The start of this year could not have been any more different for Kazakhstan when compared to the tragic events of January 2022. Just over 12 months ago, our country was amid a violent coup attempt orchestrated by groups that wanted to see our nation collapse. There was a real possibility that Kazakhstan’s statehood would fall apart from within, which would have had reverberating consequences well beyond Central Asia.
Fortunately, our country managed to not only recover from the wounds of events from January 2022, but to further strengthen the foundations of our governance through political and socioeconomic changes. Fast forward twelve months from January 2022, and our country is quite unrecognizable. The constitutional amendments that were implemented following the nationwide referendum in June 2022 have ushered in new democratic principles in our country, including a more influential parliament, limited presidential powers, simplified procedures for registering new political parties, direct elections of akims (mayors), among many other important measures.
Several political initiatives have launched from January this year. Perhaps most significant is the establishment of the Constitutional Court, to which every citizen can apply, including the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Prosecutor General. The Court will ensure that our country’s laws are in line with our Constitution and will protect the fundamental rights of our citizens. Elvira Azimova, the first Chairperson of the Constitutional Court, previously worked as Commissioner for Human Rights in Kazakhstan. This is a clear indication of the Court’s priorities and direction.
Kazakhstan moved fast toward Mazhilis (the lower house of parliament) and maslikhats (local representative bodies) elections held on March 19. These elections were unique in many respects. Firstly, two recently established political parties participated in the vote. For instance, towards the end of last year, the Green Party was established in Kazakhstan, which will raise awareness of ecological issues – an area that is of vital importance due to the ongoing climate change challenges, and of great concern to our citizens due to enduring consequences of large scale Soviet-era human-made environmental calamities.
Overall, seven parties are now registered in the country offering a plethora of political choice for the electorate. Their participation in competitive elections was expected to further contribute to strengthening a multiparty system by increasing plurality and influence of opposition politics, an objective which our country has been working towards for the past several years. Significantly, the threshold for parties to enter the Mazhilis has been reduced from seven to five percent, making it easier for opposition parties to enter parliament and play an important role in increasing government accountability.
Secondly, a mixed proportional-majoritarian model was used for the first time for the election to the Mazhilis since 2004, where 70 percent of deputies were elected proportionally from party lists, and 30 percent by majoritarian rule from single-member districts. This means that 29 out of 98 members of parliament were elected in single-mandate constituencies, while 69 were elected from party lists under the proportional representation model from a single nationwide constituency. The elections to the maslikhats of districts and cities of national importance were also held under a mixed electoral system, with a 50/50 ratio, while lower level maslikhats was elected completely under a majoritarian rule.
In addition, an “against all” option was included on the ballots, which gave the electorate the opportunity to express their disapproval of all candidates should they wish to do so. Finally, a 30 percent quota for women, youth, and persons with special needs has been established at the legislative level in the distribution of the mandates of the members of parliament from the party lists. This ensures wider representation in parliament of all groups in Kazakhstan.
Our country has always shown its commitment to holding free, open, and fair elections. The role of election monitors is undoubtedly crucial in this regard. As with previous elections, including the presidential election in November 2022, we have invited 10 international organizations and scores of observers from foreign nations to observe the election. We expect the largest election observation missions from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The upcoming elections will mark another important milestone in the development of Kazakhstan’s democracy. Many were unsure whether our country would recover after the unrest in January 2022. Yet we have managed to overcome this hurdle. In addition to demonstrating our resilience and stability, we have transformed our country through significant political and socio-economic initiatives.
The elections will not change our country overnight, but they will further contribute to the creation of a Just Kazakhstan – a prosperous society, and a more vibrant, dynamic and competitive political system. Such a country will be an even stronger and more committed partner for cooperation for the international community, including for Republic of Korea.
As the world continues to navigate current geopolitical and economic challenges, a stable and thriving Kazakhstan is to the benefit of not just our own citizens, but to the whole region and beyond. Our political reforms, supported by competitive elections, is the foundation on which we will ensure our stability and continue to build our future.
Bakyt Dyussenbayev is the Kazakh Ambassador to Korea. Views expressed in this article are his own. -- Ed.