Kazakhstan under Tokayev : political reforms and economic emergence ?

January 24, 2024

Under the presidency of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan has embarked on significant reforms, aiming to transition towards a parliamentary democracy model. These changes, alongside notable economic growth, are enhancing Kazakhstan's role as a significant partner in the Eurasian region, potentially impacting Europe, and France significantly.

To understand this perspective thoroughly, it's essential to critically examine the reforms under Tokayev's tenure. While promising in theory, these reforms need to be assessed in terms of implementation and their actual impact on Kazakh governance and society. An objective analysis is key to understanding the extent to which Kazakhstan is moving towards a functional parliamentary democracy and its potential role in Eurasian geopolitics.


Political transformation


Tokayev's political reform initiative aimed at strengthening the representative parliament has shown mixed results. On the one hand, the expansion of legislative powers and the introduction of more inclusive mechanisms of representation show significant progress. On the other hand, the effectiveness of these measures will also depend on the development of freedom of expression and press freedom in the country.

Despite reform efforts, Kazakhstan still faces some challenges in the area of governance. While the country has already implemented reforms in the electoral system, where the powers of the parliament have been expanded, the authorities still have work to engage more active participation of civil society.


Economic restructuring


The Tokayev era has coincided with remarkable economic growth in Kazakhstan, primarily driven by the exploitation of its abundant natural resources, such as rare mineral sand uranium. This economic expansion, reflected in an increased GDP, signifies an evolving economy. However, such prosperity should not turn into dependence on natural resources when their abundance on Kazakh soil can lead to a less diversified economy and socio-political problems. Still, mixed signals tend to show this risk is considered.  

Furthermore,Kazakhstan's economic growth significantly impacts its international relations,particularly with key partners like France and Europe. Kazakhstan's strategic position as a supplier of essential natural resources offers economic collaboration opportunities but also challenges in economic diversification and resource management. It is crucial to analyze how this economic growth affects not only Kazakhstan's internal politics but also its position and relations in the international arena.


Kazakhstan : bridge between Europe and the Far East


Kazakhstan's geographical position, straddling Europe, and the Far East, is bolstered by the Trans-Caspian route. This geostrategic location gives Kazakhstan a critical role in international diplomacy and trade. Indeed, its capacity to act as a junction between economically and culturally distinct regions positions it as a strategic intermediary and potentially valuable partner, especially for Europe and France.

However,this "bridge" role also entails challenges in foreign policy and security. Kazakhstan's ability to navigate the divergent interests of major global powers while preserving its sovereignty and national interests is crucial. This situation demands balanced diplomacy and a long-term vision to maximize the benefits of its strategic position while minimizing potential risks associated with its geopolitical role. Such an approach requires a delicate balance between economic commitments, political alliances, and security considerations.


Implications for Tokayev's reelection in 2026


Tokayev's reforms, while ambitious, have sparked rumors of his possible re-election in2026. The impact of these reforms, both political and economic, will play a crucial role in how his rule is perceived and supported by the Kazakhstani population. The success of these reforms is vital not only for building citizens' confidence in their leadership, but also for maintaining the country's stability and development.

However, Tokayev, after January 2022, introduced a sweeping constitutional reform that allows the president to be elected only once for a seven-year term. More recently, Tokayev dispelled rumors of his desire to be re-elected in 2026 and called it misinformation. The population will continue to keep a close eye on the effective and fair implementation of political and economic reforms.Whatever Tokayev's successor may be, Kazakhstan's strategic global position and the well-being of its people will be key elements assessed by voters. In this context, future campaigning should address these issues by offering a compelling vision for Kazakhstan's future.


Kazakhstan's role in Eurasia


Driven by Tokayev's reforms, Kazakhstan is emerging as a major player in Eurasia. Its active participation in regional development, combined with its abundant natural resources and advantageous geographical position, renders it indispensable in European geopolitical and economic strategy, particularly for France. Kazakhstan's presidency of key structures such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization(CSTO), and the Eurasian Transport Organization (ETO) in 2024, as well as its collaboration with France in organizing an international water summit (name to be confirmed), illustrate its growing importance and increased influence on the international stage.

Written by Eric Guiochon