 tenge ($124). Nazarbayev said those households included 1.5 million people – which means 8.8 percent of Kazakhstan’s population of 17 million are living on less than the minimum wage.

This puts into perspective official statistics showing the average monthly salary in Kazakhstan standing at 98,736 tenge ($654), and suggests that the gap between high earners and low earners is indeed wide. 

Kazakhstan registered 5 percent GDP growth in 2012; per capita annual income stands at $11,357. But there are gaping regional disparities. High earners are concentrated in the capital, Astana; the commercial capital, Almaty; and the oil-rich west. 

According to Kazakhstan’s Statistics Agency, in 2012 the highest regional average monthly wage of 184,051 tenge ($1,219) in energy-rich Atyrau Region was more than double that of 77,241 tenge ($512) in rural South Kazakhstan Region.

As EurasiaNet.org has reported, Kazakhstan’s widening rich-poor gap and urban-rural divide is increasingly hitting the country’s agenda, fuelling a protest mood in some quarters.

Flagging the trend, the Almaty-based Institute of Political Solutions said in an analysis published on April 10 that the authorities were now demonstrating an “understanding of the need to lower the degree of social tension,” by granting permission for protestors to hold small rallies over socioeconomic issues, for example. 

March saw small, sporadic protests (some sanctioned by the authorities; others unsanctioned) over issues including pension rights, maternity benefits and rising utility bills. 

“The social protest mood ... is finding ever newer forms of expression, to which officialdom is not managing to react in a timely manner,” the think-tank concluded.

Kazakhstan's Rich-Poor Divide Hits Nazarbayev’s Radar

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