- Nursultan Nazarbayev’s sudden resignation from the presidency after a 28-year rule has paved the way for an unexpected transition of power, increasing political uncertainty.
- Nazarbayev’s resignation was designed to ensure he could oversee the transition and rally domestic and international support behind his chosen successor.
- Social and political grievances have contributed to an uptick in anti-government protests, but the opposition will likely remain too weak to mobilise large-scale unrest and succeed in triggering any major political changes.
Kazakhstan is due to hold snap presidential elections on 9 June. The polls will be the first without a candidacy by long-time ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev since the country’s 1991 independence. Nazarbayev resigned unexpectedly in March, paving the way for a transition of power. The resignation was intended to facilitate a transfer of power under Nazarbayev’s oversight, but it is likely to negatively affect long-term political stability.
Nazarbayev’s resignation was likely intended to ensure that he can oversee the transition while he is still able to do so, given his age and deteriorating health. Nazarbayev has proven capable of effectively arbitrating between the country’s elite, who often have competing political and financial interests. As the so-called “father of the nation”, only he has the personal and political influence to oversee a shift away from the personality cult built up around his decades in power.
Nazarbayev has triggered the transition so that he can consolidate domestic and external support for his successor, long-time loyalist Kassym Jomart Tokayev. Tokayev’s recent state visit to Russia as well as his meeting with the Chinese ambassador demonstrate that the handover has diplomatic support from Kazakhstan’s most important foreign backers. However, reports that one of Tokayev’s top advisors since 2001 was arrested for treason in February indicates the security services and other powerful factions may attempt to limit the new leader’s power.
Despite persistent rumours in recent years, Nazarbayev has ruled out transferring power to his influential daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva, likely because of opposition from the elite as well as Kazakhstan’s allies in Moscow and Beijing. Dariga is unlikely to assume power in the post-Nazarbayev period because of entrenched opposition. But with her father’s support, she was elected speaker of Kazakhstan’s Senate, the second most powerful post in the country, just hours after he resigned. Her appointment signals she will remain a prominent force, capable of influencing policy and protecting her family’s commercial interests for the foreseeable future.
The elections on 9 June present little risk to the transition process. Although there are eight registered candidates, Tokayev is all but certain to win given that Kazakhstan has never experienced democratic and transparent elections.
Growing social challenges
Civil unrest has been rare in tightly controlled Kazakhstan, but the uncertainty generated by Nazarbayev’s resignation has sparked a series of unsanctioned protests across the country. The growing evidence of social discontent will pose an immediate challenge for the government as activists try to exploit the new political situation to mobilise.
In recent weeks, protesters have held spontaneous demonstrations to demand social benefits promised by the government. Following Nazarbayev’s resignation announcement, protesters have also gathered in the capital Nur-Sultan and the economic hub of Almaty to call for democratic reforms. Some protesters have called for a boycott of the upcoming election, citing the lack of fair electoral procedures.
Activists are expected to capitalise on their recent success in mobilising support to stage further rallies after the elections. Protests are likely to continue despite a recent crackdown that has seen authorities jail activists and block social media.
If the protests escalate into major and sustained unrest, the government is likely to use violence to supress the movement. Authorities have previously demonstrated their willingness to use lethal measures to quash demonstrations, as illustrated by the killing of tens of protesters by police in Zhanaozen in 2011.
Risks to political stability
In the near term, domestic political stability will depend on Nazarbayev maintaining control over the transition process. Should Nazarbayev become incapacitated, the continuity of the transition will be severely jeopardised and political uncertainty will increase. Nazarbayev has played a key role in conciliating between powerful factions and his incapacitation would likely fuel infighting within the ruling elite.
