May 28. 2024. 8:41

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A year of major political reforms in Kazakhstan

By successfully holding the early parliamentary and local elections on 19 March, four years into the presidency of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Kazakhstan has completed an overhaul of its political system after the tragic turmoil that shook the country back in January 2022, writes Berik Uali.

On 16 March, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered his State of the Nation Address, in which he proposed fundamental transformations in the political system of Kazakhstan.

The country was just recovering from the tragic events of January that posed the most dangerous challenge to our national statehood and tragically took away the lives of our compatriots.

It is no secret that many in those days expressed doubts about the fate of the reforms that the president had systemically advanced since his election in 2019 and even talked about the need to change the political course toward a much tougher stand. I can testify that many political elites simply feared chaos would reign in the country.

But Tokayev was firmly convinced changes were inevitable, and most importantly, they were necessary and in high demand from our citizens. That is why reforms continued along their trajectory uninterrupted.

“Their criminal fiasco failed. I said openly then: no matter what happens, I will always be with my people. Among those who tried to pull off a coup were well-known people, leaders of the military and special services. They used every possible way to destabilise the country,” Tokayev said.

This is important to avoid misinterpretations and understand it as a milestone after which Kazakhstan will never be the same. Citizens understand the need for profound democratic transformation and institutional reform.

Even then, Tokayev prioritised creating a New Kazakhstan, which is far from a cosmetic change of the country.

The most significant first step is transitioning from a super-presidential form of government to a presidential republic with a strong parliament. This means that the parliament has received a fundamental and system-forming status.

One of the important proposals Tokayev voiced a year ago was the upgrade of Kazakhstan’s electoral system.

“The members of the Parliament corps of the Mazhilis (the lower chamber) will be formed according to the following scheme – 70% on a proportional basis and 30% on a majority basis. In addition, a mixed model will be introduced in the elections of maslikhats (a local representative body in Kazakhstan that is elected by a population of a region, district and city) of national significance,” the president said.

In line with one of the OSCE’s prior recommendations, the president proposed the transfer of the quota of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, a constitutional consultative body comprising dozens of the country’s ethnic associations, from the Mazhilis to the Senate with a decrease in the number of deputies from nine to five.

The registration threshold for parties was reduced by a factor of four from 20,000 to 5,000 people, which opened space for the emergence of new political forces and stimulated the electoral process.

The president also said that he would leave the post of the leader of the ruling Amanat party (which did a few weeks later) because, according to him, “we need a reliable barrier to protect us from political domination (of one single force).” This has helped strengthen the positions of all parties in the competition for parliamentary mandates.

One year later, all these measures have already been fully implemented ahead of the latest elections of deputies of the Mazhilis and maslikhats.

The changes helped reboot the system, gave it a new impetus and increased its competitiveness. Many citizens who have not been able to pursue their political ambitions for many years have had the opportunity to compete for the citizen’s votes and legislative mandates.

ThepPresident’ also made statements on freedom of speech, noting that the media should not work in the interests of particular personalities and groups.

“The state will pay special attention to creating an open information space and in-demand and strong media. I am convinced there can be no further democratic transformation without an independent and responsible media,” Tokayev underlined.

On a practical side, the new draft law “On Mass Media,” designed to replace the one from 1999, which is currently in force, is being actively and openly discussed with the engagement of all interested parties.

It is also important to note the president’s words that to implement these ambitious initiatives, it will be necessary to amend more than 30 articles of the Constitution, and more than 20 new laws must be adopted by the end of the year.

Less than three months later, these commitments were fully implemented through a nationwide referendum, in which they received explicit support from the citizens.

All the proposed reforms and changes have been implemented in practice just a year after their announcement. More reforms are to come, and I believe Kazakhstan is now firmly on the road to further democratising our political life.