Very weakened, the former president of Kazakhstan, Noursultan Nazarbayev, 81, broadcast a video message on his YouTube channel on Tuesday January 18, while a growing number of Kazakhs speculated on his silence. It was his first public appearance since December 28, 2021, when he was in St. Petersburg alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin for a Commonwealth of Independent States summit. Meanwhile, a wave of protests swept away by violent repression has resulted in the death of 225 people, according to an official report.
“Nazarbayev is a political corpse”, exclaims Jan Kunserkin, a lawyer, in his office in Almaty, just after the publication of the video, thus borrowing a Russian expression on the usually brutal placarding of a character in post-Soviet authoritarian political systems. “It sounded like a confession. The Nazarbayev clan lost », concludes the lawyer. A defeat for the benefit of the current president Kassym-Jomart Tokaïev. Who was supposed, when he was appointed in 2019, to serve as a transitional figure for an orderly transfer of power to an heir to the Nazarbayev clan. The explosion of violence at the beginning of this month of January shattered the system, and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took advantage of the very strong unpopularity of the clan which has monopolized the power and the wealth of the country for more than thirty years to proceed to a purge of the state apparatus.
On Monday, the Kazakh president made new heads fall by ordering the dismissal, after others, of Nazarbayev’s nephew, Samat Abiche, who held the post of first deputy director of the National Security Committee (KNB, ex-KGB). The same day, Nazarbayev’s son-in-law resigned from Atameken, the powerful business lobby he had headed for eight years. Multi-billionaire Timour Kulibaïev had long been a favorite to succeed his father-in-law. Despite this accelerated and very visible purge, Nursultan Nazarbayev explained that he “there is no confrontation within the elite”. To think otherwise would be “believing absolutely baseless rumours”, assured the former autocrat.
Burst of nervousness
The announcement had little effect on the foggy streets of Almaty, still reeling from the recent bloody riots and the thousands of arrests that followed. In the opaque corridors of power, the reappearance of the one who still bears the title of “Elbasy” (“father of the nation”) has, on the other hand, created a certain excitement. Shortly after the broadcast of his message, a minister of the new Kazakh government, reshuffled on January 11, after the social explosion, canceled an interview with The world planned for several days.
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