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12/22/08

Special Issue No 24


KAZAKHSTAN INTRODUCES MAJOR POLITICAL REFORM TO MEET OSCE COMMITMENTS

Category: General
Posted by: admin


Special Issue No 24, December 22, 2008

KAZAKHSTAN INTRODUCES MAJOR POLITICAL REFORM TO MEET OSCE COMMITMENTS

The year 2008 marked an important shift in Kazakhstan’s focus on further political reform. This followed a major constitutional reform of May, 2007 when Kazakhstan announced a gradual move from a strong presidential form of rule towards a presidential-parliamentary system with more powers going to the elected national legislature. Another important element of May, 2007 reform was the introduction of the basics of the parliamentary majority system whereby it was announced that parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan would now be carried out on political parties based versus single constituencies based system. Kazakh authorities were of course aware that a full-fledged parliamentary majority system was a long way to go but it was important to make the first step.

However, the first parliamentary election of August, 2007 based on the newly introduced system turned out to be rather a mixed success. Although the OSCE observer mission saw the election as a “welcome progress”, still there have been many shortcomings. The major drawback for the authorities and everyone else was that the public elected a one-party parliament whereas seven parties have taken part in the race.

Another encouragement for further political reform in Kazakhstan was that it came under the focus of international observers, namely Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as Kazakhstan announced its bid for the OSCE Chairmanship.

By the prevailing mood among OSCE membership, the job required robust democratic performance by the candidate and while endorsing Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship for 2010 in Madrid in December, 2007 the OSCE member states expected a meaningful democratic progress to evolve in Kazakhstan right from the start of 2008. Further perfection of the election legislation and process, genuine support for political parties’ growth, meaningful improvements in the media sector and local governance etc. have been identified as the most important areas of further reform.

The OSCE Ministerial meeting in Helsinki on December 4-5, 2008 was regarded by many as an appropriate opportunity to review Kazakhstan’s progress in its ascent to the Chairmanship.

Although it was broadly recognized in Helsinki that Kazakhstan “was moving in the right direction” there were many arguments of criticism, particularly on the part of international human rights NGOs and some Kazakh opposition groups claiming that Kazakhstan did not live up to the promise.

By tradition, their widely publicized reports have been picked up by international observers and media. So, for purposes of  balance and a genuine, informed debate the Embassy offers its own account of events.
 
 
Kazakhstan’ Political Reform
(Improving Legislation on Elections, Political Parties,
Media and Local Governance)

•    Kazakhstan’s economic reforms in the 1990’s had proven to be a success when the country’s GDP had started to grow by 9 % on average annually beginning from 2000. Drastic improvements in the economy had positive effect on the well-being of the population which in its turn became politically more active, contributing to the evolution of the political process in Kazakhstan. The nation’s political life, therefore, has become more vibrant in recent years. Throughout these years several elections have been held in Kazakhstan. The elections and the intensified development of the society have made it certain that further adjustments need to be made to the relevant legislation in order to reflect the evolving democratic process in the country.

•    To meet these challenges the civil society and the Government have endeavored to introduce necessary amendments to the legislation on elections, political parties, media and local governance. The preparatory work began in 2007, and in December of that year Foreign Minister Tazhin presented Kazakhstan’s views on the process during the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Madrid.

•    Early in 2008 the first draft of amendments was presented to the public for debate. Throughout the year various NGOs, political parties, institutions of the OSCE, representatives of the foreign governments have contributed to the process of discussing the amendments. Many of their proposals have been incorporated in the final draft package. The OSCE institutions (such as ODIHR and Office of the Representative on the Freedom of the Media) were very active and most helpful in this process. Their expertise and input have been appreciated and are reflected in the final version of the amendments.

•    On November 11, 2008 the package was finalized and sent to the Parliament for consideration.

•    The new legislation on elections will further perfect the electoral process in Kazakhstan. It now guarantees representation of at least two parties in the Parliament even if one of them does not win enough votes, i.e. come over a 7% threshold. The amendments will make it mandatory for the media to equally cover the candidates and parties, including the period of nomination and registration. According to the new legislation, foreign observers, who usually come in thousands to observe elections in Kazakhstan, are not required to have any relevant experience to monitor electoral process. The process of issuing absentee ballots will be more strictly regulated by the Central Election Commission. Local election commissions will have greater authority in organizing the electoral process, such as determining their schedules to make them more convenient for the voters. In total, 18 articles of the Law on Elections will be amended.

•    The amendments to the law on political parties will significantly reduce the number of requirements for registering a political party. The required membership size for a party, for example, is substantially lower in the proposed amendments. (Now, for example, a party needs to have only 600 members in each of the country’s regions and 40,000 members nationwide to be registered as a national political party). In the new text of the law even a party which submits erroneous lists of its members cannot be denied registration on these grounds. The amendments also incorporate the ODIHR recommendations on regulating the legal and technical process of establishing a political party. Other important issues such as reorganization of a party (merger, incorporation, split-up or split-off) are also more thoroughly covered by the new legislation.

•    The media advocacy groups in Kazakhstan, various NGOs, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Government have jointly elaborated a number of significant amendments to the legislation on media. The new legislation addresses the concerns that have been recently voiced by the media community. The legislation will, for example, do away with the registration of electronic media, including internet-sites. Media representatives will also be able not to ask for permission to use recording equipment when conducting interviews. Many other hotly debated issues are also addressed by the new amendments. Among them is the right of a citizen to demand retraction of the published defamation or slander if a person who published this information cannot support the allegations with facts. The new version of the legislation denies this right to citizens, thus upholding the adversarial principle in the court’s deliberations.

•    The amendments to the legislation on local self-governance will affect a host of various laws, including the Law on Administrative and Territorial Division of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The amendments will codify local self-governance in the regions (oblast), districts, cities, districts within the cities, towns and villages. It will now be fixed in the law that the localities can self-govern directly or through maslikhates (local elected legislatures), which will gain more power vis-à-vis local state administrations, including greater power over finances. When enacted, the legislation will lower the needed majority (to 51%) for maslikhates to vote a head of a local executive out of office.

***
One News Bulletin, of course, cannot take all of the details and amendments of the debated laws. But we hope that the above brief overview gives the feeling of the spirit and accountability of the discussion and of the genuine desire of the authorities to engage with all political and civic actors in Kazakhstan’s society in shaping out important decisions for the nation.

It is impossible to please everyone and there will always be critics. And this is perfectly well as that is the essence of a true pluralistic debate adorned by mutual respect and tolerance.

Kazakhstan is a very young but dynamically developing nation with a vibrant society. In just 17 years of independence the country has achieved remarkable success in creating a viable market economy and building a truly free and open society. Kazakhstan has re-established its statehood after two and a half centuries of colonialism and now is a respected and responsible member of the international community. There are still many challenges, however, that the country continues to face. Among them are national security threats (external and internal) which have a potential of undermining nascent institutions of the state and society.

Kazakhstan is firm in its aspiration to build a strong democracy and the new amendments are a good step forward. The stronger and more secure Kazakhstan becomes as a state and as a society, the more reforms and changes will find a good footing for the future.



News Bulletin of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Contact person: Zhanbolat Ussenov
Tel.: 202-232-5488 ext 104; Fax: 202-232-5845
E-mail:zhan@kazakhembus.com
 Web-site: www.kazakhembus.com