Monday, December 17, 2012

Strategic Plan 2050


Comrades,

On December 14, President Nazarbayev presented his "Strategic Plan 2050" outlining the political, economic and social development for Kazakhstan for the next several decades.

In many respects, the content, rhetoric and organization of the 2050 plan parallels earlier agendas (such as the 2020 plan). The President first acknowledges Kazakhstan’s leadership in the field of nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation – one of Kazakhstan’s foremost accomplishments.

He also made some pretty bold points. First, he proposes the election of rural governors, akims. Previously, the position was made by Presidential appointment. If this plan materializes, it will be a pretty revolutionary development in that the President is consciously devolving his power. Granted, “genuine political parties” according to a classic political science definition of a party that aggregates a group of genuine supporters and articulates a policy agenda, are few and far between in the former Soviet republics. The weak party systems, coupled with other mechanisms of voter fraud (such as “caterpillaring” election ballots or forging election lists (see Fish (2005) “Democracy Derailed in Russia”) provide additional opportunities to ensure that the President is satisfied with the electoral outcome.

Assuming that the President does in fact implement legal changes that allow for the election of rural governors, I sincerely hope that he also puts forth legislation to streamline the process of voter registration, candidate and party registration. The print and online media should also be free to comment on political developments without harassment by authorities or other candidates. While allowing elections of local governors is a step in the right direction, the regime must take sufficient measures to ensure that these elections are free and fair. That is where the real test lies.

It is also worth noting that Sunday marked not only the 21st anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence, but also the one-year anniversary of the Zhanaozen violence. To recap, in the midst of a performance in celebration of Kazakhstan’s Independence Day in Zhanaozen’s central square, several striking oil workers stormed the stage. Violence unfolded between police and civilians in the square. Sadly, several buildings were destroyed and some sixteen civilians were left dead.  

While I could devote an entire blog post to the events on that day, I will instead provide you with some context of the tragic events that unfolded on that day. First, the December 16, 2011 events in Zhanaozen were the unfortunate result of underlying, systemic flaws and short-term instigators. The long-term causes were the high levels of socio-economic inequality that is prevalent in single-industry towns in Western Kazakhstan.

Moreover, this is not the first strike to occur in Western Kazakhstan. In 1989, when Zhanaozen was called “Novy Uzen,” violence broke out between ethnic Kazakhs and oil workers from the Caucuses. Between 2004 and 2006, a series of strikes by oil workers affected the operations of TengizChevroil (TCO) in Atyrau. Hunger strikes, sit-ins and other forms of workers collective action have occurred in Western Kazakhstan since 1991.

Meanwhile, strikes in Zhanaozen began in May 2011 when workers at Ersai Caspian Contractor LLC, KarazhanbasMunai JSC and OzenMunaiGas pressed corporate management for higher wages and improved working conditions. For seven months, the management of Ersai Caspian Contractor, KarazhanbasMunai and OzenMunaiGas, fought with workers over the issues of (1) higher wages, (2) the revision of the collective agreement, (3) equal wages with foreign staff and (4) non-interference in union activities, as detailed by Human Rights Watch.

One striking oil worker in Zhanaozen told the BBC in October 2011, just two months before the December violence, “We want to develop civil society…we want our voices to be heard, not just the bosses dictating what to do.”

So why do I discuss Zhanaozen in this post?

In his Strategic Plan for 2050, President Nazarbayev explicitly states his intention to reconstruct single-company towns and invest in economic diversification. The President advocated a new model of public private partnership, “strong business – strong state,” in regions throughout the country, particularly single-industry towns.

In the section on social policy, the President noted:

“Over the past 12 months, we launched a single-industry town development program. Significant resources were allocated to create jobs, solve social problems and improve the work of local enterprises.

We will improve the quality of local government. This work is under my personal control.”

By committing his personal attention to the program, the President established an extremely high expectation. I hope that he allocates the necessary financial and human resources to implement a successful economic diversification plan for single-industry plans. Given the timing of the speech, I believe that the plan for single industry towns was the highlight of the strategic plan.

For now, we wait and watch. I congratulate the nation on 21 years of independence but most of all, I sincerely hope that President Nazarbayev follows through on these commitments. 

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Also, dear readers, I will be headed to Kazakhstan a week from today! Flying out on December 24th and will be there through January 7th doing research. More details on the next episode in The Sholk Road Adventures to come soon!

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