Kazakhstan is implementing a major package of political reforms designed to open a new chapter in its story of continued liberalisation of social and political life. The reforms are focused on bolstering fundamental institutions of democracy – freedom of peaceful assembly, legal framework for election and campaigning, strengthening of political parties.
In late May, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a number of important laws, including “On organising and holding peaceful rallies in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, “On amending the constitutional law “On elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, as well as “On amending the law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On political parties”.
These new laws are part of the reform package initiated by the President upon consultations with the National Council of Public Trust. By adopting this political reform, Kazakhstan has made a major step towards implementing the President’s concept of a “listening state” and reinforcing its civil society. The new legislation also helped boost crucial democratic values, including pluralism, respect towards opposing views, constructivism, and accountability.
For instance, the new law on political rallies provides for a comprehensive simplification and deregulation of rules for organising peaceful public assemblies. The legislation was developed by a team of independent experts, civic leaders, human rights activists, government and NGO representatives. The subsequent thorough public discussion of the bill led to a significant enhancement of the government’s initially proposed articles on political liberalisation.
The law fully complies with Article 21 of the of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The document sets out the basic principles of peaceful assemblies: they must be legal, voluntary, not violent, and not pose a threat to either the state or the citizens. Bans and liabilities restricting the activities of journalists are also excluded.
Kazakhstan’s major cities will now designate public venues for citizens to hold peaceful assemblies, and the notification procedure for peaceful assemblies will be reduced from 15 to 5 days.
“We are shaping a new political culture. Pluralism of opinion and alternative views come to the fore. The government does not believe that dissent is a destructive or socially dangerous phenomenon,” said President Tokayev. According to the President of Kazakhstan, it is time for both the society and the state to adequately treat the public expression of viewpoint. “And it is better to arrive at this independently, consciously, and not forcibly,” the President notes.
The previous law was adopted 25 years ago and, according to Kazakh experts and international observers, has long required a conceptual review. The new law of 2020 fully complies with international standards and provides for the most important principle – freedom of expression.
The principles of human rights are observed in the new law: “everything that is not forbidden is allowed” and “your rights end where the rights of others begin”.
Thus, the Law on Peaceful Assemblies has confirmed the successful implementation of the concept of a “listening state” proclaimed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
The electoral legislation is being improved. New laws will further strengthen the rights of women and youth to participate in the country’s political life. They provide for the introduction of an obligatory 30% quota for women and young people under 29 on party lists.
Today, women are represented in the Parliament of Kazakhstan at 22% (the average representation of women in legislative bodies of the OECD countries is 30%). In the Mazhilis of the Parliament (lower chamber) there are 29 elected women; six women serve at the Senate (upper chamber); young people under 29 are yet to be represented in the Parliament.
In maslikhats (local representative bodies), the representation of women is at about 22%, or 740 elected women. There are only 53 maslikhat members under 29. The total number of deputy seats in maslikhats across Kazakhstan is 3,335.
Statistics shows that there are more than 4.5 million economically active women and 2.8 million young people aged 20 to 29 living in Kazakhstan today. From now on, the indicated categories of citizens will participate more widely in the elections of deputies of local representative bodies and in the lower chamber of the Parliament.
The quota policy is generally a widespread international practice. Special party quotas are applied in European countries and are most common in Germany, Norway, France, and Belgium, where these norms are enshrined in law.
The introduction of special quotas in Kazakhstan by the new law will become an incentive for the young generation of Kazakh citizens and for women to actively participate in the country’s political life. The new legal norms will be implemented in 2021 – the year of regular elections to the Mazhilis of the Parliament (previous parliamentary elections were held in 2016; according to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the term of office of deputies of the Mazhilis of the Parliament is 5 years).
The amendments to the Constitutional Law “On Elections” and the Law “On Political Parties” signed by the President became an important part of the reform package that continues to modernise Kazakhstan’s political system.
Reducing the threshold number of signatures for creating a political association that can participate in elections from 40,000 to 20,000 people is an important step for the further development of the party system in Kazakhstan.
The amendments to the legislation will contribute to the growth of parties’ influence on political processes in the country. They facilitate the creation of new political parties and the overall revitalisation of party life in the country, which will have a positive impact on the development and adoption of policy decisions. There are six political parties registered and operating in Kazakhstan to date.
The measures provided for in the laws are aimed at reformatting the socio-political space, increasing competition in the party field, and making electoral bodies more inclusive and balanced.
Along with tackling the most important tasks of improving the quality of life of Kazakh citizens and strengthening social policy, the President of Kazakhstan is taking serious steps to improve the current political system.
In 2019, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev clearly outlined the key principles of his governance policy in his election programme – “Continuity. Justice. Progress”. During his first year as President of Kazakhstan, he has successfully implemented these principles at a legislative level.
Continuity is ensured by strengthening the role of the youth in the country’s political life, thus providing training for the young generation of Kazakh managers who will ensure the effective development of the state in the future.
Justice is implemented through developing gender balance via quotas for women in the country’s representative bodies, as well as strengthening the citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and new opportunities for political parties.
Progress is generally reflected in Kazakhstan’s consistent movement along the path of political modernisation and expansion of democratic practices in the country’s life.
The adopted package of political reforms clearly demonstrates that through implementing the concept of a “listening state”, President Tokayev addresses the needs of his people, just as he promised. This means that at its new historic period, Kazakhstan continues strengthening democracy – the path that was initially deliberately chosen by the people of Kazakhstan almost three decades ago.