Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed on April 29 holding a referendum in the Central Asian country on the draft amendments to the Constitution and discussed priorities and tasks in building a New Kazakhstan, political reforms, as well as the importance of national unity.
“The referendum is the most important democratic institution. It will allow every citizen to take a direct part in deciding the fate of the country and will strengthen our course towards comprehensive democratisation and the construction of a New Kazakhstan,” he said.
Taking part in the XXXI session of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan on April 29, titled ‘The unity of the people is the basis of a renewed Kazakhstan,’ Tokayev also discussed the role of the Assembly. He stressed that the amendments to the Constitution mean a new phase in the development of Kazakhstan’s statehood.
Earlier in the week, Tokayev’s office sent a draft law to the Constitutional Court’s consideration, which contains specific proposals concerning thirty-three articles to be amended, more than a third in the country’s basic law.
Some major amendments include limiting presidential powers, giving more power to the Parliament and making it more representative of the country’s 19 million population through replacement of the proportional system of elections to a mixed majoritarian-proportional one, as well as significant decentralization of power with more competences given to regional and local authorities, consolidation of human rights protection mechanisms, including the Ombudsperson’s office, establishment of the Constitutional Court, to which citizens could make appeals, etc.
Building a New Kazakhstan
Regarding building a New Kazakhstan, Tokayev said the country needed to completely reformat the system of individual and social values and should become “a land of justice”.
The Kazakh President noted that the reform of the party and electoral systems opens new opportunities for the participation of all citizens in the electoral processes, adding that the emergence of new political parties is expected, which will cover almost the entire electoral landscape. “I am sure that party lists, as well as the election of candidates in single-mandate districts, will reflect the ethnic diversity of Kazakhstan,” Tokayev said.
Turning to the issue of elections, the Kazakh leader explained that the abolition of the quota of the Assembly of the People in the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) removes several existing issues related to the observance of democratic electoral standards. At the same time, “Senators from the Assembly will effectively represent the entire set of interests of the ethnic groups of Kazakhstan on the basis of national integration and ethno-cultural diversity.” He added that “the Assembly should develop effective and transparent procedures for the selection of candidates for the Senate”.
Speaking further about the role of the Assembly of the People, the Head of State emphasized that the undoubted merit of the organisation is that over the years of its existence it has contributed to the strengthening of civil unity.
“I am sure that in the new realities, the Assembly will continue to serve as a solid institutional policy of peace and harmony”, he said, adding that it is fundamentally important that representatives of all ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan share common civic values and associate themselves with Kazakhstan. “This is our great achievement over the years of Independence, and we are obliged to strengthen it comprehensively,” Tokayev said.
On the issue of national unity, the President stressed that “it is unacceptable that external conflicts that have been and will be used to incite interethnic hatred and form fault lines among our citizens.” He emphasized that provocateurs “should not and will not be able to undermine our unity, the right of our state to pursue an independent policy.” In this regard, the President stated that the state language of the country is the Kazakh language, but other languages also occupy its due place, including in the fundamental law of Kazakhstan. He said: “Measures need to be taken to strengthen the status of the Kazakh language, but not to the detriment of any other language and, moreover, not to discriminate against any other languages and citizens who speak other languages.”
Tokayev that the principle of “different views, but one nation” is unshakable, adding that “our state will become fair and developed, providing equal opportunities to every citizen”.
He pointed out that the New Kazakhstan is, in fact, a Just Kazakhstan. “New Kazakhstan is the way to strengthen our national identity in a dynamically changing world,” he said, adding, “Without the involvement of all citizens in the common cause neither the state apparatus, nor any political decisions and economic levers can lead us to the goal of renewing the country. To build the New Kazakhstan, we need to completely reformat the system of individual and public values”.