Devolution of Presidential Powers Signals Next Step in Kazakhstan’s Development

From the very beginning of Kazakhstan’s journey as an independent nation, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has said that prosperity and social stability had to be the initial priorities but that no one should doubt, as these goals were achieved, the country’s commitment to democratic reform. By this measure, the proposals announced this week to hand over a whole raft of presidential powers to the Kazakh Parliament and the Government was a clear sign of Kazakhstan’s growing maturity.

It is a notable move and one which, of course, shifts Kazakhstan in the direction of more balanced balance of power, if you will, between the branches. It is clear President Nazarbayev believes this is the right approach for our country as it embarks on the next stage of its development.

So his nationally televised address Jan. 25 announced a package of proposals for consultation which would see a decisive redistribution of powers from the head of state to parliament and the executive. Parliament, for example, would have greater responsibility for appointing or dismissing the Prime Minister and Government and have the right to pass a vote of no confidence. It will also be the new Mazhilis (the lower house of Parliament), not the newly elected President, in front of whom the Government will have to resign to allow for the new composition of lawmakers to approve the new Prime Minister and his or her ministers.

In turn, government ministers are to be handed control of large areas of economic and social policy where decisions up to now have been taken by the President. If the plans are approved, around 40 functions will be transferred out of the President’s office through regular laws, while several more important changes will require amendments to the Constitution. The manner in which the latter may be introduced is to be determined at a later stage, after the month-long public discussion is over.

This switch will allow the President in the future to focus on the critical challenges of foreign affairs, security and defence. The blueprint also suggests that it would be the President’s role, if needed, to intervene in a case of deadlock between the various branches of government. Such paralysis, as we have seen in other countries, can be very damaging to the national interest.

The reforms will, as the President said, strengthen both parliament and the government and provide a new measure of accountability. They are, by any reckoning, significant reforms which will require changes to the Constitution. It is right that they are put out forthe widest possible consultation.

The aim of those proposed reforms is a more effective, stable and sustainable government system equipped for an increasingly complex and challenging world. It is significant, too, that the President, gives away powers and responsibility voluntarily.

More importantly, it is a vote of confidence in Kazakhstan as it enters its second generation as an independent country. President Nazarbayev made it clear in his address that a more centralised, vertical structure of government had been right for Kazakhstan in its early years. We were, after all, a country without much by way of democratic traditions or institutions in recent history and which, we have to keep remembering, few thought would make its own way successfully in the world.

There is no room for complacency. Even the briefest look at global news underlines how uncertain the future is. But our economic record, social stability and international standing – confirmed again in our role in the recent talks over Syria – show how effectively these initial challenges have been overcome.

These reforms, however, underline how ambitious Kazakhstan remains for the future. There is a determination to build on all that has been achieved and ensure opportunity and prosperity continue to spread across the country. By decentralising power, sharing responsibility and making accountability more transparent, the aim is to deliver better, more responsive decision-making, stronger institutions and accelerate democratic reform, just as was promised. Kazakhstan is poised to take another decisive step in its development.