Elections in Kazakhstan: Navigating the Challenges of Change

Early elections for the Majilis (the lower house of parliament) and the Maslikhats (the local legislative body) were conducted in Kazakhstan on March 19, 2023, as part of a national reform program that began after the country overcame its internal political crisis in January 2022. A new voting system was instituted, with 30% of the seats going to candidates elected in uninominal constituencies. Some candidates also ran as independents and 70% of the seats went to parties under the proportional system. Voting against everyone was also an option, like during presidential elections. The president’s party, “Amanat,” which is the successor to the former president’s “Nur Otan” party, received most of the votes cast (53.9%). The party positioned itself as a defender of social peace among all races and religions and has always been in power as a firm authoritarian party.

8.4% of the vote went to the “Akh Zhol” party, which was “Nur Otan”’s marginal rival along with the Communist Party for many years. The “Auyl National Democratic Patriotic Party” received 10.9% of the vote. It represents  agrarian interests, which are significant in Kazakhstan, particularly for developing a substitute for oil extraction and heavy industry. 6.8% of the vote went to the “People’s Party of Kazakhstan,” a clear representative of Soviet society that went by the name of the Communist Party up until 2004. With only 2.3% of the vote, the “Baitak” party, a group that wants to establish its connection to the European Greens, didn’t become a member of parliament, as the “against all” non-party, which received 3.9% of the vote. These results point to significant political change, beginning with the consistently smaller size of the ruling party. It is essential to wait and see how things pan out, but the lack of political involvement raises the possibility that economic and regional interests may significantly impact the country’s future.

In January 2022, nation-wide demonstrations against rising fuel prices broke out in Kazakhstan, compelling President Kassim-Jomart Toqayev to proclaim a state of emergency and to ask the Collective Security Treaty Organisation for assistance. The government and security forces were able to calm the situation and stop the protests after several days of unrest and anxiety. To maintain stability and advance internal modernisation and democratisation, Kazakhstan has embraced a reform process that has endured since January 2022. President Tokayev has frequently endorsed this programme  intended to usher in a new stage of domestic political growth that would serve as the cornerstone for the “New and Fair Kazakhstan” that Zhanna Shayakhmetova depicted in an article published in November 2022 in The Astana Times, namely “Incumbent President Tokayev Declares Principle of Fairness in All Sectors as Part of His Election Program.

Tokayev put forth constitutional amendments in March 2022 that would have reduced the president’s authority, enhanced parliamentary powers, increased the engagement of the populace in political affairs, and strengthened the protection of human rights overall. On June 5, 2022, a national referendum to modify Kazakhstan’s constitution was held, and 77% of Kazakh voters supported it. This decision gave Kazakhstan’s legislative system a fresh look and backed the creation of a Constitutional Court designed to uphold the Constitution and rein in the president’s authority. The revisions decentralised Kazakhstan’s political structures by giving the parliament greater control and ensuring the government had a louder voice in decision-making. The national reforms also eliminated barriers to political party formation. The registration minimum has been dropped from 20,000 to 5,000, a fourfold rise, and at the regional level, from 600 to 200 people. The re-election of Tokayev as president was an important step in legitimising Kazakhstan’s leadership and reform initiative. It demonstrates his ability to govern and to garner public support for his plan for a new Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s political landscape was greatly influenced by its former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who presided over the nation for nearly three decades. Kazakhstan had tremendous economic growth and a decline in poverty rates while he was in power. Yet, due to claims of electoral fraud and  repression of opposition groups, he was frequently condemned for being autocratic. 2019 saw Nazarbayev step down as president: since then, Tokayev has made some progress toward democratisation, including boosting the parliament’s authority and loosening limitations on the media.

Along with promises to hold free and fair elections, he has also started a program to fight corruption. There are now Kazakhstani civil society organisations and a rising demand for more political openness. Nowadays, the younger generation is demanding democratic reforms and higher levels of leadership responsibility. The creation of a more inclusive and democratic political system that reflects the aspirations of all its citizens must be a top priority for the nation’s leaders. Kazakhstan is now a significant player in Central Asia’s geopolitical landscape. Foreign businessmen, along with regional and international forces have expressed much interest in this country because of its location and natural resources.

Kazakhstan has the biggest economy in Central Asia due to its natural resources, which include an abundance of minerals, hydrocarbons, and rare earth metals. Kazakhstan has also drawn global investment and is essential to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union of Moscow– projects that may turn Kazakhstan into a trade hub between Europe and Asia. Kazakhstan requires security to provide a stable market where foreign investors may operate without running the danger of geopolitical hazards like a rapid change in government. Though Kazakhstan’s future remains uncertain, there is hope that the nation will continue to advance toward greater political openness and democracy.














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