Year marked by elections: the main events in Central Asia
2015 became a difficult test for all the Central Asian states. The decline in oil prices, devaluation of national currencies, problems of second-tier type banks – all these negative factors were bound to have an impact on public sentiment and, therefore, cause serious risks in the political sphere in the region. However, the negative forecasts didn’t come true.
The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) marked its first anniversary on January 1st 2016. Despite the fact that the first year of its work was found to be ineffective and in crisis, the alliance survived. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned that 2016 will also be a challenge, but assured that Astana will make every effort to ensure that the EEU is developing and operating successfully. He promised to strengthen the integration association at the expense of trade with China. Experts do not exclude that the EEU may expand in the coming 2016 due to the accession of other countries of the region. "Tajikistan may join it during the year, though it's unlikely. If this happens, it will be an expensive political PR action for Russia and one of the sources of external preferences for demonstrating loyalty by Tajikistan," an expert on Central Asia and the Middle East, Alexander Knyazev, told Vestnik Kavkaza.
In general, the last year for Central Asia was marked by elections to the highest authorities. Parliamentary elections in Tajikistan were held on March 2nd. Presidential elections in Uzbekistan were held on March 29th and early presidential elections in Kazakhstan were held on April 26th. All of them had an effect on domestic and foreign policy.
For the first time in the modern history of Tajikistan the opposition wasn't included in the parliament – the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and the Communist Party gained slightly more than 1%, which, according to observers, does not correspond to reality. Both parties have up to 40 thousand permanent members and tens of thousands of supporters. Observers say that the government has implemented a program to create a society without opponents. IRPT leader Muhuddin Kabiri was forced to seek refuge abroad because of threats and pressure.
This conclusion is confirmed by subsequent events, when the Deputy Defense Minister of Tajikistan, Abdulhalim Nazarzoda, who allegedly organized an armed revolt to seize power, was killed in a special operation in September. He was accused of having links with the IRPT, after which dozens of IRPT activists were arrested, many of them going into hiding, with the party itself being declared a terrorist organisation. And President Emomali Rakhmon was awarded the title of the Leader of the Nation as the initiator of peace and accord in the country. This title gives him the right to be the most influential man in the country, play a dominant role in determining the domestic and foreign policy of the country even after the termination of the powers of the president. Experts believe that the difficult economic situation last year will continue in the coming year. Income from remittances and aluminum sale has reduced. "I do not think that the set of contradictions in potential in the new year will bring any innovation. These are problems of a border-territorial nature, problems in the water and energy sectors, and of using cross-border communications. Ethno-religious issues continue to exist, and by the way, I wouldn't rule out their aggravation in some places," Knyazev said.
The presidential elections in Uzbekistan didn't contained intrigue initially and were linked solely to the necessity of extending the powers of Islam Karimov in accordance with the national legislation. It is not yet possible to consider the option of a 'post-Karimov' period, because the Tashkent authorities have never considered the successor option. When the inevitable happens, the future head of state will be determined during closed-door talks between the elites. Knyazev noted that the strong role of the state as a regulator and the rather diversified economy allow resources to be maneuvered. "The foreign policy model of Tashkent's behavior does not tie its foreign economic relations to any single center of power in international politics, which, in its turn, allows us to find new investment opportunities," Alexander Knyazev believes.
From a legal point of view, there was no need to hold early elections in Kazakhstan. The previous presidential elections were held in April 2011 and were due to be repeated only in the 2016. No one doubts another victory of the incumbent president, who enjoys a high reputation both domestically and in the international arena. Through victory in the early elections Nazarbayev managed to stabilize the domestic situation in terms during the economic crisis and begin implementation of his programs – 'Nurly Zhol' (Shining Path) and the plan of the nation 'Five Institutional Reforms'. "Ak Orda managed to maintain a strong control over the situation in the country, largely due to the fact that many decisions in the political, economic and social spheres were proactive." The government, in particular, have announced a transition to comprehensive institutional reforms, adopted a large-scale anti-crisis program, and carried out civil service reform," the director of the North-South political scientific center, Yulia Yakusheva, said.
