Kazakhstan, on the eve of important milestone

By Yerkin Akhinzhanov, Ambassador (designate) of Kazakhstan to South Africa

9 March 2023

The start of this year could not have been any more different for Kazakhstan when compared to the tragic January of 2022. Just over 12 months ago, our country was amidst 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 January 2022 events but to further strengthen the foundations of our governance through political and socio-economic changes. Fast forward 12 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.

Now, Kazakhstan is moving fast towards Mazhilis (the lower house of parliament) and maslikhats (local representative bodies) elections on March 19. The President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev first proposed holding early election to the Machines and maslikhats in this Address to the Nation on September 1 last year.

President Tokayev said: “The holding of early elections to the Mazhilis and maslikhats is dictated by the logic of the constitutional reform, supported by citizens at the national referendum. According to its results, our country moved to new, fairer, and more competitive rules of formation of the representative branches of power.”

These elections will be unique in many respects. Firstly, two recently established political parties will additionally participate in the vote (beyond the earlier existing ones). 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 man-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 will further contribute to strengthening a multi-party 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 7 to 5 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 will be used for the first time for the election to the Mazhilis since 2004, where 70 percent of deputies will be 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 will be elected in single-mandate constituencies, while 69 will be 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 will also be held under a mixed electoral system, with a 50/50 ratio, while lower level maslikhats will be elected completely under a majoritarian rule.

In addition, an ‘against all’ option will be included on the ballots, which will give 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 (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) 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 are yet another important milestone in building of Just Kazakhstan – a prosperous society, and a more vibrant, dynamic, and competitive political system, where nobody is left behind. Such a country will be an even stronger and more committed partner for cooperation with the international community, including South Africa.

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.

Factsheet on the early Mazhilis and maslikhats elections in Kazakhstan

Elections to the Mazhilis (the lower chamber of the Kazakh Parliament) and the maslikhats (local administrative bodies) will take place on March 19 this year. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev dissolved the Mazhilis and terminated the powers of the maslikhats on January 19, when he announced the date of the elections for the lower chamber. Later, the Central Election Commission set the date for maslikhat elections also for March 19.

List of political parties
Thanks to the constitutional reforms implemented last year in Kazakhstan, registering political parties has become significantly easier. For example, the registration threshold has been reduced fourfold, from 20,000 to 5,000 members. The minimum requirement for the number of regional party representations was also reduced from 600 to 200 people.

As a result, several new political parties have registered before the upcoming election.
Overall, seven parties are now registered in the country, including:
• Aq Jol Democratic Party of Kazakhstan – a liberal-conservative political party in Kazakhstan.
• Amanat party – the largest party to date in Kazakhstan and the ruling party.
• Auyl People’s Democratic Patriotic Party – a social democratic party that supports agrarian interests.
• Baytaq Party – a party with an environmental focus, which received registration from the Kazakh Ministry of Justice on November 30 last year.
• National Social Democratic Party – a centre-left party.
• People’s Party of Kazakhstan – a left-of-center political party in Kazakhstan.
• Respublica Party – the newest party in Kazakhstan, which received registration on January 18 this year.

Kazakhstan’s Central Election Commission received documents on the nomination of candidates for deputies of the Mazhilis (MPs) on party lists from all political parties, and all are registered to participate in the election.
In total, there are 12,451 candidates, including 716 for the Mazhilis and 11,735 for the maslikhats (local administrative bodies).

Background to Kazakhstan’s electoral system
• President Tokayev first proposed holding elections to the Mazhilis and maslikhats in his Address to the Nation last September. As such, the period from this announcement to the voting day will be more than six months. This is the first time in Kazakhstan’s modern history that candidates have had this amount of time to prepare for an election campaign.
• A mixed proportional-majoritarian model will be used for the first time for the election to the Mazhilis, where 70 percent of deputies will be elected proportionally from party lists, and 30 percent by majoritarian rule from single-member districts. This initiative follows the amendments to the Constitution that were adopted as a result of the national referendum that took place on June 5 in 2022.
• The elections to the maslikhats of districts and cities of national importance will also be held under a mixed electoral system, with a 50/50 ratio.
• These elections constitute the final stage in the political renewal cycle initiated by the President, which started with a presidential election on November 20 last year and continued with Senate elections on January 14 this year.
• Other important election rules include the “against all” option on all ballots, the reduction of the threshold for parties to enter the Mazhilis from seven to five percent, and the legislative establishment of a 30 percent quota for women, youth, and persons with special needs in the distribution of deputy mandates.

International observers
To participate in the observation of the early parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan, invitations were sent on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to 10 international organisations: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, CIS Executive Committee, CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Organization of Turkic States, and Parliamentary Assembly of the Turkic States.

In addition, invitations were sent from the Chair of the CEC to the heads of the central election bodies of 34 foreign countries.

CEC has so far accredited 111 international observers for the elections from 3 international organizations (the OSCE ODIHR, the Interparliamentary Assembly of the CIS member states, CIS observer mission) and 16 foreign states (PRC, the Kingdom of Netherlands, the State of Palestine, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Belgium, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Kingdom of Thailand, the Republic of Armenia, Georgia, French Republic, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Great Britain, the Slovak Republic, the Republic of Estonia).

Representatives of the diplomatic corps and international organisations accredited in Kazakhstan have also been invited to observe the elections.

The Diplomatic Informer
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