On January 1 of this year, government price controls for liquefied petroleum gas were removed in Kazakhstan. Today, the country’s capital is in a state of emergency and the government appears to have shut down internet access for the entire nation. Correlation may not always equal causation, but here you can draw a pretty clear line — one enforced by riot shields.
While we’re all used to cars running on gasoline, that’s not a global constant. In Kazakhstan, an estimated 70 to 90 percent of vehicles run on liquefied petroleum gas. When the price of that fuel goes up, the cost of transportation skyrockets.
So, too, do the prices of things that need to be transported by ground freight. In the case of these protests, that means food — driven by truck from the urban centers of Nur-Sultan and Almaty to the less-developed western regions of the country. Food prices had already taken a serious hit in the pandemic, and the beginning of this year marked a sudden doubling in the cost of fuel needed to transport it.
That rising fuel cost, from $0.14 to $0.28 per liter in just a few days, seems to have broken a camel’s back of political unrest. Citizens have taken to the streets in the capital city of Nur-Sultan, and their protests look to have gotten results already. From Al Jazeera:
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has sacked his cabinet and imposed states of emergency in the country’s largest city and an oil-rich western region following mass protests triggered by a rise in fuel prices.
Tokayev said on Wednesday morning that he had accepted the resignation of the cabinet led by Prime Minister Askar Mamin, and ordered the acting cabinet to reinstate price controls on Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG).
He also ordered the acting cabinet to broaden price controls to petrol, diesel and other “socially important” consumer goods.
Some of them yelled “old man out” – a reference to Tokayev’s still-powerful predecessor and mentor Nursultan Nazarbayev – while others attacked vehicles. Police used tear gas and stun grenades to stop a crowd of protesters from storming the mayor’s office.
That’s not to say the Kazakh government has simply rolled over in the face of public opinion. Web accessibility tracker NetBlocks has noticed what appears to be a total shutdown of internet in the country, as well as substantial disruptions to major cell phone networks. It’s theorized, albeit unconfirmed, that this was an intentional move by the Kazakh government to cut off information about protests — or between protestors.
The government has also unleashed riot police into the capital city streets, who are combatting protestors with tear gas and flash grenades. Despite the roadblocks, however, the Kazakh people seem to be getting their way — price controls on not just LPG, but a wealth of consumer goods, as well as the removal of much of the administration that allowed those prices to rise. Still, only time will tell what reforms come out of this movement — and whether they’ll have former president Nursultan Nazarbayev removed from power for good.