In addition, several clamorous anti-corruption trials of former top officials were completed. At the end of one of them, former Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov has received an unprecedentedly harsh sentence. And it was obviously a demonstrative step, which was intended to demonstrate the readiness of the Kazakh elite to struggle for its purity to the bitter end.
"The factor of Nazarbayev is still determining, including in terms of determining the horizon of strategic planning for the national elite. At the same time, there is a process of gradual change of generations within the Kazakh elite. The appointment of Baurzhan Baibek to the post of Akim of Almaty became a kind of marker for the inner circle of Nursultan Nazarbayev – politicians aged 30-40 years are gradually take increasingly important positions," Yakusheva noted. Thus, institutional and personnel reforms from above are still the main trend of Kazakh politics. In the absence of a real opposition, the main threat to stability in the country is a build-up of natural forms of social protest in the regions or a strengthening of radical Islam. Much will depend on the depth and extent of the duration of the crisis in the economy. In this respect, the situation in Kazakhstan is extremely similar to the trends of political life in Russia.
The parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan have become an irritant to the neighboring countries, as they demonstrated real competition. "Kyrgyzstan is on the path of constructing a Western-style democracy without the inclusion of various mechanisms of reassessment of democracy with national characteristics and 'sovereign' democracy," Kyrgyz political scientist, economist Kubat Rahimov told Vestnik Kavkaza. According to him, Kyrgyzstan will have to turn from a re-export economy to an agro-industrial and service economy. It has to go through the redistribution of spheres of influence, the expert believes.
An important step was Kyrgyzstan's withdrawal from agreements with Russia on the construction of large hydropower projects – the Kambar-Ata 1 and Verkhnenarynsky cascade of hydropower plants. As President Almazbek Atambayev noted, the country will be looking for investors for these projects. At the same time it shouldn't expect a change in relations with Russia. Moscow continues to give money, and gives it generously. In May 2014 the Russian-Kyrgyz Fund, through which the republic is being financed, was created. The authorized capital of the fund is $500 million. Funding will be provided on terms of maturity, repayment and interest payments. Russia has already allocated the first $100 million in 2014, the second tranche of $250 million in 2015, and the third of $150 million in 2012.
Next year Kyrgyzstan and China intend to begin construction of the railway with a total length of 215 km. This road will become a part of the 'China - Kyrgyzstan - Tajikistan - Afghanistan - Iran' regional project. The cost of the project will be known after the approval of the feasibility study.
"President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov managed to eliminate all the absurdities in domestic and foreign politics by the end of 2015, which left as a legacy of Turkmenbashi's 15-year reign [the first president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurad Niyazov - VK] in independent Turkmenistan," a senior scientist of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the RAS, Shokhrat Kadyrov, told Vestnik Kavkaza. Another characteristic feature is the stable development of the country, the dynamics of the intensity of the events in the country are developing without any sharp fluctuations. "But let's not forget that the implemented cosmetic repairs in the Turkmen State didn't require any special efforts, all the activities were long overdue and supported by the society," Kadyrov believes. Next year, according to the expert, we should expect "an activity below in the country and a corresponding reaction from above." "So there will be major changes in Turkmenistan, in any case, any stagnation in the President's work cannot stop the movement of the country towards progress," Kadyrov concluded.
As for the economic situation, it is difficult. "About 90% of its export receipts are now accounted for by gas exports, which is dominated by China. It's difficult to talk about the economy in this country except of natural gas production and service enterprises of gas production, all other sectors are reduced to an unacceptable minimum, and the situation in the social sphere is simply critical. Any programs of overcoming the crisis are not visible," Alexander Knyazev believes.
The main trend in 2016 will be the fight against international terrorism and religious terrorism. The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. Militants from the Middle East are penetrating the country. The Afghan authorities speak about the capture of a number of provinces by the terrorists of Islamic State. The scattered groups of al-Qaeda, ‘Taliban’ and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are joining them. This, in its turn, carries the risk of transferring the conflict to the Central Asia, the borders of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, where Daesh plans to create a Wilayat Khorasan.