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Old master

Kazakhstan — Election

Kazakhstan is set for a new president after its authoritarian leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev (pictured), unexpectedly resigned in March after nearly three decades at the helm of the oil-rich central Asian country. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the acting president and Nazarbayev’s ally, has called for snap presidential elections on 9 June. Any opposition will be purely symbolic, though – no election in Kazakhstan’s history has ever been judged democratic by international observers.

Yet the new president’s influence will be limited. Nazarbayev, who is now 78, will continue to enjoy sweeping powers that will effectively allow him to maintain his long rule over Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state that is the size of western Europe but with a population of just 18 million. Nazarbayev remains head of both the influential Security Council, which gives him authority over the armed forces and the police, and the ruling Nur Otan party, which dominates parliament. Even more significantly, under legislation that dates from 2010, Nazarbayev is also officially known by the title Elbasy or “leader of the nation”, a lifetime role that allows him to oversee the work of the elected authorities. “He has the right to intervene in policy-making,” says Joanna Lillis, author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan. “If he doesn’t like a policy he can basically veto it.” Nazarbayev’s 56-year-old daughter, Dariga, who has been tipped as a possible future president, has also been appointed head of the upper house of parliament.

So given that Nazarbayev will continue to wield power, why bother to surrender the presidency? “He may want to ensure his legacy in his lifetime, rather than leaving it to chance after his death,” says Lillis. Ill health has also been suggested as a reason for Nazarbayev wanting to reduce his workload, although there has been no official confirmation. As if to underline Nazarbayev’s authority, parliament has voted to rename the capital Astana as Nur-Sultan in his honour.


Q&A – Uffe Elbaek

Leader, Alternativet, Copenhagen

Denmark’s Alternativet (Green party) stood for election for the first time in 2015. Party leader Uffe Elbaek is gearing up for the June general election at a time when climate change has become the number-one concern for Danish voters.

What does the support for green parties across Europe mean for Alternativet?
Back in 2015 we were the only party to have climate change as a priority and gathered unexpected support. As a result, today all parties in Denmark have adopted a lot of our policies. This puts us in a delicate position where voters might ask, “Other parties are green now so why shouldn’t I go back to my old one?”

What do you offer that mainstream parties don’t?
We have a more radical approach to systemic change in society. We would like [Denmark] to have a more progressive European attitude – we can’t solve all political issues alone.

What would you say to those who label radical green policies as ‘utopian’?
We say: “You are utopian because if we don’t change direction the planet will collapse.” Policies to stop climate change are the most realistic out there because they are based purely on science.


Caught short

Russia — Inequality

Vladimir Putin’s efforts to present an image of a modern Russia to the world have been dealt a blow after his government published statistics showing that 12 per cent of the country’s population, about 17 million people, lack access to an indoor loo. Perhaps more astonishing, about 1,000 schools are without indoor toilet facilities, including in Siberia where winter temperatures can drop to minus 50C. The figures illustrate the country’s wealth inequality – and a negation of Putin’s PR machine.


Pass the parcel

Global — Postal services

Nordic nations have found a reason to agree with Donald Trump. Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland have backed the US’s denouncement of the Universal Postal Union, a treaty whereby developed nations cover shipping costs on parcels sent to them from developing nations. The problem? China and its booming e-commerce industry. The US has pulled out of the agreement but the issue is causing a headache for EU members Finland and Sweden, as the EC is urging a “multilateral approach”.

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