The Republic of Kazakhstan declared its independence from Soviet Russia in 1991. It is the 9th largest country in the world, bigger than Western Europe, and is the world’s largest land-locked country.
Since 1991 it has pursued a “democratic” path with a bicameral presidential constitution. Its President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was leader of the Kazakhstan Communist Party in 1989. Since his election in 1991, he has been re-elected in 1999, 2005 and 2011 for 7 year terms. Thanks to a 2007 amendment to the constitution, he can run for office indefinitely but future presidents after him will only be allowed to serve 5 year terms. T Kazakhstan’s economy and the prosperity of its people has improved. Its international standing is high and it belongs to many international organisations – UN, NATO’s Partnership for Peace, Commonwealth of Independent States, and it has applied for membership to the World Trade Organisation.
It was the first of the Former Soviet Union States to receive, in 2002, an investment grade rating (BBB-) from Standard & Poors. It has been praised by the IMF for its economic management. As a place to do business it is well ahead of other Central Asian States.
Culturally, the population of Kazakhstan (15.7m) is made up 55% Kazakhs, 27% Russian, and the rest other Central Asian groupings. The official and dominant language is Kazakh, though Russian is more widely spoken in business. Islam is the primary religion followed by orthodox Christianity. There is complete freedom of religious worship.
GDP in 2010 was approx. $113b according to the World Bank, with per capita GDP of $7212. Growth of GDP in 2010 was 7%. over 2009. Prior to that, GDP had grown more than 8.2% per annum in the years 2002-2008. It is easily the largest economy in Central Asia. It had external debt of $94.4b at the end of 2010 and foreign exchange reserves of $19.4b in April 2009.
Oil is the most important commodity in the economy, accounting for some 65% of exports and 24% GDP. Other important sectors are agriculture, (10% of GDP) with wheat and livestock prominent, and minerals, especially uranium. The banking system was partly nationalised in 2009 in response to the credit crisis. As with many other Western banks, Kazakhstan banks got carried away with lending to the property sector which then became severely squeezed as prices nosedived from 2007 onwards. It happened from a relatively low base and fairly early on, so Kazakhstan was spared many of the worst excesses. In addition to propping up the banks, the government removed the unofficial peg to the dollar, allowing the tenge to devalue by 20%, although the peg now appears to have been re-established at the new level . Other stimulatory packages include a corporate tax rate reduction from 30% to 20% for 2010, intending to reduce further to 15% from 2011.
- Population: 15.7 million (UN, 2010). Labour force: 8.7million
- Capital: Astana
- Largest city:Almaty
- Area: 2.7 million sq km (1 million sq miles)
- Major languages: Kazakh, Russian
- Major religions: Islam, Christianity
- Life expectancy: 60 years (men), 72 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Kazakh Tenge = 100 tiyn
- Main exports: Oil, uranium, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery, chemicals, grain, wool, meat, coal
- GNI per capita: US $7,212
- Public sector debt: 16.2% GDP.
- Trade balance: +$29.1m
In power virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has focused on economic reform while resisting moves to democratise the political system.
He remains popular among ordinary Kazakhs. His supporters say he preserved inter-ethnic accord and stability during the reform in the 1990s, and is widely credited for the country’s impressive economic growth in first decade of the new millennium.
Mr Nazarbayev has concentrated extensive powers in his own hands and is accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent. Although he says he advocates democracy as a long-term goal, he warns that stability could be at risk if change is too swift.
Born in 1940, Mr Nazarbayev came to power in 1989 as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and was elected president the following year. He was re-elected after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In 2005, he won a further seven-year term with more than 90% of the vote in elections that Kazakhstan’s weak opposition decried as rigged, and which European observers declared seriously flawed.
In 2007, parliament, in which the ruling party held all seats, voted to allow the president to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms. In 2010, MPs granted Mr Nazarbayev the lifelong title of “leader of the nation”.
But judges in 2011 ruled unconstitutional a plan to hold a referendum on whether to let Mr Nazarbayev to stay in power until 2020 without facing election. The president thereupon said he rejected the changes, which had been strongly backed by MPs and by many voters. Instead, Mr Nazarbayev called early presidential elections for 3 April 2011, which he won with another 90%+ majority.