By Charles Kershaw
In a surprising and abrupt fashion, Dariga Nazarbayeva, daughter of the former president of Kazakhstan, was ousted from her position as chair of the senate early in May, the holder of which is in line for the presidency according to the Kazakh constitution. The removal of Nazarbayeva raises questions concerning succession, corruption, and factionalism within the oligarchic central-Asian country, as the president Qasym-Zohmart Tokayev announced the move in a brief statement on his website, replacing her with former Assistant to the President Mäulen Äşimbaev. It is unclear the exact reasons behind her removal, but not only is it significant – the chair of the senate is typically the successor to the presidency – it might also be emblematic of the changing tide of sentiment within the Kazakh political elite.
Nazarbayeva, 53, has been involved in politics and, more broadly, the business of Kazakhstan for decades, as well as having strong connections to this elite. She is daughter of former president Nursultan Nazarbaev, who after stepping down now bears the title “Leader of the Nation”, having resigned due to widespread protests in 2019. He is suspected to still play a significant part in the running of the country, though during the time of his daughter’s removal he was in seclusion due to coronavirus. Her former husband, businessman Rakhat Aliyev held a number of important government posts, and was convicted of various crimes including money laundering and treason against the Kazakh government. For her part, Nariga has since the 90s owned many of the most prominent radio stations and television companies in Kazakhstan, and therefore holds significant influence over the country’s media.
There is good reason to believe that Nazarbayeva’s ousting was a PR move, where the president deemed it necessary to remove someone who could be damaging to Kazakhstan’s reputation
Thanks to these involvements, she has amassed for herself a great deal of wealth ($595 million) and a great deal of controversy. In 2018, the Panama Papers revealed that Nazabayeva was the sole shareholder of an off-shore sugar company in the Virgin Islands involved in business dealings in Kazakhstan, a sharp contradiction with her pleas to Kazakh oil companies to pay their fair share of taxes. More recently, Zabaryeva won a battle in the UK high courts over multi-million-pound properties that the UK National Crime Agency believed had been financed by her ex-husband’s criminal dealings. In January this year, her son Aisultan alleged that Nazarbayeva and her father were trying to kill him in London. Nazarbayeva has not publicly responded to this allegation.
There is good reason to believe that Nazarbayeva’s ousting was a PR move, where the president deemed it necessary to remove someone who could be damaging to Kazakhstan’s reputation from the possibility of attaining the presidency. Through his implementation of reforms that favour the public assembly and more opposition, it is possible that the president wishes to remove from a seat in power someone that has been linked to corruption and scandal. It is also possible that sexism plays a part— only since 2009 has the government promised equal rights for both genders, and shortly after the ousting the largest women’s rights march the country had seen in years was held in Almaty.
There is another possibility, which has much greater implications for Kazakhstan. As political commentator Dosym Satpayev states, it is possible that current president Tokayev “has decided to use the crisis to make a bold move”, acting without the approval of the former president, in order to remove the possibility of dynastic succession in favour of his own chosen heir, most likely being the new chair Asimbaev. In doing so, he might be paving the way for a radical shift in power over the next few decades within Kazakhstan that the Nazarbaev family will not share a part in.
It cannot be said for certain the intention behind this move, and to what extent it will have an impact on Kazakhstan’s future. The country still has significant problems with corruption, human rights violations, and inequality, of which a demotion of this sort will not solve. It is however very likely that such a move will have significant effects. In this time of global crisis, politics is more volatile and even small actions can have deep consequences, especially after the country has recently experienced such a momentous political shift.
Image: Photo by Sergesky via Flickr