Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

kapparov1_RUSLAN PRYANIKOVAFPGetty Images_kazakhstan protest Ruslan Pryanikov/AFP/Getty Images

The Reforms Kazakhstan Needs

Appeasing Kazakhstan’s people – and thus stabilizing its politics – must take priority over economic reform. That means, first and foremost, credible and concerted action to root out corruption and strengthen the rule of law.

ALMATY – Kazakhstan’s former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who resigned in March after nearly 30 years in power, was a great admirer of the Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew. For Nazarbayev, Lee’s leadership showed the importance of strengthening the economy before liberalizing politics. But the flaws in this approach are now on stark display. 

As Nazarbayev put it, “The middle class will not emerge without a sustainable economy, which cannot exist without a sufficiently strong and wise leadership capable of getting the country out of freefall.” But a sustainable economy is not what his government built. Instead, it relied on oil revenues – which comprised over 27% of the country’s overall budget in 2014 – to keep taxes low, effectively buying citizens’ acquiescence to authoritarianism.

When global oil prices plummeted in 2014, from over $100 per barrel to about $50, Kazakhstan was hit hard. The local currency, the tenge, lost nearly half its value against the US dollar, real incomes dropped to pre-oil boom levels, and unemployment skyrocketed, especially among the young.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.


Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.;
  1. solana114_FADEL SENNAAFP via Getty Images_libyaprotestflag Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty Images

    Relieving Libya’s Agony

    Javier Solana

    The credibility of all external actors in the Libyan conflict is now at stake. The main domestic players will lower their maximalist pretensions only when their foreign supporters do the same, ending hypocrisy once and for all and making a sincere effort to find room for consensus.


Edit Newsletter Preferences