Akezhan Kazhegeldin: Mayors should be elected, not appointed.


On the last day of January 2022 a decree on appointment of a new mayor of Almaty - Yerbolat Dossayev. After the tragic events of Kanara Kantar Almaty citizens demanded from the president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to dismiss the former mayor Bakhytzhan Sagintayev.

Despite the fact that the townspeople have been accommodated, and the new akim is even an Almaty citizen, as the residents wanted, a new petition appeared immediately - against Dosayev. To be more exact, against appointment of an akim in general: the citizens of Almaty are insisting on elections. Journalist Vadim Boreyko was interviewed by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, Prime Minister of Kazakhstan in 1994-1997, why Kazakhstani people don't trust "designated persons" and what fears and phobias Tokayev has. The interview aired on the Hyperborey YouTube channel on 1 February 2022.

"The people of Almaty don't believe the appointed figures".

Vadim Boreyko. Akezhan Magzhanovich, how would you comment on a new petition of Almaty citizens concerning the necessity of electing an akim?

Akezhan Kazhegeldin. If I were in Kassym-Jomart Tokayev's shoes now or next to him as an advisor, I would say a new page in Kazakhstan's history should start with the free mayoral elections in Almaty. That would be the right signal to the society, the evidence that he has really turned over the old page and is starting a new one, as he recently said himself addressing the Majilis.

On the photo: the mayor of Almaty, Yerbolat Dosayev.On the photo: the mayor of Almaty, Yerbolat Dosayev.


As for this appointment, let's think that he had no choice: it was necessary to replace Sagintayev, and the old mechanism was used. But I absolutely agree with the people of Almaty: the city needs an elected mayor. Then he at least won't run away from his office if, God forbid, trouble happens, like in January, because he will have a "sledgehammer" over his head in the form of the President, and under his feet, as a wall or stone pillar - the people.

Such an akim will be much stronger than an appointed one, he will have to be talked to and negotiated with. And I am sure: if Kasym-Jomart Tokayev won't conduct elections of Almaty mayor in the next two and a half years, this city will not support his candidacy at the next elections. This is my point of view, I could be wrong.

V.B. There are many "buts" here, including legal obstacles, and I'm against that now everything is decided by "notions", "without preliminary investigation", by revolutionary expediency. But I think that until parliament has passed the amendments to the law on elections, Tokayev could appoint Dosayev to act as acting deputy, with a probationary period.

A.K. Vadim, we have known each other for many years. And you are a very experienced expert in this country. What you just said is called "the same eggs, only in profile" in Russian. What kind of probationary period can there be for Dosayev? What can this man be tested on? Such mechanisms no longer work. You have to understand: dead is dead. The old system collapsed in one night, from January 4 to 5, 2022, and we must say goodbye to it.

Now, as far as legitimacy is concerned. I understand that you, as a law-abiding citizen, assume that there is a parliament, a representative authority, and maybe you should agree with it, but the fact is that this parliament is illegitimate - firstly. Secondly, it completely embodies the old political regime. Thirdly, in the days when all this happened, this parliament discredited itself. Not a single member of parliament at least took the side of the incumbent president and said: "we are not all traitors, we have not all betrayed him, we are for order". That is why - what kind of parliament are we talking about?

I think, in principle, one small task could be given to this composition before it goes down in history: to pass a new law on parliamentary elections, to return it to a majority system that will actually represent voters in all regions of the country. After all, the rallies demanding a change in the situation and the political system have not stopped, they continue, you know that very well. I think the problem is that Kasym-Jomart Kemeleevich watches Khabar 24, and he needs to watch Bace, he needs to watch you, the other carriers of public opinion.

Who is Dosayev?

V.B. What do you have against Yerbolat Dosayev?

A.K. I have nothing against him or for him. He is just a nobody to me. I think that he is a nobody for the people of Almaty as well, there is only one point - that he was born and raised in this city. Almaty citizens don't trust the appointed figures. The people of Almaty have seen how the authorities abandoned them. They are ripe to elect their leaders, and a long time ago. This city must be trusted. If Kassym-Jomart Tokayev wants to change the country and remain in the history as a man who has started a new chapter here, we should start from Almaty and western regions of Kazakhstan. It is time to share authority, to share responsibility with local leaders. Look: why all the criticism and protests are addressed to the central government? Because there are no local authorities: people know for sure that nothing depends on akims, oblast or city. Why does the president need this today? He needed it 30 years ago to govern and consolidate power. It is not necessary now. It is time to share power and especially to share responsibility.

