The World Today for January 13, 2023


The Balancing Act


Kazakhstan recently memorialized the first anniversary of Bloody January, the term for the four days of civil unrest and police clashes a year ago that led to the deaths of almost 240 people before Russian forces intervened and restored order.

“It was a time of trial for our people. The foundations of our statehood were under threat,” said President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at a commemorative event, according to Foreign Policy magazine. “But thanks to the unity and solidarity of our people, we were able to confront all challenges resolutely.”

As recently reported, government officials described the events as a coup attempt by members of organized crime groups and allies of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who lost any power he still retained after the crisis subsided. Nazarbayev led the former Soviet Republic from 1991, when communism fell, to 2020, when he stepped aside, but he retained the title “Elbasy”, or “leader of the nation.”

The demonstrations started peacefully as protests against high fuel prices but ballooned into near chaos in the streets of Almaty, the country’s financial capital, as protesters expressed their grievances about corruption and nepotism, Radio Free Europe explained.

Officials also were forced to admit that police cracked down too harshly on protesters. Tokayev, who emerged as the undisputed leader of the country after January 2022, has still not brought police who tortured protesters to justice, while Kazakh courts have convicted more than 1,000 people of rioting, Human Rights Watch wrote.

Still, Tokayev launched a series of new reforms with the intention of addressing his people’s complaints, including limiting the terms of presidents to a single seven-year stint. His allies claim these moves will modernize the country’s politics, reported the Astana Times, a local English-language publication.

Those claims might be suspect, critics say. Regardless, Tokayev has definitely made waves diplomatically. Although he arguably owes his presidency to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he also came out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Tokayev is planning on bypassing Russia and selling oil for top dollar to Europe via pipelines that run through the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, added Euractiv.

Tokayev won reelection in November with more than 80 percent of the vote, noted Reuters, though the news agency added that election monitors found that Tokayev’s opponents stood little chance of defeating him due to electoral issues and human rights violations. On Jan. 14, Kazakh voters will cast ballots for their senators, further giving them a stake in how they are governed, at least in theory.

It is too early to say that Kazakhstan has embraced true democracy or experienced a so-called “color revolution” like the one that occurred in Ukraine, analysts say. But the direction arguably looks promising.

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