Kazakhstan presents a dilemma for the global democratic movement. The oil-rich nation has the potential to lead the region in democracy. In January 2022, people power spoke and secured major victories for Opposition and civil rights. The new President Tokayev seemed to signal new hope that the thuggery and high handed abuses of power of the past might temper. One step forward, two steps back. The President whipped together a referendum for the sole purpose of providing a fig leaf to a power grab, which left little room for independent voices, though intriguingly some. In September, he called for a snap election in November to give himself seven years of power. The puppet opposition parties vied to nominate him as he had left his previous party. He did return the name of the capital to Astana, removing the traces of his predecessor Nur Sultan. The authentic opposition, while not outlawed, faces mounting restrictions. A curious twist is its electronic communications freedoms. It retains some, but now faces a renewed threat from Russian TV channels demanding access. The government was at first hesitant, a quiet sign of unease about the Ukraine impasse. A team of experts led by impartial researcher, Dimash Alzhanov, looked into the situation and prepared a report that provides a unique glimpse into the machinations of media policy. Brutality and subtlety stride side by side.
The democratic opposition in Kazakhstan has few illusions of a second January, any time soon. What it does know is that time is on its side. The President’s moves are autocratic, but defensive. The momentum for change rests not in the palace, but in the street, the universities, and the oil fields. The line converges at the horizon.