Oil production is entering a new year of decline this year in Kazakhstan — a dismal omen for a country so heavily reliant on energy exports.
Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said on January 15 in remarks quoted by the Novosti-Kazakhstan news agency that Kazakhstan expects to pump 77 million tons of oil in 2016, 3.1 percent down on the 79.5 million tons produced last year.
The fall is down to the gradual depletion of the country’s oil fields, most of which have been under development for decades. As the fields dry up, recovering the remaining crude becomes more expensive, and with oil prices now hovering obstinately at $30, drawing Kazakhstan’s deposits is becoming costly.
And this latest government forecast may be too optimistic.
Shkolnik said in September that Kazakhstan would slash its oil output forecast for 2016 to 73 million tons if the oil price hit $30, as it has done this week. He said 77 million tons would be the target if oil stood at $40 per barrel.
The decline has been in train for several years already.
Oil output dropped 1.2 per cent in 2014, to 80.8 million tons, and 1.6 percent last year, to 79.5 million tons.
But it is the disastrously low prices that are taking the toll on the economy. The government announced on January 15 that gross domestic product grew by 1.2 percent last year – a significant slowdown on the previous year’s 4.3 percent.
The government is to meet on January 19 to discuss cuts to this year’s budget in the face of the economic slump.
Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament called for a snap election on January 13, setting the stage for a vexed vote against the backdrop of chronic economic uncertainty.
The early dissolution of the Mazhilis had been widely predicted as President Nursultan Nazarbayev seeks to refresh the mandate for his ruling Nur Otan party.
“The Mazhilis has fulfilled its historic mission, creating the legislative basis for the implementation of the Plan of the Nation,” Vladislav Kosarev of the pro-government Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan said in a statement read out in parliament and quoted by Kazinform news agency.
He was referring to a reform agenda unveiled by Nazarbayev last year that is intended to reverse an economic slowdown provoked in large part by the slump in the price for oil.
“Now that a new historic period is getting under way and the large-scale modernization of the country and practical implementation of presidential reforms in all areas are beginning, it is important that parties receive a new mandate of trust from voters,” Kosarev said.
Kosarev said that “broad social consolidation” was required to implement anti-crisis measures, since “only unity and coordinated actions will allow us to withstand fresh economic blows.”
The snap vote must be approved by Nazarbayev, which is expected to be a formality, and is expected in spring. Under the current schedule, the election had been due to take place in early 2017.
Despite talk of a fresh mandate, it is likely the authorities are also motivated by a desire to complete the electoral process ahead of time to head off any discontent provoked by the economic downturn.
The controversial trial in Kazakhstan of two prominent civil society campaigners accused of inciting ethnic discord has descended into chaos with proceedings derailed amid angry courtroom scenes and claims the authorities are trying to force a sick man into the dock.
Yermek Narymbayev was rushed to hospital in an ambulance from the courtroom in Almaty on
January 6 complaining of heart problems and high blood pressure, the Respublika-kz.info website reported.
Pictures circulated on Facebook showed a prone and anguished-looking Narymbayev huddled under a sweater on a stretcher being transferred into an ambulance.
Despite claims from supporters that Narymbayev, who has a history of heart problems, may have suffered a cardiac arrest, the activist was later returned to court after doctors declared him fit to stand trial – prompting co-defendant Serikhzhan Mambetalin to threaten a hunger strike in protest, RFE/RL reported.
Furious scenes broke out in the courtroom after the judge ordered Narymbayev back into the dock, video posted on Facebook by journalist Ayan Sharipbayev shows.
“Shame, shame!” Narymbayev’s supporters chanted, rising to their feet and haranguing the judge and prosecutors as the trial descended into chaos.
Earlier in the day, Narymbayev had asked the judge to curtail the schedule of hearings because of his ill health, complaining that it was too intense. “I ask you to slow the pace, I want to live to the sentencing,” Respublika-kz.info quoted him as saying.
A jailed opposition leader in Kazakhstan whose case has drawn expressions of concern from Washington and Europe is to remain behind bars after his parole bid was rejected.
Vladimir Kozlov’s application for release from custody was rejected on December 8 at a hearing in the jail outside Almaty where he is being held, his lawyer Aiman Umarova said in postings on her Facebook page. Umarova complained in her post of the judge’s “negative attitude” to Kozlov during the hearing.
Kozlov had exercised his legal right to file for parole after serving half of his seven-and-a-half-year jail term on charges of inciting violence in the western oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011.
He was also found guilty of seeking to use the unrest in Zhanaozen to overthrow President Nursultan Nazarbayev in the capital, Astana, some 2,600 kilometers away.
Speaking at the parole hearing, to which journalists and human rights campaigners were not admitted, Kozlov denied committing any crimes.
He argued, as he always has, that his only link to the Zhanaozen violence — which spiraled out of an oil-sector strike that the government acknowledged mishandling — was his legitimate political activity.
“I have not committed any crimes,” he said in a speech posted by his lawyer on Facebook. “I headed a political party, and when the oil workers of Zhanaozen came and asked for support in their economic and social dispute with employers, we decided to offer them informational, legal and consultative support.”
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has signed off on a controversial law regulating the funding of nongovernmental organizations, against the advice of campaigners.
Critics of the bill drew comparisons to a 2012 law adopted in Russia that requires foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” although Kazakhstan’s law contains no such wording.
The law, approved on December 2, will establish a single state operator through which funding for NGOs must be channeled.
In October, as the bill was wending its way through Kazakhstan’s rubberstamp parliament, civil society campaigners urged Nazarbayev to veto it.
The legislation would give the state a veto over which NGOs receive funding and for what kind of activities, they argued. They pointed out that the bill’s wording does not include human rights in the list of areas in which NGOs can legitimately operate, though it does not rule the sphere out either.
The law will grant the government “ideological control over NGOs,” activist Amangeldy Shormanbayev said.
Over 60 NGOs signed a petition calling on Nazarbayev to reject the law, charging that it would “seriously restrict human rights,” including the rights to freedom of speech, conscience and association.
The OSCE’s media freedom representative agreed, warning that the law “could pose a clear threat to free media.”
The government has rejected criticisms of the bill.
When civil war broke out in Syria, Usama Nuraldin was a successful businessman raising a young family in Damascus. Now, he is a jobless refugee in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, one of a tiny handful of those forced to flee the brutal conflict to have made a new home in Central Asia.
Plenty, for the 99 people who share a full name with the strongman president of Kazakhstan.
This is the number of citizens who have been named in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the 24 years since Kazakhstan gained its independence, statistics released on the occasion of First President’s Day on December 1 show.
The 99 are just the tip of the iceberg. That is the number of children given the president’s first name and his surname too.
But many more share his first name alone — a total of 37,077 children born since 1991 have been named Nursultan, TengriNews reports, citing the Statistics Committee.
The name, combined of the Arabic-origin words “nur” (meaning “light”) and “sultan” (“king” or “ruler”), has long been used by Kazakhs, and the name Nursultan was chosen for Nazarbayev by his paternal grandmother. That factoid is one of 12 offered by state news agency Kazinform, which also informs readers that in his youth Nazarbayev joined in with construction work on his neighbor’s house to raise the funds to buy a harmonica.
A trend for naming children after the president has developed since independence, with parents no doubt hoping that some of Nazarbayev’s luster will rub off on their offspring.