Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his resignation after three decades at the helm. Given the country’s 1.9 million b/d of oil production and participation in the OPEC+ deal, the power transfer draws attention to the potential for instability and policy change. Changes in the leadership and other features of the political landscape, however, point to stability and continuity.
Central Asia Unlikely Stage for Colored Revolutions & Effective Opposition
A day after the OPEC+ Joint Minister Monitoring Committee was held in Azerbaijan, Caspian oil producers remained in the spotlight when Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his resignation after 30 years at the helm. News media were quick to raise the possibility for policy change and even instability, which has heightened implications for the oil market given that lately the country’s oil production has been 1.9 million b/d and it is a party to the OPEC+ deal.
Concerns about significant policy changes and instability, however, are probably misplaced. Instead, the change probably signals continuity and marks only the beginning of a phased and tightly-controlled transfer of power. For one thing, Mr. Nazarbayev will retain some powers by continuing to serve as chairman of the country’s security council and president of the country’s dominant political party Nur Otan. Second, the man who is ascending to the position of acting president, Kassym-
Jomart Tokayev, has served alongside Mr Nazarbayev since the early 1990s and is likely to remain loyal to Mr. Nazarbayev. In the end he may be a transition figure. The perception that emerges is one of Mr. Nazarbayev retaining the reins of power but stepping back from the daily management of state affairs.
Such a controlled and undemocratic transfer of power is the norm for Caspian oil producers and their neighbors. We need look no further than across the Caspian Sea in the South Caucasus, where nearly two decades ago Ilham Aliyev succeeded his ailing father as president of Azerbaijan. In the process, authorities took care to prevent the opposition or democratic
reforms from threatening the transfer of power.
In the case of Kazakhstan, there are other reasons to anticipate stability and continuity. Grassroots movements, democratic reforms and Western influence have penetrated Central Asia even less than in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus. Consequently, no popular uprising is likely to test stability in Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the country’s shared border with Russia and large ethnic-Russian population are insurance against future leaders straying from the Russian orbit. Mr. Nazarbayev’s resignation has long-term implications for Kazakhstan and the balance of power, but it is unlikely to have a short-term impact on the country’s relations with Russia and other oil-producing countries or Kazakhstan’s participation in the OPEC+ deal.