Financial Times on Kazakhstan

If you want to know anything about the political economy of CIS countries, there is no better place to turn than the Financial Times. Always erudite, FT’s special reports provide a broad evaluation of the region’s economy, politics, culture, and society often without the usual ideological claptrap about the incompatibility between capitalism and authoritarianism. Take for example the business daily’s most recent special on Kazakhstan.

I think that FT understands the essence of post-Soviet politics as a combination between one man rule, family circles, elite clans, and bureaucratic pressures. There is no total one man rule, only a network of alliances between competing elites. At the center stands, in the case of Kazakhstan, Nursulatan Nazarbayev, who parcels out power and pieces of the political and economic pie to maintain the integrity of the state. I think this description of Nazarbayev’s power is spot on:


The canny Mr. Nazarbayev has built an authoritarian regime with greater skill than most of his regional counterparts, cleverly balancing competing interests. He has promoted the influence and wealth of his family, not least his three daughters and their husbands, but he has appeared to be aware of the dangers of alienating others and provoking international criticism by betting everything on the bloodline. Since the 2005 election, Mr. Nazarbayev has begun to address the succession question by encouraging the development of institutions to which the presidency could devolve some power. In key reforms this year, he increased the role of parliament and local governments. Parliamentary elections are to be held in August to legitimize the changes.

The question is whether post-Nazarbayev Kazakhstan can remain as unified. Like Putin, Nazarbayev has become his own worse enemy. He’s successfully tamed the elite by becoming its center but by doing so he has perhaps created a system that cannot survive without him.