Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev unveiled on March 16 a large-scale program of political reforms and several socio-economic measures to be implemented soon. The aim of the reforms is to transform the political system and administrative-territorial structure of the country. According Tokayev, more than 30 amendments will be made to the Constitution for their implementation.
In his State-of-the-Nation Address to the people of Kazakhstan “New Kazakhstan: Path of Renewal and Modernization” at the joint session of the Houses of Parliament, following the tragic events of January, Tokayev pointed out the importance of revizing the powers of the President with a transition from a super-presidential system to a presidential republic with a strong Parliament. In particular, it was proposed to legislate the commitment of the Head of State to terminate membership in the party for the period of his powers, and to prohibit Akims and their deputies to hold positions in the party branches.
Encouraging investment, large-scale political reforms will also be made in the administrative-territorial structure of the country. Tokayev proposed the creation of Abai and Ulytau regions, with their regional centers in the cities of Semey and Zhezkazgan, respectively. He also announced his decision to divide the Almaty region into two new ones: the Almaty region centered in Kapshagai and the Zhetysu region centered in Taldykorgan.
In addition, the Kazakh President announced the necessity to constitutionally fix a norm concerning the nearest relatives of the Head of State. A legislative ban was proposed on their appointment as top-level civil servants and managers in the quasi-state sector.
Furthermore, political reforms will affect the legislative branch of power. The process of formation and a number of functions of the Senate will be revised. Kazakhstan’s leader proposed reducing the presidential quota in the upper house of the Parliament (the Senate) from 15 to 10 deputies. Moreover, the quota of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan in the Mazhilis will be transferred to the Senate and reduced from 9 to 5 deputies.
The program of political reforms also provides for the improvement of the electoral system, modernization of the electoral process, and expansion of opportunities for development of the party system. The deputies’ corps of the Mazhilis will be formed on a mixed scheme – 70% of deputies will be elected on a proportional basis, 30% – on a majoritarian one. Party registration procedures will be considerably simplified. The registration threshold is to be reduced fourfold – from 20,000 to 5,000 people.
Tokayev also focused on strengthening the role of human rights institutions, increasing the competitiveness of the media and strengthening the role of civil society institutions. In order to ensure that the provisions of the Basic Law are strictly observed, he instructed to create a Constitutional Court. The President also proposed the establishment of a National Kurultai to replace the National Council of Public Trust, which has successfully fulfilled its mission.
A separate part of the Address was devoted to the priority of anti-crisis measures with a focus on tackling socio-economic issues, including ensuring the stability of the national currency, increasing the sales of foreign exchange earnings by companies with state participation, and de-bureaucratization of the state apparatus.
According to Tokayev, final abolition of the death penalty to be excluded from the constitution.
“The course of building a New Kazakhstan is based on the need to ensure fair and free political competition,” Tokayev said. “Political transformation is aimed at creating fair and just ‘rules of the game’, eliminating favouritism and monopolies in all spheres of life. We have a clear vision of the future and the contours of New Kazakhstan – an effective state with a strong civil society,” he added.
Acknowledging that the January 2022 events have damaged Kazakhstan international reputation, Tokayev said now is the time to build the unity in the community.
He stressed that the management system that focused on the over-concentration of powers has already lost its effectiveness.
“I firmly believe that our country still needs fundamental reforms,” he said, adding, “The people do not need abstract ideas and promises, but tangible changes for the better”. He said the main goal of political modernisation is to increase the participation of citizens in state management.
Justin Urquhart Stewart, co-founder of UK Regional Investment Platform Regionally in London, told NE Global by phone on March 16 that Kazakhstan’s reforms, including recreating three provinces that were merged with other regions in the 1990s, will help increase investment in the Central Asian country. “Basically, what you are seeing is the ability to raise money for new businesses. But using this hub to encourage more investment, if it’s successful you have more money coming in and that’s how therefore you get a stronger position of your overall trade and you are not dependent on one party or one grouping,” Urquhart Stewart said.
“They must see themselves, design themselves to look like a good place to invest. Now that’s fine except you have a reputation of being the Wild West or the Wild East where people do not trust what is going on. So that’s one thing to go through the process have people say like in Kazakhstan or wherever it happens to be, ‘We’ll have an Internet hotspot there’, like as we call them in Britain a Silicon Roundabout, Kazakhstan can try and do that, but you have to have the credibility and at the moment it’s either the rule of law or confidence that the economy is going to grow. That’s going to be the difficulty.”