April 19. 2024. 9:14

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Legislative election should become genuine milestone in Kazakhstan’s democratization drive


While the election was called early, which is not unprecedented in the country’s electoral record, it is arguably its most competitive in nearly two decades. It is a vivid outcome of the systemic democratic reforms initiated and implemented by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev since 2019, which were further amplified and expanded following the turmoil that the country experienced in January 2022.

President Tokayev announced the date of the election to the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) and maslikhats (local representative bodies) on January 19, two months before voting day. As with almost every early poll anywhere in the world, some voiced concerns that political actors would not have enough time to prepare for the intensive campaign. However, the President first proposed to call the election in the first half of 2023 in his State-of-the-Nation address on 1 September 2022, more than half a year ago. As such, political parties and future candidates had ample time to prepare for the campaign.

Besides, the legislative election was widely expected as it is a continuation of the process to reboot Kazakhstan’s political system, following the nationwide referendum on far-reaching constitutional reforms last June, the early presidential election last November and the extensive reforms and amendments to the laws governing elections and the process of registering political parties.

In his statement announcing the date of the election two months ago, President Tokayev said: “Holding of early elections to the Mazhilis and maslikhats is dictated by the logic of the constitutional reform, supported by citizens at the national referendum. According to its results, our country moved to new, fairer, and more competitive rules of formation of the representative branches of power.”

Indeed, several recent initiatives have seriously transformed Kazakhstan, including the electoral process.

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First of all, a mixed proportional-majoritarian model will be used for the election, which was in place in 1999 and 2004. Now, 70 percent of members of parliament will be elected proportionally from party lists, and 30 percent from single-mandate constituencies. Crucially, this gives potential candidates an opportunity to get nominated without being part of a registered political party or association. This greatly expands the possibilities for those who want to make a genuine contribution to the country’s development by being involved in political processes, including civil activists.

The election to the maslikhats of districts and cities of national importance will also be held under a mixed electoral system, with a 50/50 ratio. Every seat in lower level urban and rural councils is contested in single-constituency format.

Another factor that further boosts political pluralism in parliament is the reduction of the threshold for parties to enter the Mazhilis from seven to five percent. This increases the chances more parties could make it into the chamber.

In addition, a 30 percent quota for women, youth, and persons with special needs, which has been used in the previous election two years ago, in the parties’ nominees lists, will now be enforced in the actual distribution of mandates of the MPs.

Another recent novelty is the “against all” option on all the ballots, which is essentially a protest vote if a citizen is unhappy with the choice on the ballot.

Furthermore, thanks to the reforms implemented last year, registering political parties has become significantly easier. For example, the registration threshold has been reduced fourfold, from 20,000 to 5,000 members. The minimum requirement for the number of people required to establish regional party representations has also been reduced from 600 to 200. And the number of those needed to initiate launching a political party was cut from 1,000 to 700, in the country of 19,5 million.

As a result, two new political parties have succeeded in securing registration before the upcoming election.

A clear illustration of the enthusiasm for this election under the new conditions is the large number of candidates. In total, there are 12,111 candidates, including 716 for the 98 seats contested in the Mazhilis (including 435 for 29 single-constituency seats, or around fifteen for each mandate) and 11,395 for a total of 3,415 places in the maslikhats. The number includes, to the surprise of some, several harsh critics of the sitting government running as self-nominated candidates. Previously, their options were limited by the need to be nominated by a registered political party.

To be eligible to run for a seat in the Mazhilis, a candidate must be a citizen of Kazakhstan, be at least 25 years of age, and should also have resided in Kazakhstan for the past ten years. A candidate for the seat in a maslikhat must also be a citizen of Kazakhstan, live in the region the candidate wants to represent, and be at least 20 years of age.

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