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Central Asia in Focus: Potential Changes Kazakhstan’s Constitution

KAZAKHSTAN — Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev walks out of a voting booth during presidential elections in Astana. November 20, 2022. REUTERS/Turar Kazangapov

What’s Happening in the Region

Writing Elbasy Out of Kazakhstan’s Constitution

For nearly 28 years, Nursultan Nazarbaev ruled as president of independent Kazakhstan.

Nazarbaev had big plans for Kazakhstan from the early days of independence.

But as time went on, he also began to have big plans for himself, his image, his legacy, and seemingly his personal fortune and that of his family.

In 2010, the Kazakh parliament officially bestowed on Nazarbaev the title of Elbasy, leader of the nation.

The move was recognition of Nazarbaev’s contributions as Kazakhstan’s first president, but the title came with privileges that were written into the Law on the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan in June 2010.

Among those privileges, Elbasy could not “be held liable for actions committed during the period of his exercising the powers” as President of Kazakhstan.

Elbasy “may not be detained, arrested and kept in custody, searched, interrogated or personally searched.”

“Inviolability” of all property owned by Elbasy Nazarbaev “and members of his family living with him” was guaranteed along with “bank secrecy and inviolability of bank accounts of… Elbasy and members of his family living with him….”

Nazarbaev stepped down as president in March 2019, though he retained much of the power he enjoyed as president due to amendments to the constitution.

Since the violence in Kazakhstan that broke out in early January 2022, during which it appears Nazarbaev loyalists attempted to oust current President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, Nazarbaev’s fortunes have waned significantly.

Nazarbaev no longer holds any state post. On December 28, 2022, deputies in the Mazhilis, Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament, began discussing the the Law on the First President.

After the session, Mazhilis speaker Yerlan Koshanov told the press that some deputies in the session were discussing cancelling the law.

“If the law is no longer in effect,” Koshanov said, “than all the immunities provided for by the law are also no longer in effect.”

Why It’s Important: Nazarbaev tried to manipulate the law and use legislation to protect his legacy and his rumored fortune, but that now appears to be falling apart.

Hopefully this will be a lesson to leaders not only in Kazakhstan, but in Central Asia.

Attempts to legalize all that leaders accrue through being in power are just as easily removed when they are no longer in power.

Kyrgyzstan Jails Doctors

Is it malpractice or injustice?

At the end of 2022, a court in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek ordered five doctors be held in jail until January 10.

The five doctors are from two separate Bishkek hospitals – the City Children’s Clinical Hospital and the National Center for Maternal and Child Protection.

They are suspected of violating Article 146 of the Criminal Code – “improper performance of professional duties by a medical or pharmaceutical worker.”

A young boy, reportedly three years old and complaining of stomach pains, was brought first to one of the city hospitals at about 7:00 am local time, then transferred to the children’s hospital at around 12:30 pm.

The boy died shortly after arriving at the children’s hospital.

Media reports have not specified the cause of death.

But on December 30, the five doctors were detained and put in custody.

Bermet Baryktabasova, the head of the independent Medical Trade Union of Kyrgyzstan, complained on Facebook on December 31 that “the rights of the doctors… are grossly violated” and “this happens for the first time in the history of Kyrgyzstan, without evidence of guilt…”

Baryktabasova wrote the real reason for the doctors being detained and possibly losing their jobs was “because the relatives of the dead child are high-ranking individuals.”

Baryktabasova was correct.

The deceased child was the grandson of Nurlan Japarov.

Nurlan Japarov is the brother of Akylbek Japarov, the current head of Kyrgyzstan’s cabinet of ministers.

Why It’s Important: Baryktabasova wrote the medical profession “intends to save lives, reduce pain and suffering. But not everything is in [the doctor’s] hands.”

All the facts of this case are not yet clear, but it is starting to look like the doctors are being made scapegoats for the unfortunate death of the boy.

This is the latest example of what appears to be a deterioration of the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan.

Opposition politicians, activists, journalists, and bloggers have been detained in recent months and remain in custody based on flimsy accusations from authorities.

The Latest Majlis Podcast

This week’s Majlis podcast looked back at 2022, which was a notably active year in Central Asia.

There were protests in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; fighting between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that left more than 100 people dead; the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens fleeing their homeland, and more.

This week’s guests are Catherine Putz, Managing Editor at The Diplomat magazine; Luca Anceschi, Professor of Central Asian studies at Glasgow University; and Temur Umarov, Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the OSCE Academy.

What I’m Following

Turkmen President Heads to China

Turkmen President Serdar Berdymukhammedov is making an official visit to China on January 5-6, his first visit to China since being elected president in March 2022.

The announcement from China’s state CCTV comes as Turkmen media reports Turkmenistan’s trade with China during the first 11 months of 2022 totaled $10.12 billion, of which $9.33 billion was Turkmen exports, mainly natural gas, to China.

According to Turkmen media reports, that represents a 53.2 percent increase over the trade figure for the same period in 2021.

Another Summit of the Turkish, Turkmen, and Azerbaijani Leaders

The presidents of Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan met in Turkmenistan on December 14.

Ahead of that summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was predicting big news about supplies of Turkmen gas through Turkey to Europe.

There was no big news about Turkmen gas for Europe.

But days later Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said a “roadmap for Turkmen gas will be developed in the near future” and President Erdogan said there would be another summit soon.

Fact of the Week

Uzbek news outlet reported 2,155 babies were born in Uzbekistan on the first day of 2023.

If that is roughly the average number of births daily in Uzbekistan, the country’s population will increase by more than 750,000 this year.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Uzbekistan’s population was about 20 million, but by July 2022, the population was just over 35.6 million.

Thanks for Reading

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See you next week for more on what’s happening in Central Asia.

Until next time,