For those hoping for political drama, Kazakhstan’s March 21 parliamentary elections were a major disappointment. The new parliament, when it meets again, will be similar in make-up to the one it replaced. Three parties will once again be represented with the Nur Otan party in the majority.
But this continuity does not mean the election was irrelevant. Kazakhstan is at crucial point in its development. Serious questions are being asked as it is buffeted by global economic storms as to whether the dramatic progress of the last two decades can be sustained.
These forces have already had a significant impact, as they have had on many other countries, on government revenues and growth prospects. They have led to stark warnings from within and outside the country and from friends and critics alike that Kazakhstan has to adjust quickly to this new reality.
It was these challenges and the steps already set out to ensure Kazakhstan comes through these difficult times unscathed, which formed the clear backdrop to this election campaign. As The Astana Times has said, no attempt was made to hide the difficulties ahead from the public, ensuring that the country understood what was at stake. This may have contributed to a turnout of more than 77 percent, a record for parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan.
Against this backdrop, the election result can be seen as a vote of confidence in the leadership, the direction of the country and the policy responses agreed to chart Kazakhstan through this difficult environment. It was recognition that the country has no choice but to continue on its modernisation path.
The new parliament has a heavy responsibility. Its task is now to work with the government to enact legislative reforms to deliver the ambitious economic and social programmes which have been set out. It is a comprehensive package that aims to spur the economy and protect the vulnerable in the short-term while providing the platform Kazakhstan needs to prosper.
These foundations include a diversified economy, first-class infrastructure, an entrepreneurial culture, highly skilled workforce and a modern, responsive civil service that works effectively to serve the public. They also require robust, effective political institutions and a healthy and democratic political process.
This is another reason why the election should not be dismissed. As Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov said over the weekend, Kazakhstan’s political system after just 25 years as a modern, independent country is still not fully developed. There is more to do, but March 20, 2016 was another step in the right direction.
This is also the view of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring team in their assessment delivered the day after the elections. Although they identified major areas for improvement, they also noted progress since the last parliamentary election four years ago.
They welcomed the open way that international observers were invited to watch the campaigns and voting. The elections were also praised as was the inclusive nature of candidate registration and the work of the Central Election Commission. On election day itself, the monitors who were invited to watch voting at polling stations across the country said citizens made their choice in a calm and free manner.
But, particularly at the local level, shortcomings and irregularities were identified. While the OSCE recognised that six parties contested the elections, they believe more must be done between electoral campaigns to ensure political plurality, including strengthening media freedoms and ensuring civil and political rights are guaranteed. These concerns, as the OSCE hoped, will be taken into account when Kazakhstan’s electoral law undergoes major revisions next year.
Overseeing these reforms will be just one of the major tasks in front of the new parliament. On the economic, social and political front, the decisions taken over the next few months will have a profound impact on Kazakhstan’s future and the lives of our citizens. We wish the new parliament members well in their work.