As the country heads into the parliamentary election on March 20, the expectation evident throughout the nation serves as a reminder of not only how far our country has come in the last 25 years, but how important the election will be as we take the first steps into the next 25.
Elections are vital processes that young democracies such as ours do not take lightly. The right of citizens to vote for the direction our country takes is rightly prized and celebrated. There are, of course, many obstacles to overcome before our country returns to the levels of growth and prosperity we experienced, but these elections are the essential first step towards that goal.
The electoral debate on March 16, where representatives of the six parties running for seats in Kazakhstan’s lower chamber of Parliament set out their visions for the nation, echoed the public debate this election has created. Differing views and beliefs are being discussed fairly and common ground established as we decide as a country on how we meet future challenges and opportunities.
No matter who they vote for, Kazakhs are united in their support for the delivery of elections that meet the standards of the international community. As Kazakhstan assumes a more integral role on the global stage, shown by the recent involvement in the P5+1 deal and our candidacy for the non-permanent seat on the United Nations (UN) Security Council, it is imperative that our political system reflects the values of transparency and fairness that we believe in.
Important to this are international observers, including but not limited to those from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Inviting international monitoring organisations to witness every aspect of the elections, and our openness to listening to and enacting the recommendations they may provide, illustrates our commitment to political progress in this area. Sceptical voices may have criticised previous elections, focusing on a perceived lack of political choice, yet they ignored the unity in our society around the positive direction our country has taken.
It is no secret that the last few years have been difficult for Kazakhstan and a new Parliament will not provide a magic solution. There are two clear advantages, however, that it will provide.
First, a new mandate from the people will allow the Parliament to set the priorities required to deliver the prosperous future our citizens deserve. Brave decisions and a clear strategy will be required to chart us through the tough times that lie ahead. A consensus on what the country will look like and a vision for our place in the world will provide the bedrock for all economic activity to build on.
Second, the fresh start will remove the distraction of electioneering, allowing our newly-elected deputies to concentrate on implementing the mandate entrusted to them by the citizens of the country.
The year 2016 is a landmark one in the history of our country. Although Sunday’s election is just one of many events that will shape our country’s future, an empowered legislature, backed by the will of the people, will be the first and surest step into the next stage of Kazakhstan’s future.