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Tokayev’s tightrope walk to democracy

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Democracy in Central Asia in the making 

At the recent Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit, host Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s move to showcase a different face to the war mongering regime of Russian President Putin, calls for respect. 

Kazakhstan’s attempt to counterbalance the Russian regime’s Soviet-style approaches so far has departed from the autocratic style and the kleptocracy of the previous regime and could emerge as the diplomacy centre of Central Asia. 

Global conferences on disabilities, the recognition of human rights, providing political asylum to refugees and a $625 million investment agreement with Qatar are a rarity in Central Asia. During their recent meeting, Kazakhstan and Qatar signed investment agreements in dairy and poultry production, metallurgy and mining, tourism, agricultural, education, healthcare, IT and communication sectors. 

A former senior policy official who chose to be unnamed commented, “Of course a lot needs to be done. Kazakhstan has a long way to go. But under President Tokayev, Kazakhstan has entered a path of change on a wide range of laws and policies. The hosting of the CICA summit showcased the future role of Kazakhstan.” 

He noted that despite the natural closeness to Russia because of shared history, trade and culture, Kazakhstan does not support the war of aggression against Ukraine. “Astana opts for ‘balanced diplomacy’ with the Kremlin”, he said. 

Russia is Kazakhstan’s main economic and trade partner. Between January and May this year, trade increased by almost five percent, reaching $9.2 billion. At the end of 2021, the bilateral trade turnover between the two grew by almost a third from previous years and reached $24.2 billion, a record high.  

The growing number bilateral visitors to the recent conference included Chinese President Xi Jinping, Singapore’s Minister Maliki Osman, and meetings with the EU, which led to the implementation of EU-Kazakhstan Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA). 

Although the road to liberal democracy is poised with major difficulties ahead, particular the war in Ukraine, the current Kazakh leadership has all in favour to make a difference in the otherwise autocratic landscape in Central Asia. 

Report by Claudine Watts

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