Political spring in Kazakhstan

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
Political spring in Kazakhstan

The rallies sanctioned by the authorities were held in Nur-Sultan and Almaty for the first time in a long period. The protesters called on the government to carry out constitutional and political reform, and also discussed social and economic problems. The next rally is scheduled for July 15. Now it's turn of deceived homebuyers to talk about their problems.

Two rallies were held in Kazakhstan at the same time last Saturday. Several hundred people came to defend their right to a peaceful meeting in Almaty. It is noteworthy that it took 36 times for the local authorities to authorize the rally, only when President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev promised after winning an extraordinary election to reconsider issuing permits for holding peace rallies.

One of the protesters told the local media that Kazakhstan needs changes, and they should be radical, not those suggested by the government. Changes should be institutional, they should be profound, first of all - political, and only after economic.

Many said that it's time to replace a permission-based system to hold public meetings with a notification-based procedure, and condemned the suppression of peaceful protests on election day and subsequent days, as well as mass detentions of their participants. Participants of the action were holding the posters: 'For a peaceful rally without permission', 'When, if not now?', 'I do not need permission to speak', 'Speaking is not scary, being silent is scary', 'This poster is empty. I woke up in a country where a blank poster is already a statement.' The last poster seems to be a reference to the Uralsk case, where activist Aslan Sagutdinov holding blank sheet of paper in central square was detained by the police. This time no one was arrested.

The rally in Nur-Sultan took place in a calm atmosphere. The action was organized by the Nur Otan (Fatherland) ruling party, but the demands were acute.

The participants of the action, according to Radio Azattyk, opposed the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan, agriculture land sales to foreigners, and corruption. They urged to start appointing governors and judges on the basis of election, stop impeding the work of independent trade unions, provide housing for large families, as well as solve the problems of deceived homebuyers. Some proposed to return the former name of the capital - Astana. The city was named Nur-Sultan on the initiative of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who assumed the presidency in March after Nazarbayev’s resignation.

A resolution was adopted following the event, which the organizers handed over to the authorities. In particular, it points to the need to create a "people's commission to develop proposals for constitutional reform, taking the 1993 Constitution as its basis", the need to establish a single-chamber parliament, change legislation on elections and referendums, political parties, peaceful rallies and processions, as well as on political parties, social movements and non-governmental organizations, the need to ensure transparency in the use of the pension fund, the need to write off mortgage loans of socially vulnerable categories with the only housing, as well as prevent the construction of the nuclear power plant.

A similar resolution was adopted in Almaty, with the difference that the protesters demanded an end to the "vicious practice of dispersing peaceful public meetings."

A political scientist, president of the Public Foundation 'World of Eurasia' Eduard Poletayev told Vestnik Kavkaza that the authorities understand that it is necessary for the people to cool down. Among other things, this is due to the change of power and unauthorized meetings, which took place in May, when about 1000 people were arrested. This caused a resonance both in Kazakhstan and abroad.

"It is noteworthy that not only the country's authorities undergo changes, but also a civil society. If some time ago people said that it was useless to protest, as the authorities would not listen to them, now there are examples that the government begins to reckon with the population. Sometimes it even makes concessions, takes certain measures. Therefore, the rally can be viewed as one of the tools of peaceful pressure on the authorities, to put forward demands," the expert noted. In his opinion, the first authorized rallies gave hope that dialogue with the authorities is possible in this format. Therefore, activists are applying for the next actions. This mechanism starts working. "Although the protests don't yet bring together a large number of people, they can already be considered as an effective tool of the new government and its new face," Poletaev believes.

According to the expert, Tokayev brought a fresh note into the country's political life. "It must be borne in mind that he is a professional diplomat, and searching for a compromise and answers to uncomfortable questions is a sphere of his activity. Therefore, it can be said that a political spring has come to Kazakhstan with a change of government. But it's difficult to say how widespread it will be in the country. It is possible that people will let off steam and calm down eventually," Poletayev noted.

The chief researcher at the Center for the Study of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Urals-Volga Region of the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Stanislav Pritchin, told Vestnik Kavkaza that the "economy and stability come first, and only then politics" thesis was working when Nursultan Nazarbayev's legitimacy was extremely high. "After the transit of power was completed, people understood they are ready for changes. But so far there have been no special changes. President Tokayev continues the policy of Elbasy (the leader of the nation). Therefore, Tokayev’s level of support and legitimacy is lower than Nazarbayev’s. But change are still expected. If one starts to "cracks down" now, it may cause a backlash and get the part of the population who did not vote for it more upset with the current leadership. Therefore, the best option in such circumstances is to meet the needs of society: adapt the government's work, focusing more on the needs and demands of citizens. Therefore, holding rallies is the leadership's only possible option at this particular moment," Pritchin noted.