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Turning Tides In Kazakhstan – A Volatile Political Situation




Repressing democracy for a long time can backfire in a dangerous way. With almost three decades of authoritarian rule and a conservative political environment, Kazakhstan has kept the basic economic and political freedoms of its people under strict control. Now the suppression is rebounding.  

With the countrywide protests and the demand of the people for political liberation and reversal of neo-liberal economic policies, resource-rich Kazakhstan is going through a highly volatile situation. The incumbent President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is under fire for being called a puppet ruler who is considered to be working under the covert command of the infamous predecessor Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev is highly disliked by the majority population as he ruled the country with iron-hand for thirty long years, suppressing any dissent or protests.

The slogan of the protestors was “Old man, out!”. This slogan is for the ex-President Nazarbayev who is considered to be “turning the country into a private company” of his own instead of making it a democratic state. 

Although apparently, the protests started as a dissent against the petrol price hike and the rising inflation, however, the real reason is the decade-long suppression of political and economic freedoms which have resulted in growing unemployment, corruption, insecurity, illegal extraction of natural resources, and increased poverty. The taxpayers, therefore, took to the streets as Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian country with the biggest resources of oil and gas. Unfortunately, the country’s own population is deprived of these resources as the leadership is considered corrupt.

The revolt has been gaining ground since December 2021 but it gathered pace on 5th Jan 2022 when the government removed the price cap from the petrol prices, giving the price control powers to the private corporations and markets. This resulted in a doubling of the petrol prices. The country has a population of almost 19 million people who are dependent on the cheap LPG for regular transport. With the price hike and increased inflation, they were compelled to protest. 

With hundreds been injured and thousands detained, the police and law enforcing authorities are dealing with the protestors with an iron fist under the orders of President Tokayev who called the authorities to “shoot without warning”. In order to tackle the situation, Tokayev invoked Article 4 of the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) for joint action in case of attacks. This Treaty is the Russian version of NATO signed among ex-Soviet states; Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Belarus. Resultantly, Russia has already deployed 3000 soldiers in the cities of Zhanaozen and Almaty, from where the revolt began.

Kazakhstan has good ties with the USA and UK and borders with China and Russia as friendly states. The world is seeing the situation closely as European and the American companies have huge investments in the country. America’s Exxon Mobil and Chevron have made billion dollars worth of investments in the resource-rich country. While Russia closely guards the ex-Soviet states with a hegemonic hand to enhance its influence in the region against the Western powers, it was quick to engage its forces to “help” the Kazakh President. 

Let’s see how the situation unfolds further as the big powers are involved to create their own influence in the region.  

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