Friday, December 8, 2023

Tokayev’s national address launches a new political era for Kazakhstan

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President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s most recent address to the nation is a new political milestone in the history of the country by setting qualitatively different standards for the system of power through the highest forms of transparency for the most important political decisions, and his sense of constant renewal and the need for open competition.

Tokayev’s decision to make the entire electoral schedule public is an unprecedented step for Kazakhstan’s political culture.

The launch of the entire election cycle is conditioned by the need for a radical reboot of our political system and is fully consistent with the rationale of the constitutional reform supported by the majority of citizens in the June referendum.

The consecutive holding of presidential elections, followed by the election of deputies to the majilis (the lower chamber of the parliament) and maslikhats (local representative bodies) will focus on the solution of urgent and strategic tasks for the socio-economic development of the country. In other words, the accumulated rhythm of the country’s modernization will not be disturbed.

The growing geostrategic tensions and turbulence in the world’s economy are strong factors for holding early elections. The unpredictability of the dynamics of world processes multiplies the risks and challenges not only for individual states, but for entire regions.

Another central initiative of Tokayev’s address is a proposal to limit the presidential mandate to a single term of seven years without the right to re-election, which, if approved by the parliament, will determine the future of Kazakhstan’s political system.

In this case, the election of one person as president for only one seven-year term is a political innovation, one that has no precedent amongst Kazakhstan’s neighbors. The idea of a one-time presidency is primarily aimed at the long-term stabilization of the political system, one that will eliminate the risks of a monopoly on power by a single individual and will strengthen the basic principles of the country’s democracy.

The initiative towards a single presidential term is a logical progression that has already been taken as part of a move to finally transition away from the super-presidential model. These steps include having a non-partisan head of state, a ban on his relatives holding positions in government agencies and state-owned companies, and the redistribution of some presidential powers in favor of other institutions. The introduction of a single presidential term would end the process of having an institutionalized presidential republic in favor of an optimal balance of power.

The initiative to hold early elections to the majilis and maslikhats on all levels in the first half of the next year also comes from the broad political modernization program.

Elections in single-mandate districts, under a mixed electoral system, are being implemented and will become an important factor in improving the political culture in the country and a powerful tool for articulating the interests of citizens at the local level.

The electoral legislation will soon work according to new rules. The registration procedure for political parties will be simplified, which has already contributed to the emergence of new parties, new faces in politics, and increased political competition. This trend is irreversible, and the further deepening of Kazakhstan’s political modernization will only grow.

The renewal of representative bodies of power, including new principles in the majilis and maslikhats, will be closely linked to the comprehensive transformation of the executive vertical of power – i.e. the government and administration. In the future, the government will include not only representatives of the party that won the most votes, but representatives of other parliamentary parties.

All of the political initiatives presented in Tokayev’s September 3 address comprehensively provide real weight to our nation-building project: “A strong president – influential parliament – and accountable government”. These new reforms provide the impetus for a new electoral cycle, which will allow for the restart of the entire political system.

*A version of this article first appeared in the Astana Times

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