Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev meets with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana on March 23. (Photo by Kazakhstani Presidential Press Services)
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev has hailed what he described as the fall of barriers dividing his nation and Uzbekistan since the ascent to power of Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
The two met for high-spirited talks in Astana on March 23 that focused as much as anything on mutual admiration.
“Only in the last five months, or the fourth quarter of last year, trade turnover between our nations increased by 30 percent on both sides, and that includes new goods. Four trading houses have opened, there is 30 percent more grain, and Uzbek fruit and vegetables deliveries have increased by 25 percent,” Nazarbayev was cited as saying by Tengri News. “This is thanks to how the new leadership in Uzbekistan has opened all opportunities to trade and lifted barriers.”
Nazarbayev could barely contain his ebullience.
“There are no unresolved issues between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — not territorial, not with the borders, not with politics or the economy. We are free, like a blank page that is to be filled with good deeds that will benefit our nations,” he said.
It is worth recalling that Nazarbayev was an early champion of regional integration in Central Asia — an instinct sniffily mistrusted by Mirziyoyev’s late predecessor, Islam Karimov. Historians of the region may remember that in the wake of the Soviet disintegration, in 1994, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan formed the Central Asian Union, which later became the Central Asian Economic Union (1998) and then the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (2001). In no form did the grouping ever become anything more than a talking shop, as Annette Bohr explained in a May 2004 paper.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev delivering a televised address to the nation on January 25, 2017. (Photo: TV screenshot)
The president of Kazakhstan has delivered a nationwide televised address to outline a formally dramatic dilution of his own powers and a shift to a more parliamentary form of government.
Nursultan Nazarbayev described the strongly presidential model in force since independence as necessary to “overcome the enormous difficulties of forming the state,” but said that the time had arrived for a new model.
“The basic essence is that the president will give some of his powers to parliament and the government,” he said in an adress televised on all national channels on January 25. “The proposed reform is a serious redistribution of power and a democratization of the political system as a whole.”
The vision, which has been described in still fairly vague terms, is one for a mixed form of government that would still leave the president with an ultimate say over the most sensitive matters of state.
Nazarbayev said around 40 areas of responsibility would be delegated from the president’s office to the executive or parliament. Those would include what Nazarbayev termed the “regulation of social and economic processes.” Priority areas should be changed by adoption of legislative amendments by the end of the current session of parliament, he said.
Parliament will assume a greater role in forming the government — a fact that Nazarbayev said would enhance the accountability of the Cabinet.
“The winning party in parliamentary elections will have a decisive influence over the formation of the government,” Nazarbayev said.
With things as they are, the ascendancy of parliament hints at a variation on the status quo considering the fact that Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan party has all but complete control control over the legislature. The only other parties represented in parliament are token opposition forces who are notable only for their support of the government.
Only a week after Kazakhstan celebrated the 23rd anniversary of its national currency by sticking the face of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on banknotes, talk is afoot of renaming the capital after the leader.
Nazarbayev is already object of a vigorous campaign of state-engineered adulation that often tips into a full-on cult of personality, but this is taking things to a new level.
The proposal to rename Astana to somehow reflect the name of Nazarbayev — who is also known by the Sultanate-style honorific of Elbasy, or leader of the nation — was aired in the hyper-loyalist rubber stamp lower house of parliament, the Majlis, on November 23.
“We suggest placing a note in the country’s constitution observing the leading role played in the creation of our state by the first president, the leader of the nation, Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev. And to reflect the name of Elbasy in the name of the capital and other important sites,” said Kuanysh Sultanov, a member of parliament with the ruling Nur Otan party.
Sultanov’s suggestion on how to rename Astana was for either Nursultan or Nazarbayev. Another MP, Pavel Kazantsev, said the decision could be made in just a single month and that “there is no need to drag out the issue.” Kazantsev’s notion was to change the name by independence day, which falls on December 16.
“By the end of the year, we can already choose a new name. It all depends on how discussions go and on what the people say. It just remains for parliament to formalize the decision of the Kazakhstani people,” Kazantsev said.
A referendum could be held to approve the decision, he said.
It has been 25 years since the Soviet Union collapsed, but some habits die hard.
Before September 27, the day on which President Nursultan Nazarbayev was due to visit, the city of Kyzylorda, in southern Kazakhstan, went into overdrive to prepare for the leader’s arrival.