V.B. I think that the people of Almaty, at least morally, deserved this pilot project of elections of akims: the government abandoned them, the city was ruined. And as for the Parliament, let it be of some use and pass, like a notary office, those laws which are necessary now.

A.K. I agree with you. I would use the outgoing parliament to pass a package of laws with which we can start reforms, take a step into the future. Then it will be dissolved and new elections for a new parliament will be announced. But I think Tokayev has some kind of fear as a genetic legacy of the former regime: he is afraid to share power and responsibility. Maybe I am wrong and he is ready to do it, he just has not announced it yet. But all the decisions he has proclaimed in the last two weeks are contradictory. So it is difficult for me to make assessments right now. I can only say one thing: let's give the man the opportunity to do something. But time will show whether he will be able to do it or not.

V.B. It's unlikely that the president will backtrack and announce a probationary period for the akim, let alone change his candidacy. That is why we, in my opinion, need to focus on the figure of Dosayev. In 2012-2015, when he was Minister of Economy, some journalists said that he was one of the smartest members of the government.

At the same time, it was he who introduced the amendment to the Land Code, which sparked land rallies, and on 5 May 2016, at an emergency government meeting chaired by Nazarbayev, he resigned. It was obvious from the president's face that this was an unexpected move for him, but the resignation was accepted nonetheless. That is a man is capable of acting on his own.

But I remember the phrase that Mikheil Saakashvili said to me: a businessman thinking about profit is in business and he is against businessmen to go to power. After all, Yerbolat Dosayev is a businessman, he worked in Akcept company along with the late Nurlan Kapparov.

Then Dosayev's career went like this: chairman of the board of JSC Baiterek, deputy prime minister, and chairman of the National Bank.
And finally, one more touch to his biography: in 2004 he was thrown to the abyss by appointment as Minister of Health - and under his watch paediatrics was destroyed, and on the south of Kazakhstan there was an outbreak of HIV.
That is, the figure is quite controversial and will cause various reactions, but the people of Almaty will have to live with him for at least the next couple of years.

A.K. The point is that this is not about Dosayev as a person. Let him stand as a candidate and let the people of Almaty elect him or not - the problem, in principle, is not in him. This is the first thing.

Secondly, your observation about Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev's body language, his facial expressions. I would not advise to try to read his face: he is a very complicated person. Kazakhs have an expression: "The man with lining", and he has not one but four linings. Fate has not given him an opportunity to study well, but his natural instincts are super. He is a politician of the senses. A man of instincts, not of conscience. He acted more according to his heart and stomach than his head.

If he had acted with his head, we would have experienced many unpleasant things much faster, and maybe some would not have been experienced at all. And I really hope Tokayev will act according to his head and not his stomach.

Wild Arman as mayor?

Photo: Arman Dzhumageldiyev ("Wild Arman"), a criminal authority accused of organising mass unrest in Almaty in January 2022.Photo: Arman Dzhumageldiyev ("Wild Arman"), a criminal authority accused of organising mass unrest in Almaty in January 2022.


V.B. Not claiming to be an expert in face reading, I just wanted to briefly acquaint the people of Almaty with who the akim has become. Coming back to the question of free elections: if they will happen after all, it's possible that the Akim of Almaty will be Arman Dikiy, for example. By the way, I am not very confused by this candidate, but we all understand that in that case other values, not law, but the ones that we have called "notions" will be triumphant. We've seen this happen in Russia during free elections: in the 1990's quite a few criminal bosses came to power there, in Krasnoyarsk, in Sverdlovsk, now Ekaterinburg. What do you think of this "aftershock" of free elections?

A.K. I am in favour of free elections in any case. People should be trusted, and people will figure it out. The most important thing is that there must be elections, and that they must happen on time. The beauty of the western electoral democracy is that people, if they choose wrong, know that in 4-5 years, they will definitely replace this person and elect another one.

