Thursday, June 01, 2017

Kazakhstan doesn't have to be allergic to opposition

This is really just codifying what has effectively been going on for years.

What I still don't get is why President  Nursultan Nazarbeyev doesn't loosen up on the political system in Kazakhstan. He is legitimately popular. Even if he allowed an opposition, he would probably easily win any election. He might not win with 97% of the vote, but he would get a comfortable majority. Nazarbeyev could then present himself as a leader in the democratization in the post-Soviet space, just as he has already sold himself as a leader in nuclear nonproliferation (for agreeing to give up the sizable nuclear arsenal the country inherited from the Soviet Union), and get the kinds of international accolades he always seems to be seeking.

On top of that, if a real (i.e. not just behind the scenes) political culture were allowed to develop, it would take some of the urgency out of the succession issue (right now it is not clear what will happen when the president dies) as it would create a farm team of up-and-coming politicians. I am sure Nursultan fears that any such up-and-comers might pose a threat to his position and power. But so what? As long as he is this popular, they would never be a real threat. If he fears his popularity might dip in the future if he gives up control over the opposition, why not retire and become the elder statesman?

Provided your successors don't go after you, being an elder statesman is awesome! It's a much better job than president. After decades of adulation and popularity, Kazakhstan's next few presidents are highly unlikely to try to go after Nazarbayev if he stays about politics and does the wise elder thing.