As a rule, that kind of visit means city workers hastily tidying up the streets, effecting express repairs on the roads, demolishing dilapidated facilities and smartening up facades.
Kyzylorda, however, has more than the average amount of eyesores to hide, particularly on the road along which Nazarbayev was set to drive into town, so authorities adopted some creative solutions, as local media reported. One particular headache in Kyzylorda are the amount of dilapidated homes and potholed roads.
Rather than repair the problem homes, city authorities simply erected a long fence to hide the offending buildings from Nazarbayev’s view, news website Nur.kz reported.
This drastic measure might have gone unremarked upon but for the fact that the fence has caused a sudden surge in car accidents. As motorists pull into the road from behind the barricade, they are unable to see oncoming traffic, often leading to collisions. Local residents have told media they are afraid for their children’s lives and are making sure they don’t get too close to the fence.
Kyzylorda resident Ainur Aldabergenova complained to Nur.kz that real problems, meanwhile, are not being dealt with.
Among the huge spectrum of international figures brought low by the Panama Papers document leak is the grandson of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
In a highly detailed account published on April 4, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reveals that Nurali Aliyev’s offshore interests included two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. The 31-year even had a 23-meter-long pleasure yacht registered in the BVI, although alas for the presidential grandson, he never did get to sail the seas on the ill-fated vessel.
As OCCRP remarked with relish, the revelations are particularly egregious considering how Nazarbayev has, like his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, pontificated in the past against the practice of salting away riches in offshore jurisdictions.
“You shouldn’t hide your money somewhere over the hill. Keep it here. Just look, all these offshore being opened up over the hill, they are going to shame everybody,” Nazarbayev prophesied, accurately as it turned out, in 2013. “If you make money, keep it in Kazakhstan. Live here, build a future for your children here
OCCRP’s account begins in September 2014, when BVI-registered company Alba International Holdings, whose only business was listed as “[holding] a bank account in Cyprus,” was recorded as getting a new owner, another BVI company called Invigorate Group Ltd. Although little is known about either company other than that, data in the files obtained by the OCCRP offer up one useful little nugget.
The time for showers of gold is over, President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned his countrymen on February 16 in his latest attempt to inculcate a popular spirit of parsimony.
Instead, the people of Kazakhstan should exploit the opportunity of a crisis caused in part by low oil prices to transform the country into a more innovative and dynamic economic performer.
“We should not expect to be showered with gold,” he said in remarks quoted by the Nur news agency.
Those remarks appear much in the same mold as recent exhortations by Nazarbayev for the people of Kazakhstan not to indulge in luxuries such as lemons.
“Every crisis is a stage ahead of new development,” which, he said, means weaning the economy off its current dependence on oil and gas.
One way the government intends to that is by raiding the state pension pot, which Nazarbayev ordered last week as part of measures to stimulate growth.
The economy is in desperate need of help. Some economists are forecasting that the economy will shrink this year for the first time in almost two decades.
In line with Nazarbayev’s order, issued on February 10, 1.5 trillion tenge ($4 billion) worth of assets will be withdrawn from the state pension fund — a quarter of its total holdings of nearly 6 trillion tenge — to help plug holes in the budget deficit and support small businesses and infrastructure projects.
Kazakhstan’s president could hardly be expected to run for parliament, so the ruling Nur Otan party has gone for the next best thing: The actor who played him as a young man in the biopic.
Nurlan Alimzhanov is just one of several celebrities that Nur Otan included in its populist list of candidates for the March 20 parliamentary election, which authorities are hoping will serve as a tonic for their flagging legitimacy.
Other recognizable faces selected by a unanimous vote at a party congress in Astana on January 29 included Gennady Golovkin, a world champion boxer renowned as the best pound-for pound fighter in the world, Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter Ilya Ilyin and Kairat Nurtas, a wildly popular 26-year-old pop singer.
One actual Nazarbayev is also standing — Dariga Nazarbayeva, the president’s daughter and current first deputy prime minister.
Alimzhanov may be the actor, but it was President Nursultan Nazarbayev that gave the real performance in Astana as a man pretending his party is readying for a proper election. Speaking to the congress, he urged a “competitive fight” in the upcoming vote.
Since there is no real opposition (not behind bars) anywhere to be seen, however, it can be taken for granted that the new legislature will be similarly compliant as the outgoing lot.
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.
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.
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.