Kazakhstan International Aspects of Regional Unrest -Joyen Uddin
The oil-rich Central Asian Country’s government has collapsed in the face of public outcry over rising LP gas prices. Earlier, the government had fixed the price of fuel product LPG. But after the price cap was lifted on January 2, the price of LPG in the country surged more than double. Due to which, the protest started from January 4. At one point that protest turned violent and to control the situation, the Kazakh government first declared a state of emergency in the country.
Thousands took to the streets in protest and protesters were still on the city streets at night. Police could not handle the protests by throwing tear gas and Stan grenades in one of their largest city, Almati. This is where the protests began. But within two days it spread to cities across the country. There were rallies in many places, as well as clashes with police.When thousands of people of Kazakhstan’s gathered in its main city and former capital Almati, police used tear gas and Stan grenades on protesters. Hundreds of people, including protesters and police, were injured. Emergency law was imposed in many parts of Kazakhstan after thousands of people began protesting in the streets. Internet connections have been reported in many places. Many people in Kazakhstan drive on LPG. Driving on LPG was cheaper than fuel oil as the government has kept prices under control for so long. The pace at which the protests have spread has surprised many, both locally and regionally, and various indications suggest that the protests are not merely against fuel price hikes.
President Qasim-Jomart Tokayev blamed his own government for the protests and fired the government thereby. He assured everyone that the price of LPG would be reduced “in the interest of maintaining the stability of the country”.But the people did not calm down. They broke into the Almaty mayor’s office and set it on fire.
Kazakhstan is rich in oil and gas and it is considered to be very influential in the whole of Central Asia. This is because Kazakhstan accounts for 60 percent of that region’s GDP. But the government of this country is considered to be very authoritarian. The country is ninth largest in the world. But considering that, the population of the country is very small – one crore 88 lakhs.
The country declared independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nur-Sultan Nazarbayev became the country’s prime minister in 1974, when the country was part of the Soviet republic. For a long time since then, he has held power in Kazakhstan.
He then went on to become the country’s president through an election in which no one could virtually challenge him. During his reign, Mr. Nazarbayev introduced totemism in Kazakhstan. His sculptures were placed in different parts of the country. He even established a new capital and named it Nur-Sultan after himself.
After many years of rule, Mr. Nazarbayev was forced to step down in 2019. At that time there was a mass protest against him,which was rare. He is thought to have attempted easing the situation by his resignation.
In the same year, through an election, Nazarbayev’s favorite candidate Kasim-Jomart Tokayev came to power. The neutrality of the election was strongly criticized by many international observers.
Although not in power, Mr. Nazarbayev is still very influential. But it has been three years since he resigned. Kazakhstan has not seen much development in these three years. The standard of living in that country is still low. The individual freedom of the Kazakhs is also very limited. Mr. Nazarbayev had some friendship with the people of Kazakhstan. People were loyal to the government because they saw their economic development in place . But the situation started getting worse since 2015. In the last two years, there has been massive inflation in Kazakhstan during the covid epidemic.
Despite the government’s dismissal and the return of fuel prices, there are no signs of protesters moving away from the streets. With the resignation of President Nazarbayev, they have come to realize that change of government often does not change the situation.
The question that is now being asked all over the country is: “What has the government done for us in the last 30 years?”
One of the main focal points of the protests was Zhanaozen. It is a city in the province of Mangistu in southwestern Kazakhstan.In the year two thousand and eleven there was a great demonstration in this city. Protests by oil workers demanding a pay rise were cracked down on, killing at least 14 people and hundreds were injured.Now Jhanaozen has again become the center of the movement. And the protesters there have made five-point demands: A) Real change in government, B) Election of provincial governors by direct vote. They are currently appointed by the President, C) Bringing back the constitution of 1993. The power of the president was cut in that constitution; D) No one should be tortured for political activities; E) Giving place in government to people who have no relation with government.
But it is not yet clear who is leading the current movement. Analysts say that Kazakhstan does not actually have an election-based democracy, because if dissent had been created in that country for decades, it would have been destroyed in its infancy. Gregory Golosov, a political analyst at the European University of St. Petersburg in Russia, says the people of Kazakhstan believe that only through street protests can they force the government to listen to them. “In a country where there is an authoritarian government, the usual reaction to any economic action is to take to the streets to protest”, he added.
The situation in Kazakhstan is heating up. Protesters are not leaving the road. But the police are still not taking strict action. The government is also trying to resolve the crisis without taking any serious steps. Kazakhstan, on the other hand, is not an ally of the West. As a result, Western leaders may view it as a “democratic coup against an oppressive government.”
These disturbances in Kazakhstan have affected the region as well. As already mentioned in the Russian state media, these protests are taking place in Kazakhstan at the behest of “Western powers”.
Russia is the closest country to Kazakhstan, a uranium-rich country in Central Asia. They gained independence from the Russians. Nazarbayev has been running the country with a strong hand since independence. With his departure, neighboring Russia could also become a major threat. In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a strong message for Astana, five months after they took control of Crimea, when he also questioned the legitimacy of Kazakhstan’s independence.
It is difficult for the Kazakh government to take any action against the protesters. And there is no way for Western leaders not to support this movement. But in the long run, these protests will make the Kazakh government more inclined towards Russia. There are indications that the Kazakh government will try to resolve the crisis peacefully. One way to find a peaceful solution is for the president to hold face-to-face talks with at least some of the protesters, and the people will see that their words have reached the ears of the government. Kazakhstan also needs to keep in mind the confidence of investors as a major exporter of gas, oil and minerals. To do this, it is important to maintain political stability.
After so many things, there are problems elsewhere. Due to the far-sighted foreign policy of Nur Sultan Nazarbayev, the country is moving forward, satisfying almost all the superpowers of world politics. He was the one who abruptly announced his resignation. As for the reason for his resignation, he said that he was leaving to maintain the democratic system by reforming the economic system of the country. But will the departure of this Kazakh architect really reform the country? Or will they face a bigger threat? Time will say.
The writer is independent analyst on national and international affairs.