Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Kazakhstan's Presidential Transition and the Evolution of Elite Networks

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Kazakhstan's Presidential Transition and the Evolution of Elite Networks

Article excerpt

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In doing so, he has consolidated political control and created a privileged elite class whereby his family members and close allies have received a disproportionate share of commercial wealth and political power. In a country where big business is intrinsically tied to the political elite, one of the most prevalent topics of debate among foreign investors, democracy promoters and Central Asia analysts over the past decade has been presidential succession in Kazakhstan. More specifically, market or headline analysis examines competition between elite actors by simply posing the question, "Who will replace Nazarbayev?" Indeed, Nazarbayev, 76, has yet to promote publicly or groom a successor. Meanwhile, within academic literature, the debate predominantly focuses on political stability, in particular, regime maintenance, consolidation and transition.1 Certainly, this is a valuable academic exercise in understanding how patron-client relations in post-soviet countries shape a regime's transition toward or away from authoritarianism and provides insight into the succession of power.2 Ambrosio, for example, points out, "one of the most important elements determining the relative stability of an authoritarian system is whether it can manage changes in leadership."3 This is most relevant to a country like Kazakhstan whose leader has maintained a tight grip on the political institutions since before the collapse of the Soviet Union and continues to resist a transition of power.

However, the focus on both regime change and regime maintenance places greater emphasis on those at the top of authoritarian regimes (i.e. the president and his inner circle) and tends to overlook the overall impact succession will have on individuals or groups further down the chain of elite power.4 Indeed, little attention has been given to groups or individuals who will eventually be marginalized in the succession transition; i.e. those who will fail to promote their candidate to the presidency and ultimately find themselves without a patron in the upper echelons of elite power. Second or third tier groups may, in fact, have a marginal effect on elite politics and the stability of the regime, but their political or commercial positioning within the country will nonetheless impact foreign investors, civil society and ordinary citizens whose livelihoods are linked to the political and economic patronage that is intrinsically tied to these groups. Building on Hale's assessment on patronal politics, this article seeks to "augment the study of regime change with the science of regime dynamics" to identify and anticipate the trajectory of political transition within elite networks and the impact it will have on network (in)stability. 5

Succession will ultimately create winners and losers, but rather than examining which network or member of the elite will replace Nazarbayev, the focus here is on how network dynamics will change and what competing networks must do in order to maintain their positions vis-à-vis the ruling elite should they fail to capture the presidency or otherwise be pushed aside. By investigating contemporary network dynamics in Kazakhstan, this study investigates how elite networks will maintain political influence and gain access to state resource wealth while the country undergoes a presidential transition. Based on relations among and within elite networks, the early stages of presidential transition will ultimately force peripheral or third-tier groups to realign their interests either through consolidation or assimilation, or face political and economic elimination. Examining this evolution, in turn, provides insight into the transformation of patronage networks following Nazarbayev's departure, and reveals where potential political and economic risks may lie for domestic groups and foreign investors.

The first section provides a framework for understanding patronage networks in Kazakhstan through the lens of patronal politics and assesses the political and economic environment that drives elite interaction and incentivizes network participation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.