Is a new Kazakhstan emerging?

President Tokayev’s proposed reforms will genuinely alter the country’s political culture
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev addressing the Kazakhstan Parliament | Source: Official website of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Erlan Karin

By Erlan Karin

Erlan Karin is Secretary of State of the Republic of Kazakhstan

28 Mar 2022

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s state-of-the-nation address on March 16 marks the beginning of a new stage of state building in Kazakhstan.

All the initiatives that have been presented by our head of state are aimed at significantly transforming the system of government institutions, increasing civic participation and, ultimately, forming a new political culture in Kazakhstan. This is particularly relevant after the tragic events in January, which brought to the fore the need to implement transformative reforms.

At the same time, it should be noted that the process of political modernisation has been in place since President Tokayev’s election in 2019 and the initiatives revealed recently would have been announced regardless of the tragic January events that took place in our country.

The reforms announced in the address, which were elaborated on with the active participation of Kazakh experts, relevant state bodies and public activists, contribute to several fundamental shifts in the development of the country.

Firstly, they reinforce the irreversible nature of political modernisation.

Secondly, they mark the end of the super-presidential form of government and open the path towards a presidential republic with a strong parliament.

Thirdly, they make significant adjustments to the balance of power of state institutions by limiting presidential powers, reformatting the activities of both chambers of Parliament, and creating a Constitutional Court.

Fourthly, the current electoral system has been fundamentally changed following the announcement of the transition to a mixed proportional-majority model and the liberalisation of the process of registering new political parties.

The former means that individuals who are not members of a particular party will be able to participate in parliamentary elections, which will increase the degree of direct participation of citizens in the formation of the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament).

“The simplification of the registration of political parties will create a genuine multi-party system in Kazakhstan”

Meanwhile, the simplification of the registration of political parties will create a genuine multi-party system in Kazakhstan, which will contribute to a plurality of political approaches to resolving pressing societal issues.

Fifthly, the reforms radically increase the role of the maslikhats (local government bodies) and their independence from central government.

Overall, the implementation of the reforms will have a positive impact on social processes in the country, increase the stability of the political foundations, stimulate civic activity in the decision-making process both at central and local government levels, strengthen the sphere of human rights protection, and optimise Kazakhstan’s administrative-territorial structure.

In particular, the initiative to ban close relatives of the President from holding positions of political civil servants and managerial roles in the quasi-public sector is designed to mitigate the risks of nepotism and corruption and sets new ethical standards for future leaders of the country. This is just one example of the phased process of de-concentration of the powers and functions of the President, which have become redundant in the new reality.

The revision of the parliamentary system is intended to strengthen the role of the Mazhilis and the overall influence of the legislative branch of power. Of key importance here is the change in the procedure for the formation of the Mazhilis and the Senate. With the abolition of the quota of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan (APK), which prior to the changes indirectly elected during every parliamentary election its allotted nine members to the Mazhilis, and the introduction of a mixed electoral system, the Mazhilis have a strengthened institutional legitimacy.

In turn, the Senate has strengthened its role as a body that purposefully looks after the interests of the regions (oblasts), as well as various underrepresented social and ethnic groups. In this regard, the APK quota (five members) has been transferred to the Senate, which will ensure representation in this body of various ethnic groups that make up Kazakhstan.

The initiative to introduce a mixed proportional-majoritarian electoral system with a ratio of 70 to 30 in the Mazhilis and 50 to 50 in the regional maslikhats has been proposed due to the need to maximise coverage of the entire electoral landscape of the country, considering the entire spectrum of views and beliefs of Kazakhstan’s citizens. At the same time, it is aimed at the harmonious development of the political space, in which political parties remain the key institution for expressing the interests of voters.

Simultaneously, it is important that at the local level, where closer contacts between deputies and citizens are needed, a full majoritarian system is introduced. This model, along with the systemic strengthening of the maslikhats (local assemblies), radically changes the relationship between the executive and representative authorities in the regions of Kazakhstan.

“These initiatives will have a deep impact on the formation of a new political culture in Kazakhstan and will strengthen trust between the authorities and citizens”

In general, these initiatives will have a deep impact on the formation of a new political culture in Kazakhstan and will strengthen trust between the authorities and citizens. A key role in the implementation of these reforms, as well as in the discussion and creation of new initiatives will be played by the newly-established platform for public dialogue – “Ulttyq Kuryltay,” (roughly translated as the National Congress).

The new platform will replace the National Council of Public Trust, which over the past three years contributed to the adoption of more than 100 normative legal acts, and will include one representative of public councils from the regions of Kazakhstan, members of Parliament, social activists, and experts.

This wide representation will ensure that future reforms will consider the voices and needs of all types of citizens, which is one of the key priorities of President Tokayev’s reform agenda.

This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group