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Public opinion in Kazakstan appears to have accepted the imposition of
presidential rule, at least partly because the parliament Nazarbayev
dissolved had focused on its own wages and benefits rather than on solving
the nation's problems. In the short run, the imposition of direct
presidential rule seemed likely to reduce ethnic tensions within the
republic. Indeed, one of Nazarbayev's primary justifications for assuming
greater power was the possibility that bolstered presidential authority
could stem the growing ethnic hostility in the republic, including a
general rise in anti-Semitism.
The ethnic constituency whose appeasement is most important is,
however, the Russians, both within the republic and in Russia proper.
Stability in Kazakstan is overwhelmingly shaped by developments in Russia,
especially as that country returns its attention to some measure of
reintegration of the former Soviet empire. Because of Kazakstan's great
vulnerability to Russian political, economic, and military intervention,
experts assume that Russian national and ethnic interests play a
considerable part in Nazarbayev's political calculations (see Foreign
Policy; National Security Prospects, this ch.).
It also seems likely that Nazarbayev would use presidential rule to
increase the linguistic and cultural rights of the republic's Russians.
Although Nazarbayev had taken a firm stand on the issue of formal dual
citizenship, a treaty he and Russia's president, Boris N. Yeltsin, signed
in January 1995 all but obviated the language question by permitting
citizens of the respective countries to own property in either republic,
to move freely between them, to sign contracts (including contracts for
military service) in either country, and to exchange one country's
citizenship for the other's. When the Kazak parliament ratified that
agreement, that body also voted to extend to the end of 1995 the deadline
by which residents must declare either Kazakstani or Russian citizenship.
After the dissolution of that parliament, Kazakstan considered extending
the deadline until 2000, as Russia already had done.
In the mid-1990s, Nazarbayev seemed likely to face eventual opposition
from Kazak nationalists if he continued making concessions to the
republic's Russians. Such opposition would be conditioned, however, by the
deep divisions of ethnic Kazaks along clan and family lines, which give
some of them more interests in common with the Russians than with their
ethnic fellows. The Kazaks also have no institutions that might serve as
alternative focuses of political will. Despite a wave of mosque building
since independence, Islam is not well established in much of the republic,
and there is no national religious-political network through which
disaffected Kazaks might be mobilized.
The lack of an obvious venue for expression of popular dissatisfaction
does not mean, however, that none will materialize. Nazarbayev gambled
that imposition of presidential rule would permit him to transform the
republic's economy and thus placate the opposition through an indisputable
and widespread improvement of living standards. Experts agree that the
republic has the natural resources and industrial potential to make this a
credible wager. But a number of conditions outside Nazarbayev's control,
such as the political climate in Russia and the other Central Asian
states, would influence that outcome. By dismissing parliament and taking
upon himself the entire burden of government, Nazarbayev made himself the
obvious target for the public discontent that radical transformations
Data as of March 1996