The opposition, particularly Nazarbayev’s most prominent rival Mukhtar Ablyazov, will likely attempt to exploit any divisions that emerge among the country’s elite in the post Nazarbayev-era. In recent weeks, Ablyazov, an oligarch who briefly served as energy minister before his exile to the UK, has increased his engagement in Kazakh politics by frequently calling for street protests. However, despite clear signs of discontent and the possibility of factional infighting, the country’s opposition will likely remain too weak to significantly influence political events for the foreseeable future.
PGI’s Intelligence specialists provide business intelligence and geopolitical risk analysis to multinational corporations and governments worldwide. For more information on how they can assist your organisation, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Your free global geopolitical
PGI’s Risk Portal tool provides daily intelligence feeds, country threat assessments and analytical insights, enabling clients to track, understand and navigate geopolitical threats.
The Risk Portal gives users up-to-date information and analysis on global affairs.
The Risk Portal allows users to visualise information in a unique and instantly understandable way. Mapping filters enable the visualisation of incidents by threat category, time period, perpetrator and target type.
Risk Portal users can upgrade their accounts to include the Report Builder and Country Profile Generator features. The Report Builder allows users to select information, data and images from the Risk Portal and create bespoke reports and emails.
Subscribers to PGI’s Bespoke services receive tailored analysis on specific sectors and geographies of interest, delivered at a frequency they determine.
Making ongoing compliance easier for you and your business
GDPR is now in force. Make sure your business meets the necessary requirements, providing assurance for all of your customers and employees.
A full audit of your business to assess the level of your compliance against GDPR requirements.
Become GDPR compliant with minimal work. We will conduct an analysis, review, report and implement any necessary changes to your business.
We will conduct simple security assessments to help you understand and mitigate the potential risks to your business.
Get your business ready to face the cyber challenge.
We provide a full range of accredited, certified and bespoke services that assess the resilience of your cyber security posture.
PGI’s Qualified Security Assessors (QSA) will help you meet Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).
Find out more on PCI DSS
Demonstrate your commitment to cyber security by achieving and maintaining accreditation for the globally-recognised information security standard.
Find out more on ISO 27001
Understand the threats of phishing and malware to avoid being targeted.
Undertake our phishing vulnerability assessment to reduce your organisation’s risk of attack, by measuring the cyber awareness of your workforce.
PGI will conduct a tailored phishing campaign, using multiple methods, to identify realism and train employees where necessary to mitigate future attacks.
PGI monitor multiple metrics to identify the types of phishing, generate in-depth analytical reports and provide an informed decision to help improve your organisation’s level of security and awareness.
Prevent attacks, respond to breaches and protect your business.
Our bespoke range of cyber security services not only protect your critical assets but provide the education you need to keep your operations and data safe.
Implement this cost-effective cyber security measure launched by the government to prevent cyber-attacks, demonstrate information security commitment to your clients, and attract new business by being recognised as a secure organisation.
Find out more on Cyber Essentials Accreditation
The most effective way to identify how attackers target your organisation’s weaknesses is by evaluating your system, your network security, and reporting on any vulnerabilities that could have an impact on your business.
Find out more on Penetration Testing
If your business has experienced breaches, network compromises or operational disruption, our team of cyber security specialists can deploy quickly, and will begin the process of detecting and eliminating the threat efficiently.
Find out more on Data Breach Response & Recovery
Data Breach Response & Recovery
We prevent attacks, respond to security breaches, and protect your business
Our team of specialists can deploy quickly and efficiently to begin the process of detecting, eliminating and preventing future threats of a breach.
A vital part of the response process is making a copy of your data for safe forensic analysis. We will work with you to preserve and use this evidence to discover the extent of an intrusion.
Find out more on Digital Forensics
We will identify and minimise the risks, as well as the possibility of future risks to your business.
Consistent interaction with your management team and recommendations on how to approach all outcomes that need attention.
Subscribe to our Cyber Bytes Newsletter
Keep yourself in the loop with PGI by signing up to our Monthly Cyber Bytes email. You will receive updates, tips and narrative around what has been happening in the world of information security.