The death of veteran U.S. Senator John McCain last weekend led to heart-felt tributes from both sides of the American political divide and from across the world. They touched on his bravery and sacrifice as well as his long political record.
But in their remarks on their one-time political adversary, Bill and Hillary Clinton went further. They said Senator McCain had throughout his long life of service been guided by his strong belief that every American had a responsibility to make something of the freedoms granted by their constitution.
It was a reminder of the critical importance of a constitution to a country and its citizens. For, to be effective, a constitution must do far more than dryly elaborate the structure of government. At its best, it provides guidance to how both the nation and its people conduct themselves.
The U.S. constitution is now, of course, well over 200 years old. But no one would doubt its relevance to modern America. It is something debated loudly on an almost daily basis, the centre of political life.
But the importance of a constitution, as we have said before, is perhaps even greater to a young country like Kazakhstan than it is to those which have been shaped by many generations as independent nations. It helps identify shared values, provides a national purpose and road map for the future. It is the role which is celebrated this week.
Looking back over the years since our constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum on Aug. 30, 1995, it is very clear how important it has been to our progress as a country. It has provided both the principles and mechanics which have enabled Kazakhstan to rise to every challenge it has faced.
The strong emphasis, for example, placed on individual rights and equality before the law has helped forge a tolerant harmonious society which has won international respect.
But all these achievements could have been put in jeopardy if a constitution prevents a country from meeting changing circumstances, challenges and ambitions. For thanks to the efforts of its people, Kazakhstan is now at a very different stage of development.
Twenty-three years ago, the main challenges were how to pull Kazakhstan out of the chaos, which was the collapse of the old Soviet Union. It was escaping poverty not building prosperity which was the central task for the country.
There is, of course, more to be done to ensure that everyone shares in the country’s progress. But the national goal now is to join the ranks of the most developed and prosperous nations by the middle of this century.
As we said in these pages on its 20th anniversary, the danger is that a constitution acts as a straitjacket, limiting the right response to changing conditions. Kazakhstan has not fallen into this trap as the 2017 constitutional reforms have underlined. Decision-making has been devolved and decentralised, oversight and accountability improved and the separation of powers strengthened so that the country is ready for the next stage of its development.
While Kazakhstan is to continue with a presidential-style system, significant responsibilities have now been transferred to the government and parliament. In future, the President will take a more strategic role while the Prime Minister and Cabinet have been made more accountable to Parliament.
At the same time, the role of the Constitutional Council has been strengthened and the judicial system modernised. The aim is to meet the highest international standards and strengthen protection of rights of the individual.
These significant democratic and institutional reforms are aimed at ensuring the constitution is an important platform for Kazakhstan’s success in the next two decades as it has been in our first two as a modern independent country. It is a role and ambition which is worth celebrating this week.