Here’s why the country is in crisis

Kazakhstan has witnessed the most violent street protests it has seen in the three decades since independence. At least eight law enforcement officials have been killed in arson attacks on government buildings.

In Kazakhstan’s two powerful neighbors, Russia and China, the explosion of instability is sounding the alarm. Because the majority of the country’s oil exports are sold to China, and Russia has been its geopolitically important ally.

The first protests in a remote western oil town were sparked by a sudden rise in auto fuel prices at the start of the year. However, the tens of thousands of people who then took to the streets in more than a dozen towns and villages set their sights on the entire totalitarian regime.

AFP

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is starting to look desperate. He tried to calm the crowds by sacking the entire government on Wednesday morning. But by the end of the day, he had shifted gears.

First, he called the protesters terrorists. Then he turned to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance, for help quelling the revolt, and the CSTO agreed to send an indefinite number of peacekeepers. .

Why are people so enraged?

Kazakhstan is by far the largest and richest of the five Central Asian countries that gained independence after the fall of the Soviet Union. It covers an area the size of Western Europe and relies on huge reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals.

While Kazakhstan’s natural resources have helped it develop a strong middle class and a sizable group of ultra-wealthy tycoons, financial difficulties are rife.

Demonstrations in Kazakhstan
AFP

The average monthly salary is just under $ 600. Non-performing loans triggered a major financial crisis in the banking sector. Petty corruption is common in this region, as it is in much of the rest of the world.

In addition, the country’s autocratic administration has often been reprimanded for violating fundamental freedoms over the years. For example, many anomalies were reported during the 2019 presidential elections.

The rally that sparked the current crisis took place in Zhanaozen, a dusty oil town in the west. The idea that the region’s energy riches have not been fairly distributed among the local population has long fueled resentment in the region.

Demonstrations in Kazakhstan
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At least 15 people were gunned down by police in the city in 2011 as they protested the sacking of oil workers after a strike. Patience was tested when the price of liquefied petroleum gas, which most people in the region use to power their cars, rose overnight on Saturday.

Residents of surrounding towns quickly followed, and huge protests erupted across the country within days.

Who is in charge of the demonstrations?

Kazakhstan has a long history of suppressing critical voices. All opposition figures have been repressed, marginalized or co-opted by the administration.

So far, no leader of the protest movement has emerged, despite the fact that these protests have been exceptionally large – some attracting more than 10,000 people, a large number for Kazakhstan.

Demonstrations in Kazakhstan
AFP

Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan for most of the country’s recent history. That changed in 2019, when the 81-year-old Nazarbayev resigned and was replaced by his longtime friend Tokayev.

Nazarbayev continues to wield tremendous power over the country as the head of the security council, which oversees the military and security agencies. Tokayev said on Wednesday that he would succeed Nazarbayev as head of the security council.

Much of the outrage seen in the streets in recent days was directed against Nazarbayev, who is still widely seen as the country’s ultimate dictator. “Shalket! (“Old go!”) Has become a popular slogan.

Is the government in danger of falling?

For Kazakhstan, this is unknown territory. Major protests have already taken place in the country, the most recent in 2016, following the adoption of a contested land law. And again in 2019, following a tumultuous election that strengthened Tokayev’s grip on power. But never anything on this scale.

Tokayev vowed to continue reforms and hinted at the possibility of political liberalization in one of his public speeches on Wednesday. However, his more threatening words towards the end of the day suggested that he might instead take a more restrictive path.

Demonstrations in Kazakhstan
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Even still, it’s hard to predict how the street protests will end, at least for now, as they lack focus. Even though they are unable to overthrow the government, they seem to have the potential to bring about significant change. What this could mean is unclear.

What has been the government’s response to the protests?

Tokayev sacked the country’s prime minister and his cabinet just hours after imposing states of emergency on Almaty and Mangistau. He then appointed Alikhan Smailov, the country’s first deputy prime minister, as interim prime minister.

Demonstrations in Kazakhstan
AFP

He said he will succeed Nazarbayev as head of the country’s Security Council in a televised address. He also sacked Samat Abish, the nephew of the former president, as the first deputy head of the country’s national security service.

Late Tuesday, he told the Kazakhs that the government would soon lower the prices of LPG to “ensure the stability of the country.” According to The Guardian, he said that in Mangistau province, the interim administration would impose a price restriction on LPG of 50 tenge (around 8 pence) per liter, almost half of the current market price.

He also encouraged cabinet ministers to include gasoline, diesel and other “socially important” consumer products in price limits. He criticized the protests but said the situation in towns and villages has steadily improved since he announced a state of emergency.

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