BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2019/24

The tallied results from the presidential elections held last Sunday (June 9) show Kassym-Jomart Tokayev garnered 71 % of the vote. The election was moved up a year after Kazakhstan’s leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, announced in March his decision to step down from the post he had held for 30 years. Tokayev, who previously served as upper-house speaker, stepped in immediately three months ago as acting president until elections could be held.

The election result was expected as the 78-year-old Nazarbayev had already designated the 66-year-old Tokayev as his successor. Despite the changes at the top, Nazarbayev is expected to continue wielding power. Major policy shifts are not expected to be made in the near future. Observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the election failed to meet the criteria of free and fair election, specifically noting the limits put on standing for office, campaign assemblies and expressions of opinion.

Partially thanks to its natural resource endowments, Kazakhstan is a rather wealthy country in the Central Asian region. The World Bank reports that Kazakhstan’s purchasing-power-adjusted GDP per capita in 2017 was 26,000 dollars. Thus measured, living standards are roughly on par with Russia and about half that of Germany. With a population of just under 20 million, Kazakhstan is a significant regional trading partner for Russia, which has a population of about 145 million. Along with Russia and Belarus, Kazakhstan was a founding member of the Eurasian Economic Union. While this union was in principle founded to advance the integration of member-state economies, there is also a geopolitical aspect to it.

Russia and Kazakhstan are both major global exporters of hydrocarbons and metals and significant importers of machinery and chemicals, but they also trade fairly extensively with each other. Russia last year accounted for 8 % of Kazakhstan’s goods exports and 38 % of goods imports. From Russia’s side, Kazakhstan accounts for 3 % of goods exports and 2 % of goods imports. For Russia as a whole Kazakhstan is thus only a minor trading partner, but for the Siberian regions close to the border Kazakhstan is an important market.