Leader of the Nation to Rescue Kazakhstan's Economy

Nazarbayev attends the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in 2014. Photo by Richard Wareham. Demotix ID: 4296897.

Nazarbayev attends he Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in 2014. Photo by Richard Wareham. Demotix ID: 4296897.

Kazakhstan is likely to have a snap election in the hope that its 74-year-old autocrat can save its troubled economy.

Comments such as this one by nurhataksai are flooding the networks:

Кризис не страшен когда у тебя такой Елбасы! Но хотелось бы побыстрее отдать свой голос Назарбаеву и уже со спокойной душой делать свою работу!

The crisis is not scary when you have such an Elbasy (Leader of the Nation)! I just want to give my vote to Nazarbayev faster so that I can do my work with a calm soul. 

Whether these are paid trolls or reflections of genuine support for a dictator who is probably the most popular of his kind in post-Soviet Central Asia, there is no doubt that Kazakhstan's economy needs saving by someone. Having previously been regarded as a minor success story, it had a very bad 2014, witnessing a giant overnight devaluation of its own currency, the collapse of Russia's ruble and a steep fall in the price of Kazakhstan's main export, crude oil.

Some local Kazakh authorities have responded by suggesting a temporary embargo on Russian imports — extremely cheap after the ruble lost half its value last year — in order to save Kazakh producers. Some businesses have demanded a second devaluation, which would be disastrous for those still keeping savings in the battered national currency. 

In the end, at a government meeting on February 11, Nazarbayev, launched a Kazakh version of keep calm and carry on, by avoiding those decisions and calling on companies and consumers alike to be patriotic by holding deposits in national currency and buying local. He also established a $1.3 billion reserve fund to support domestic production. 

Five days later, on February 16, the ruling party, which Nazarbayev chairs, accepted a call from the Peoples’ Assembly of Kazakhstan, which Nazarbayev also chairs, to hold early elections in order to give Nazarbayev a fresh mandate to deal with the economic crisis. Nazarbayev, who has nearly two years left of his current term — he has been Kazakhstan's ruler since before independence in 1991 — must now accept the call.

Nazarbayev's speech on the economy can be found here.

Business versus the people?

Since January 2014 the Russian ruble has devalued 47% against the Kazakh tenge and a similar amount against the dollar as Western sanctions and then falling crude prices left the republic's larger neighbour on an economic precipice. For Russian exporters working with Kazakhstan, however, this was a good thing. Many Russian products are now 40-60% cheaper than those produced in Kazakhstan, according to Kazakh officials, and bilateral trade has become one-way traffic.

Some Kazakhs are even enjoying having the cheaper goods in a country where prices often seem artificially high.

As Douglas, wrote in the comments forum on TengriNews, a privately-owned news website:

Когда создавали ТС со всех трибун звучало о пользе для простого народа, о конкурентной среде и снижении цен. А когда реально цены упали и действительно появилась польза для простых людей, заговорили о спасении отечественного “бизнеса”!))) Радетели блага Родины! Только Родина у них в карманах и на банковских счетах!

When the Customs Union was created, [the Kazakh government] told us about the benefits of this Union for ordinary people, a competitive environment and lower prices. And when prices really fell and benefits for ordinary people appeared, they started talking about saving domestic “business!”))) Good guardians of the motherland! Only the motherland is in their pockets and bank accounts!

At any rate, that same Customs Union, which Kazakhstan and Russia share with Armenia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan (from May onwards) makes banning Russian imports problematic. As the director of the Center for Reseach on International Trade of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Alexander Knobel said:

По условиям соглашения, конечно, Россия не обязана добровольно ограничивать экспорт — на то он и экономический союз, что никаких ограничений в перемещении товаров страны не налагают.

Under the agreement, of course, Russia is not obliged to voluntarily restrict exports — for the economic union fulfills its purpose that there are no restrictions on goods’ movements.

Lower tax intake and oil revenues may have caused the government to cut the state budget for 2015-17, but that has not stopped the country's bid to stage the 2022 Winter Olympics.

So, lets have an election!

The call by Nur Otan, the ruling party, for fresh elections earlier this week was reflected in hundreds of glowing pro-Nazarbayev comments on regional and national websites, sparking accusations of mass trolling.

Казахстан – страна больших возможностей, Мы уверены в своем будущем, наш Президент сделает все для того, чтобы мы жили счастливо. Я ему верю.

Kazakhstan is a country of big opportunities. We are confident in our future. Our President will do everything so that we live well. I believe in him.



Strangely, however, on the TengriNews website, all of the pro-Nazarbayev comments began to receive minus votes, causing one Nazarbayev supporter to say:

Интересно, кто ж так минусует? В каких странах живут они?

Interesting, who is doing all these minuses? What countries do they live in?

To which xto to responded:

думаю мало кто плохо относиться к нашему президенту. А минусуют только из-за того, сто почти все комменты будто написаны одним человеком, каждый раз перефразировав. Но опять же повторюсь, мало кто против нашего президента, и я в том числе ;-)

I think there are few who do not support the president. People are putting minuses because nearly all the comments are written as if by one person, phrased slightly differently every time. But I repeat again, there are few who do not support the president.

A date for the election is likely to be announced in the coming weeks.

Chris Rickleton and Anna Fergana contributed to this post

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