Managed Democracy & Political Reform

by Nathan Hamm on 12/6/2005 · 1 comment

Daniel Kimmage has a summary and analysis of Kazakhstan’s election that is well worth reading. In it, he asks regarding managed democracy and the prospects for political reform in Kazakhstan,

The real question raised by Kazakhstan’s election and Nazarbaev’s 90 percent victory is, of course, that of political reforms. For his part, Nazarbaev has consistently promised gradual reform with an emphasis on economics above politics. Now, a paradox prevails. A basic premise of democracy is that, human nature being what it is, a genuinely competitive political system is the only way to keep politicians honest. The paradox in Kazakhstan today is that Nazarbaev’s overwhelming reelection, however one explains its causes, demonstrates a lack of competitiveness in the political system, which, in turn, underscores that any impetus for reform will have to come from Nazarbaev himself, and not the system he has thus far labored to create.

When discussing Kazakhstan and reform, is that really the direction one wants to gear the discussion towards? On can, as I am, be generally optimistic about Kazakhstan’s long-term prospects for developing an open political system without having much faith that Nursultan Nazarbaev is the one who is going to put the system into place or even that he genuinely wants to.

Kimmage goes on to talk about where managed democracy drifts, but does not again bring up that it is awfully hard to compare Kazakhstan to Georgia or Kyrgyzstan specifically because the economic situation is different (or much more widely perceived to be as the case may be).

It is awfully hard to take Nazarbaev’s rhetoric about gradual political reform seriously since he has not, as least as far as I am aware, ever talked about what his vision is, how he will achieve it, or how long he plans to take to do so. What does make me generally optimistic is that he is, especially compared to his neighbors, quite dedicated to economic reforms. And if the likes of South Korea or Taiwan are useful examples, economic reforms may plant the seeds for organic (and therefore, more durable) political reforms in the long term.

But, as always, I am interested to hear others’ views on the matter and whether or not Kimmage is being too narrow or looking exactly in the right place.


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Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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{ 1 comment }

LazyNomad December 9, 2005 at 3:14 am

I wouldn`t say that there is a lack of competitiveness in the political system in Kazakhstan. From my point of view there is a harsh competition among different power groups and though it`s not obvious, but liberal or moderatly liberal political views are shared by most of the top bureaucrats and businessmen.
Nazarbayev is an effective moderator of tensions between these various factions. His only weakness is corruption scandal (Kazakhgate), in which he allegedly played one of the main roles. I suppose that present lack of freedom of press exists only because of Kazakhgate.

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