With the election over and a strong mandate won for his leadership, newly elected Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has wasted no time in setting out his vision for the country. His inaugural address on June 12 was both comprehensive and ambitious, underlining his determination to build on his predecessor’s legacy.
But he also used this important moment for his presidency to show that he had used the election campaign not only as a chance to talk to the country but also to listen. There were promises to step up efforts to ensure all shared in growing prosperity and opportunity and, importantly, to strengthen dialogue between government and citizens.
On foreign policy, he understandably promised there would be no change from the open, balanced, multi-vector approach which has served Kazakhstan and its citizens so well. It is an approach that has increased the country’s security and prosperity and earns respect on the world stage so that its interests are protected and advanced.
He stressed, too, that strong, sustained economic growth was essential if the well-being of the people was to continue to be improved. There was a firm pledge to drive through the ambitious modernisation plans set out by the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Within these plans, there was again an emphasis on the role of the younger generation with support for budding entrepreneurs and managerial promotion based on ability not seniority.
But as well as growing the economy, there was also a determination to tackle inequality which is, as evidence shows, an almost universal challenge around the world. It is a problem that some countries believe will sort itself out without intervention or see as an inevitable outcome of globalisation. This is not, however, the view taken in Kazakhstan by either the First President – who identified the need for special assistance to low-income families and vulnerable groups – or his successor.
In his address, President Tokayev spoke directly to his fellow citizens who had been left behind or found themselves the victims of global economic forces. He accepted that the steps taken to protect Kazakhstan from the damage that international financial instability could cause, while necessary, had led to hardship and promised to do all the Government could to help. A fair distribution of national income was, he said, strategically important to the country.
A stronger and fairer country was also the goal of social priorities set out by President Tokayev. He promised to accelerate the provision of affordable quality housing and improvements to education and healthcare. He recognised, too, that the wealth and opportunity gap is not just found on an individual and family level but also across regions. Regional inequality weakened the nation, he said, and the solution was to give local communities more power and resources to find their own solutions to local problems.
Nor, the country was promised, would there be any let up in the drive against corruption. President Tokayev revealed that a new package of measures to root out the ‘scourge’ of corruption, which he said was undermining national development and security, were already being prepared. There was a pledge, too, to continue strengthen the justice system by improving the selection and training of judges. Importantly, too, he accepted that the law enforcement agencies had to do more to win public will trust.
This was not the only area where the President talked directly about public concern. In his address, he recognised real anxiety about the threat to Kazakhstan’s precious environment. He responded with a promise to put in place a unified framework, backed by tougher rules, on environmental protection. The new Ministry of Ecology, Geology and Natural Resources, which he announced, will have a role in this task just as the re-organised Ministry of Trade and Integration will spearhead the drive to increase exports that are so important to economic growth and job creation.
As well as these particular areas of anxiety, President Tokayev went further when he talked about the need to widen and deepen dialogue between the government and the governed. This, he accepted, was a matter of genuine concern. The new National Council of Public Trust is one way he hopes to strengthen the national conversation, providing a forum to enable different views to be aired and, in turn, inform future policies.
In the end, however, the best way for any Government to earn and maintain the trust of its citizens is to ensure it delivers what it promises and to focus rigorously on the security, prosperity and well-being of all its citizens. What is already clear is, like his predecessor, this is exactly what President Tokayev intends to do.