“Today, without dramatizing the situation in those years, I openly declare you that in the beginning of the 1990’s, we were on the edge of a cliff.” This sentence was uttered by Nursultan Nazarbayev ten years after the declaration of independence of Kazakhstan. In the 1990’s, Kazakhstan was suffering an economy which was on the verge of bankruptcy, an insufficient infrastructure, a deficiency of expert staff (the expert management group in Kazakhstan migrated to Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union), and a governmental structure that was about to collapse. There were other factors which made the adverse conditions in the country even more serious during that period.
Almost all of the former Soviet regions have experienced similar problems and a transition period which was never experienced before. As a country which takes place among the other countries that show a maximum effort to overcome this period, Kazakhstan is at the forefront in several fields. Kazakhstan owes its success to its people in the first place and then to Nursultan Nazarbayev. Under the difficult conditions of the post-independency period, Nazarbayev not only started both the economic and politic structuring processes, but also ensured unity and solidarity in the country. The civil wars and ethnic conflicts which stirred the countries of the region did not reveal in Kazakhstan. As a matter of fact, Kazakhstan is a country that harbors approximately 130 nations from 45 different religions. Nazarbayev is the leader who has inspired the spirit of unity and solidarity to Kazakhstan.
Nazarbayev is a leader who is successful not only in the domestic politics, but also in the foreign policy. Today, Kazakhstan differs from the other countries in the region in terms of its stabilized foreign policy. For example, CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia) which was founded upon the initiative of Nazarbayev, is brought to the agenda today as one of the important organizations. CICA can be described as the Asian OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). CICA is an organization founded by Nursultan Nazarbayev; it fills an important gap in Asia and draws the countries together which could not be assembled by the efforts of other international organizations previously. On the other hand, Kazakhstan has implemented a considerably stabilized foreign policy against the West and Russia.
Nazarbayev played an important role also in the recovery process of Kazakhstan economy. However, at this point, we must not disregard the fact that Kazakhstan is a rich country with regards to its natural resources. While reconstructing its political structure, Nazarbayev has always aimed at making Kazakhstan a regional power. In short, since its independency, Nazarbayev’s efforts made on behalf of Kazakhstan cannot be underestimated.
Nazarbayev’s endeavors made also with respect to the nuclear security which lately became a subject frequently discussed throughout the whole world cannot be ignored. Kazakhstan’s leadership in the matters of the nuclear security and peace is very important, since during the Soviet Union era it was a country which possessed a considerable amount of nuclear power. It is Nazarbayev who has assigned his country to carry out this mission. During the foundation stage of CICA, Kazakhstan relinquished its nuclear power for the sake of the constitution of an organization which is founded to set a good example for the whole world. Nazarbayev received a great support from his people who had suffered a lot by the reason of the nuclear tests, and he was appreciated by the other countries and organizations, the United Nations (UN) coming in the first place. Nazarbayev went down in history as the first leader who has voluntarily relinquished the nuclear weapons, and in 2010, he received the fruits of his efforts made for the world peace by bringing in his country the Chairmanship of OSCE. Nazarbayev took very important steps also for OSCE and managed to attract the attention of the whole world to the region. After an interval which lasted 11 years long, Kazakhstan held the OSCE Chairmen Summit for the first time and gave acceleration to the activities of OSCE which was trying to carry on its operations within a structure almost totally inactivated. With regards to the world security issues and the solution of the regional problems, the country has incorporated the four basic principles -namely confidence, tradition, transparency and tolerance- into the structure of OSCE.
Undoubtedly, the most important name behind all achievements of Kazakhstan is Nazarbayev.
Referendum Discussions and Nazarbayev’s Position
Nazarbayev became the President who was given a broad authority within the framework of the 1995 constitution which was accepted by popular vote. In the constitution it had been stated that “the same person should not be elected as President more than twice in a row.” However, with the new regulations which were implemented in 2007, this rule has been invalidated for Nazarbayev.
Lately, the presidential election which will be held in 2012 became a current issue in the country. The discussions with respect to a possible referendum regarding the extension of Nazarbayev’s term of office came to the forefront upon the petition started by the non-governmental organizations. Previously, the President of the Kazakhstan Central Election Commission Kuanduk Turgankulov had announced that if 200 thousand signatures are collected, referendum would be held in March, 2011. On 12th of January, 5 million signatures which were collected during the petition were submitted to the Election Commission. Both the petitions and the referendum which is supported by certain parties are aimed at the cancellation of the 2012 elections and the extension of the Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s term of office by way of referendum (until 2020) without calling an election.
If the elections are held in 2012, most probably, Nazarbayev will stand for the election and he will be reelected. The most important point regarding the elections is the protection of the political culture of the society. Nazarbayev has vetoed the proposal for the referendum for the good of Kazakhstan’s future. However, the Kazakhstan Parliament and the Senate did not give up their attempts with regards to the realization of the referendum.
The critics in the West and especially in the United States argue that Kazakhstan cannot be ruled by Nazarbayev forever. Until today, Nazarbayev has acted prudentially and has implemented many projects in the interest of the country. If he continues his prudential approach with respect to the referendum which is today a current issue and persistently vetoes the proposal, he will be standing behind a decision that has a vital importance for the population of Kazakhstan. Existence of Kazakhstan in the future is closely related to its social and political culture. If the political culture is undermined, the results will be unavoidable. The elections are very important both for the people of Kazakhstan and the country’s international prestige.
Today, the “choices of the population” may not seem very important in a country which has announced its independence only 20 years ago, but in 20 years as of today, its importance will come into prominence. On the other hand, as a country that has undertaken the Chairmanship of OSCE, Kazakhstan should not compromise the universal values; in order to prove and sustain its power, it should develop and root its political culture as much as possible. If the previous political culture of Kazakhstan and its short history as an independent country are taken into consideration, a serious criticism cannot be performed with respect to matters such as the human rights and freedom in the country.
However, it is an undeniable reality that in the country serious steps with regards to development are not taken. Today, the measures which are necessary to be taken in the long run are being implemented by Nazarbayev. As a country which plans to be the leading country in Asia, in order to avoid a future chaos, Kazakhstan should protect its political culture and aim at increasing its speed of development.
Gülay Kılıç / USAK
*A short version of this op-ed is first published on Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review.
*Gülay Kılıç is a researcher at USAK Center For Eurasian Studies.
Wednesday, 16 February 2011