On the UN Day of Nuclear Disarmament Assessing the Impact of January 2022 Unrest on Kazakhstan’s Economy, Politics and Social Order.
In January 2022, Kazakhstan experienced a wave of protests and unrest that reverberated throughout the country. This significant event had far-reaching consequences, impacting the economy, politics and social order of Kazakhstan. This article aims to delve into the aftermath of the unrest and explore how it affected the nation’s economic and political landscape and societal fabric.
The January 2022 unrest dealt a severe blow to Kazakhstan’s economy, which heavily relies on natural resources, particularly oil and gas. The protests disrupted oil production and transportation, leading to a decline in export revenues. The resulting economic slowdown, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the situation, created an atmosphere of investor unease, leading to capital flight and a decrease in foreign direct investment.
Furthermore, the unrest highlighted underlying issues such as corruption, economic inequality, and lack of employment opportunities, which were key grievances of the protesters. These concerns further eroded investor confidence and hindered economic growth.
To address the economic challenges, the Kazakh government had to implement various measures. It embarked on economic diversification efforts, aiming to reduce dependence on oil and gas by promoting sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and technology. Initiatives were launched to attract foreign investment and improve the business climate, emphasizing transparency and anti-corruption measures.
The social fabric of Kazakhstan also experienced significant repercussions in the wake of the unrest. The protests, initially sparked by socioeconomic grievances, escalated into clashes between security forces and demonstrators. The use of force by authorities led to casualties and raised concerns about human rights violations.
The unrest highlighted underlying social tensions within the country, including political discontent, inequality, and a lack of freedom of expression. It also exposed regional and ethnic fault lines, as Kazakhstan is home to a diverse population. These divisions, exacerbated by the unrest, posed a challenge to social cohesion and stability.
In response, the Kazakh government initiated efforts to address these issues and promote reconciliation. Measures were taken to improve governance, strengthen the rule of law, and enhance respect for human rights. Initiatives were launched to foster dialogue between different segments of society and promote inclusivity, aiming to heal the societal rifts that had been exposed.
On the social front, the unrest brought to the forefront underlying grievances and divisions within Kazakh society. The government recognized the need to address these concerns by promoting inclusivity, strengthening governance, and fostering dialogue. Rebuilding social cohesion and trust emerged as essential components of the country’s path towards stability and progress.
The January 2022 unrest in Kazakhstan began as protests against a rise in fuel prices. The protests quickly turned violent and spread to some major cities in the country. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency and calling in troops from the CSTO. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) is a military alliance of six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The CSTO was founded in 1992 and has been used to deploy troops to member states on a number of occasions, including in Kazakhstan in January 2022. The CSTO deployed troops to Kazakhstan on January 5, 2022. The troops were tasked with restoring order and protecting critical infrastructure. The CSTO troops remained in Kazakhstan for two weeks, and they played a key role in quelling the unrest. The CSTO withdrew its troops from Kazakhstan on January 19, 2022. The withdrawal was announced by CSTO Secretary General Stanislav Zas, who said that the mission had been accomplished. The deployment of CSTO troops to Kazakhstan was controversial. Some critics argued that the deployment was unnecessary and that it was a sign of Russian imperialism. Others argued that the deployment was necessary to restore order and protect Kazakhstan from foreign interference. The CSTO’s deployment to Kazakhstan has had a significant impact on the organization. The deployment has shown that the CSTO is willing to use force to protect its members, and it has also raised concerns about the organization’s future role in the region. Any expected dividends for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine were not realised when Kazakhstan refused all requests from Russia a mere two months later. Much to Russian consternation Kazakhstan vigorously supports the territorial integrity of nations and even sent aid to Ukraine. Much like so many times in its history the Kazakh leadership chooses what is in its own interest in the long term. Even today as we mark the UN International Day against Nuclear Tests which was unanimously adopted as Resolution 64/35 we are reminded from the UN’s own website that, ‘the resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorate the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991. The Day is meant to galvanize the United Nations, Member States, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, youth networks and the media to inform, educate and advocate the necessity of banning nuclear weapon tests as a valuable step towards achieving a safer world.’
As Kazakhstan continues to navigate the rapidly changing world in which we all live it faces challenges but also opportunities for transformative change. The government’s commitment to economic diversification, social reform, and good governance will be instrumental in shaping a more resilient and inclusive future for the nation.
The period between 2022 and 2023 witnessed significant electoral events in Kazakhstan, shaping the country’s political landscape and democratic process. These elections brought forth a range of changes, including the election of a new President and members of Parliament. Let’s take a closer look at the key elections held during this time.