That's the first and the second: I don't think that the people of Almaty are so naïve that now, in the XXI century, they will elect a criminal authority. What we had in the late 1990s - early 2000s in Russia - that is already a history. People have grown up, there's you, your supporters, and I think you will say in your programs who is who by and large, and even if you give a platform to everybody - people will understand.

I would like the people of Almaty to have the right to choose - then it will be a city, then it will be citizens. And when citizens live in the country, the country is stronger than when only the population lives in the country.

About Kazakh phobias

V.B. To be honest, as a skeptic by profession (journalism obliges me to it), I would not rely much on the wisdom of the "deep people", because for me such a concept as people is very relative - and that to put it mildly. Because this number of citizens in Kazakhstan, 19 million, is very fragmented, and people have different values, they have different levels of education, they speak different languages, in the end. Some only speak Russian, some speak Kazakh, and there are bilinguals. And I wouldn't lump them all into one concept, the people, and I wouldn't be so convinced that they're going to make some wise informed choices - even if I do cause a wave of heckling now.

A.K. I perfectly understand your professional scepticism, otherwise you wouldn't be a journalist. You don't call yourself a political scientist.

V.B. No.

A.K. And you know, it is very important. Because a journalist is a person who always treats everything with scepticism and doesn't trust anybody. Especially politicians. But I really hope that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev watches Kazakh-language blogs and the public network where Kazakhs talk to him in Kazakh. There is something in common which we can attribute to the nation's demands: for instance, to give back what was stolen, not to sell the land, anti-Chinese sentiments. Notice, the Kazakhs do not have any pronounced phobias except the fear of this huge country. And they think that the executive branch sold out to it long time ago.

In order for them to stop thinking like that, the executive branch should stop hiding and start communicating openly with its people. I, if you watched my interviews carefully, said in one of them a fortnight ago: one of the good news is that Nazarbayev is gone. The second news is that Tokayev has come, he's not Nazarbayev after all. I still want to believe that he is. And the third news is that the people have become different - you probably won't argue with me.

Think back to June 2019, when the people first protested en masse over the election results. And now this, the very unexpected outbreak of people in the streets and squares. It was unexpected for everyone and it was so massive - that's how you had to "heat up" society to get people to come out.

And you were among them. I have been following you for a long time: for example, the way you covered the rallies connected with the "jump" in the rates for the recycling fee - they began even earlier than the protests over the sharp rise in the price of liquefied gas. These things were piling up, and the government did not see it, and if it did, it turned away. Everyone thought: come on, it's just another rally.

And every time such events - the land protests, Zhanaozen, January in Almaty and all over the country - were a surprise for everyone, including the opposition. Not a single party, not a single association, no one knew this would happen. And in fact behind these events were those - there are many heroes now, but the real ones were those who were against the new car scrappage fees, and the local trade unions, who raised the people to stand up for their rights. And social, simple economic demands turned into political demands. I think that Astana today - I don't consider this city Nur-Sultan, I don't call it that fundamentally....

V.B. Neither do I.

A.K. ...And Akorda, where my colleague Kassym-Jomart Kemelevich Tokayev is now, the government, the administration, must read and listen to what people say. And they say: don't play with us, don't need this neglect of our demands. The people are unpredictable. They came out once and forced you to refuse to sell your land. In January they came out again, and it is not clear when they will come out again. But you have to meet them halfway and talk to them so that they do not come out, it is very important.

This is very important. Everything is just beginning.

V.B. Akezhan Magzhanovich, I have one small remark: I think that the call and the idea of Oyhan Kazakhstan began to be realized three years before 2019, in 2016, when in spring land rallies took place across the country, starting from 24 April in Atyrau and reaching Almaty on 21 May. By the way, as you said, the rallies did not end.

As we spoke on Monday, January 31, employees of KazakhTelecom went on strike (although with economic demands - wage increases); citizens picketed the Prosecutor's Office to demand an end to repression, detention, torture, and a fair investigation; oil workers are on strike in the west of the country. That is, I think if anyone has any hopes that the "ninth wave" has risen and will blow over immediately, they are totally in vain. It's not over - it's just beginning.

Published by Hyperborei YouTube channel

The original text of interview was translated by the © Deepl translator.

Interview published in Russian with subtitles