Since taking office in 2019, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has implemented significant socioeconomic reforms. With his vast experience as a diplomat and political leader, as well as his foresight, he has outlined a plan for the equitable growth and development of all segments of Kazakh society. However, wide-scale changes take time to implement, so this was not an easy task to carry out in a short period. Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2022, large-scale protests erupted in the western part of the country, spreading to other major cities such as Almaty.
According to Kazakh authorities, these began as peaceful protests but were later hijacked by anti-state elements seeking to destabilise the current regime. These protests have caused significant damage to public property, law enforcement officers, and innocent Kazakhs. The damage done to government offices and agencies at the time is still being repaired.
However, in the aftermath of these protests, Kazakhstan underwent extensive constitutional, political, and socioeconomic reforms under President Tokayev’s leadership. During my recent visit to the country and interactions with government officials, it was also encouraging to learn that these reforms are being implemented quickly. As new changes have been made for greater transparency and democratisation at the local level, the upcoming parliamentary and local administration elections serve as an example of how speedily reforms can be implemented.
On September 1, 2022, while outlining the priorities for socio-economic development in his state of the nation address, Kazakhstan’s President also proposed holding early elections to the Mazhilis (lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament) and Maslikhats (local administrative bodies) at all levels in the first half of next year. And, as promised, he announced the election dates to be held on March 19 this year. These elections are groundbreaking because they will take place following the implementation of new policies in the country’s political settings.
According to President Tokayev’s statement, the constitutional reforms that the Kazakh people supported in a national referendum held in June 2022 compelled early elections for the Mazhilis and Maslikhats. The referendum’s final result proved that Kazakhstan is transitioning to new, more equitable, and competitive rules for institutionalising the representative branches of government.
Kazakhstan’s constitutional reforms from the previous year have made it much simpler to register political parties. A political party can now be formed with 5000 members instead of the 40000 members required previously. Additionally, the minimum requirement for regional party representations was lowered from 600 to 200 individuals. As a result, several new political parties have registered before the upcoming election.
There are currently seven registered parties in Kazakhstan, including the People’s Party of Kazakhstan, the Amanat Party, the National Social Democratic Party, the Ak Zhol Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, the Auyl People’s Democratic Patriotic Party, the Respublica Party, and the Baitak Party. As was previously mentioned, elections were announced in September of last year, making this the first time in the nation’s history that they were announced so in order to give political parties ample time to prepare.
Additionally, the Mazhilis elections will be the first to use a mixed proportional-majoritarian model, in which 70% of deputies will be chosen proportionally from party lists and 30% will be chosen by majoritarian rule from single-member districts. A mixed electoral system will also be used to elect the maslikhats of districts and cities with significant national importance. The priority is also given to the Youth and women to participate in politics. Also, the local elections will again use the “Against All Column” ballot first used in the November 2022 presidential election.
The abovementioned characteristics of the upcoming elections will validate the country’s ongoing changes in its political and constitutional framework. They will also revitalise the country’s local politics. It will also boost public trust in Kazakhstan’s democratic process.