In June 2022, Kazakhstan held its presidential election, which marked a transition of power from the First President Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had served as the country’s President since its independence in 1991 and perhaps the most significant personality shaping the new nation state and securing its place in the world as a nation amongst equals. His resignation in 2019 was a surprise to almost all, and the subsequent election was highly anticipated, as it would determine a new leader for the first time in over three decades.
Several candidates ran in the election, representing various political parties and movements. However, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who had been acting as interim President following Nazarbayev’s resignation in 2019, emerged as the clear frontrunner. Tokayev, supported by the ruling Nur Otan party, secured a significant majority of the votes and was elected as the President of Kazakhstan.
Following the presidential election, Kazakhstan held parliamentary elections in January 2023. These elections aimed to determine the composition of the Mazhilis, the lower house of Parliament. The Mazhilis consists of 107 members, 98 of whom are elected through a party-list proportional representation system, and the remaining nine are appointed by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, representing ethnic minorities.
Multiple political parties participated in the parliamentary elections, including the ruling Nur Otan party, which has historically dominated Kazakh politics. Other parties such as Ak Zhol Democratic Party, People’s Party of Kazakhstan, and Auyl Social Democratic Party also contested the elections. The campaign period witnessed lively debates and discussions on various issues, including economic development, social reforms, and political transparency.
The results of the parliamentary elections showcased a continued majority for Nur Otan, which secured the highest number of seats in the Mazhilis. However, several other parties managed to secure representation, allowing for a more diverse and pluralistic legislature. This outcome signals a growing trend towards greater political competition and a broader representation of voices within Kazakhstan’s political landscape.
The Kazakh elections held in 2022 and 2023 reflect and ongoing and gradual transition in the country’s political sphere. The presidential election marked the first transfer of power since independence, demonstrating the country’s commitment to democratic processes. The parliamentary elections showcased a growing pluralism, with a more diverse representation in the legislature.
These elections provided an opportunity for political parties to articulate their visions for the future and engage in healthy democratic competition. They also served as a means for the population to express their aspirations and expectations, contributing to the legitimacy of the government and political institutions.
Moving forward, Kazakhstan faces the challenge of consolidating democratic processes, ensuring the inclusion of diverse voices, and addressing socio-economic issues to foster stability and progress. The government’s commitment to enhancing transparency, rule of law, and respect for human rights will play a crucial role in shaping the future trajectory of the country’s democratic development.
Overall, whilst the Kazakh elections held in 2022 and 2023 marked important milestones in the country’s political evolution, illustrating the nation’s efforts to foster democratic governance and political participation it is always the economy which determines the ultimate well-being of a nation.
The performance of the Kazakh economy is influenced by various factors, including global economic conditions, commodity prices, government policies, and domestic and international investments. Kazakhstan’s economy is highly dependent on natural resources, particularly oil, gas, and minerals. Therefore, fluctuations in commodity prices on the international market can have a significant impact on its economic performance.
In recent years, Kazakhstan has been working towards economic diversification, aiming to reduce its reliance on natural resources and promote sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and technology. These efforts have been driven by initiatives such as the Nurly Zhol infrastructure development program and the Digital Kazakhstan program, which aim to stimulate economic growth and foster innovation.
Additionally, Kazakhstan has sought to attract foreign direct investment through business-friendly policies, economic reforms, and the establishment of special economic zones. This investment plays a crucial role in driving economic growth, creating jobs, and fostering technological advancement.
The Kazakh economy is performing relatively well in 2022-2023, despite the ongoing global economic slowdown. Real GDP growth is forecast to reach 3.5% in 2023, up from 3.1% in 2022. The economy is being supported by strong commodity prices, particularly oil and gas, which account for about 60% of export earnings. Inflation is expected to remain high, at around 10%, but this is expected to ease in the second half of the year.
The Kazakh government is taking steps to address the challenges facing the economy, including diversifying the economy away from reliance on commodities, improving the investment climate, and reducing poverty. However, there are a number of risks to the outlook, including the ongoing global economic slowdown, the war in Ukraine, and political instability in parts of the region. As these impact on the political and social fabric of Kazakhstan there is an emerging plethora of voices adding commentary and calling for alternative approaches.
Like all countries there is much to celebrate as we assess Kazakhstan’s performance over these last few years, and of course there will always be a mix of voices who genuinely critique the status quo and others who criticise in search of a utopia of perfection. The Kazakhs themselves are much more realistic and one can witness today a nation that is assertive and forward looking, largely harmonious and everywhere engaged with the world.