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Why Europe Should Care About Kazakhstan’s Coming Power Transition

By Toni Michel (follow via @villageescape)

Central Asia is not exactly a region of primary interest to many decision makers in Brussels and wider Europe. There is, however, a profound political and economic risk in ignoring the momentous change that the region’s key country, Kazakhstan, is about to undergo.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first and only President since independence in 1991, is old. So old actually, that the country was briefly rife with speculation over the autocrat’s departure already a decade ago. Now, at 77 years, it is clearer than ever that his exit from Kazakh politics will come sooner rather than later. And in today’s environment, it is more important than ever that Europe be ready for what will come the day after.

Presidential succession in Central Asia is a complicated and sometimes dangerous business, revolving around naked power, business interests and clan alliances. Kazakhstan is no different. But what are the possible scenarios that we are heading for? And how should the EU respond to the significant risks and opportunities that are about to arise?

Succession in Central Asia

So far, only one Central Asian country has managed to organise an orderly transition of power through competitive elections. The tiny mountainous nation of Kyrgyzstan has always been a bit of an exception and while its history is fascinating and recommended reading for anyone interested in autocracy, democracy and the way to get from one to the other, the Kyrgyz succession model is not of relevance to Kazakhstan – a much bigger, semi-autocratic state with a different background. Sure enough, there will be national elections after Nazarbayev’s eventual departure – though most likely not with the purpose to pick a successor, but rather to legitimise the person to emerge from backroom deals within the elite

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