Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was ruling Kazakhstan for 30 years, surprised many by announcing his resignation on March 19. He remained the leader of the ruling party Nur Otan and the Security Council of the country. Nazarbayev will also have a special lifelong “the Father of the Nation” status, which is enshrined even in the constitution.
The head of the Senate Kassym-Jomart Tokayev became an interim president till 2020 election. In her turn, Nazarbayev’s daughter will head the Senate.
The country’s capital – Astana – was swiftly renamed to Nur-sultan, in honor of Nazarbayev. Many streets in Kazakhstan’s cities and towns also got his name.
How similar might Belarus’ political future be? Here are three similarities and three differences between the two cases.
What’s in common
1. Strongmen who don’t want to die in power
Rumors of Nazarbayev’s, 78, poor health have been swirling around for years. One of the obvious reasons for his resignation is his will to avoid a sudden change of power.
It makes sense politically for he had such vast powers that chaotic struggle for them, in case he is dead or too ill, might have been ugly and destabilizing.
Alexander Lukashenko vows the same philosophy. Recently he promised he has no plans to rule for life and thinks about the kind of political heritage he will pass to his successor.
2. Same ideas for the constitution reform?
In 2017, Nazarbayev changed the constitution to prepare the country for power transit. More powers went to parliament and government. At the same time, the guarantees and privileges for the first president – meaning Nazarbayev himself – were also set in stone for good.
On 1 March this year, Lukashenko listed Kazakhstan among cases Belarus can learn from when it comes to constitutional reform he had previously announced. Lukashenko also said he plans to strengthen the parliament and the government.
The idea behind it, apparently, follows the logic of a smooth and stable transit. The more pillars the authoritarian system has, the less it depends on the personal traits of a next leader.
3. Hunger for power
Both Nazarbayev and Lukashenko strongly believe in a rigid personal power and their unique ability to handle it.
That is why, Belarusian president, when he decides to launch the transit, will most likely do it in the Nazarbayev style by gradually transferring some of his powers and keeping the oversight over the whole process.
Plain and obvious, Lukashenko is 14 years younger than his Kazakh former colleague. It means that, given Belarusian president is as healthy as he seems to be, he doesn’t have to rush.
Having more years in reserve, Lukashenko can pick some experience from other countries that will undergo similar political transformations. For instance, Russia in 2024.
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2. No ruling party
Belarus lacks a ruling party unlike all other post-Soviet authoritarian states, including Kazakhstan. So far it has been the matter of principle for Lukashenko.
He dislikes the idea of having a separate line of command for officials. It is costly, it reminds him of late and unpopular Soviet communist party and it may be risky because some ruling parties occasionally become too autonomous and willful.
However, the ruling party is a very convenient tool for oiling up the whole power transfer. A successor can be legitimized and rise through the ranks via the party. A retiring leader can take the leadership of the party, as Nazarbayev had, to maintain some control levers for the transition period.
Time will tell whether Lukashenko opts for creating a ruling party. However, if he does not, he will have to come up with another instrument to preserve some power after stepping down.
3. Cult of personality
Authoritarian as it is, Belarus does not nearly have the same cult of personality as one can witness in Kazakhstan. There are no monuments to Lukashenko, no places named after him, no special status for him personally in any document.
The “cult” stops at the level of having the president’s portrait sold in some bookshops and hung on the walls of state officials’ cabinets. Belarusians are not really into this political tradition and the president seems to get it.
That is why it is highly unlikely that cities or streets will be named after Lukashenko the moment he decides to go. Putting his name into the constitution or granting him some special “nation’s father” titles also looks very unlikely given the political culture in the country.
Photo: TUT.BY, president.gov.by.