Patrimonial systems and features of virtuous clientelism: The case of Kazakhstan

Anastassiya ZAGAINOVA, December 2009


  • State
  • patrimonialism
  • economic transition
  • clientelism
  • informal authority
  • business community
  • Kazakhstan

This paper looks for institutional dynamics in transition economies whose politico-economical structures are frequently qualified as neo-patrimonial systems (Lynch, 2005; Jones-Luong, 2002). Neo-patrimonial State combines clientelism and private appropriation of public resources. Understanding of modern political structure in those countries requires understanding of informal institutions, built by several generations and who modelled state-society relations. Soviet legacy and characteristics of each countries produced hybrid forms of political systems which we call oligarchic State. The key pattern of evolution of post-Soviet oligarchic systems toward rule of law and democratisation is the (re)distribution of politico-economic powers. We determine some key moments in virtuous process of societal modernisation from clientelism to democracy. In this paper we analyse especially institutional dynamics in Kazakhstan, the second largest country of the former USSR, with impressive economic growth under the leadership of President Nazarbaev. His political regime has used elements of political clientelism and neo-traditional practices to sustain its rule of game. Evolution of past two decades is the illustration of virtuous process of societal modernisation through the strengthening of rule of law demanded by business community born in clientelist networks.

Evolution of neo patrimonial States towards democratisation

According to politico-social literature neo-patrimonial State has institutions and structures of a modern Western-type State (government, parliament, judiciary, etc.), but it operates in accordance with local logic from ancestral heritage and is based on the personal power of the head of clan or tribe, winner of a putsch or an election (Bratton, Walle, 1997; Chabal, Daloz, 1999; Erdmann, Engel, 2006). The main feature of patrimonialism - a concept developed by Max Weber (1971) - is the private appropriation of a governmental sphere by those who carry political power, and also the indivisibility of the public and private sphere of society. In the neo-patrimonial system the ruling groups regard society as their own private domain and the fulfilment of public functions as a legitimate means to their own personal enrichment (Clapham, 1982). Clientelism, where a political person or party increases its power based on clients gained and attached by the attribution of favours, is an integral part of neo-patrimonialism (Eisenstadt, 1972). Hence the concept of neo-patrimonialism combines clientelism and management of public sources without distinction between public and personal spheres/areas. Clientelism is more than a dyadic relationship , but a characteristic of entire political systems (Briquet, Sawicki 1998). In neo-patrimonial State national leader controls political and economic life of the country, therefore personal clientistic relationships with the leader play a crucial role in accumulating personal wealth and taking position among members of the political elite.

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The full article can be found in the publication “Rethinking these Foundations of the State” (forthcoming 2010)