Kazakhstan’s first female presidential candidate sees mass entrepreneurship as vehicle to improve lives

NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan’s first female presidential candidate is a position that comes with great responsibility and important obligations, said Ak Zhol Democratic Party candidate Daniya Yespayeva May 4 upon being registered as a presidential candidate by the Kazakh Central Election Commission (CEC).

Daniya Yespayeva. Photo credit: parlam.kz.

Born in Zhaisan village of the Aktobe Region, 58-year-old Yespayeva is a member of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) Committee on Finance and Budget, the region’s Atameken Union Board and Coordination Council. She graduated from the Almaty Accounting and Credit Technical School in 1982 and the Kazakh State Academy of Management in Almaty in 1993 and worked in the banking sector for more than 30 years.

In a 2018 interview on the YouTube channel 200, Yespayeva clarified her reasons for entering the Ak Zhol Democratic Party.

“Having worked in the banking sector, I frequently interacted with businesses and came to recognise the barriers to the development of small and medium-sized businesses in our country,” she explained. “The Ak Zhol Democratic Party is a party that represents the interests of small and medium-sized businesses.”

Founded in 2002, the Ak Zhol Democratic Party is a liberal political party with approximately 255,800 party members that has run on a pro-reform, pro-business platform in the country’s previous presidential elections. Nominated as the party’s nominee April 24, Yespayeva received 49.5 percent of the party’s 190 voters in a secret ballot, collected 139,541 signatures in the country’s 17 regions to meet the CEC requirements for presidential candidacy and is the first woman in Kazakh history to run for president.

“That women have never led the way (in politics) and should know their place – these words really stung. I thought to myself, why shouldn’t a woman, who is not involved in a single corruption case, participate (in the election)? Today, corrupt officials behind bars are predominantly men. In fact, public order is there, where there is a female (leader),” said Yespayeva at the April 24 Ak Zhol Democratic Party Congress.

Latvian Member of the European Parliament Iveta Grigule-Pēterse remarked on the importance of Yespayeva’s trailblasing nomination for women in Kazakhstan in a congratulatory letter available on the Ak Zhol Democratic Party’s official website.

“The deputies of the European Parliament, including myself, watched your nomination at the party congress with interest. The victory of a woman in the debates and secret ballot can serve as an example of the introduction of European traditions into the political practices of your country,” she wrote to Yespayeva.

Yespayeva’s campaign platform centres on developing “a market economy, democracy and social justice” in Kazakhstan. Firstly, she views mass entrepreneurship and fair competition as the main conditions for citizens’ improved well-being. To transform the country’s economic challenges into opportunities, she proposes to reduce the loan rates of the Kazakh National Bank and second-tier banks, stop periodic currency devaluations, develop non-bank financial instruments and institutions such as the Astana International Financial Centre, simplify tax administration and reporting, deter officials from obstructing business activity, reduce the value-added tax (VAT) rate for priority sectors or replace the VAT rate with a sales tax, prioritise local businesses, introduce parliamentary monitoring over national companies’ activities to ensure efficient public fund use, digitise interaction on customs and tax procedures among businesses and government agencies and establish greater transparency in the public procurement system.

“As a presidential candidate, I want to recognise that there are currently many unresolved issues in society, particularly social ones. Indeed, we aim to support business in our campaign platform, but I now propose to also address the problems of the working class and solve the problems faced by mothers,” the candidate noted at the April 24 party congress.

“Independence, territorial integrity and national identity are Kazakhstan’s most important values, along with people’s rights and freedoms,” her platform also states. She thus advocates for respecting Kazakhstan’s history, culture, state language and the languages and cultures of all ethnic groups, decolonising the public consciousness through renaming objects, streets and settlements, upholding the passing of an exam on knowledge of the Kazakh Constitution, history and state language as a requirement for granting Kazakh citizenship, supporting Kazakhstan’s traditional religions and protecting society’s spiritual sphere from foreign influence.

Lastly, Yespayeva hopes to address corruption and low public trust in the criminal justice system by protecting citizens from extortion and businesses from encroachment by officials, enforcing managers’ responsibility for their subordinates’ corruption offenses, ensuring a fair and public review of citizens’ disputes with authorities, placing legislative restrictions on corrupt officials’ freedom of movement and property management, securing courts’ independence and judges’ social protection and personal safety, establishing online broadcasting of open court sessions, exempting extortion victims from liability in reporting corruption, returning money embezzled by officials from offshore and foreign banks and keeping authorities accountable to the public through press freedom.

Since mid-May, Yespayeva and Ak Zhol Democratic Party representatives have visited the Akmola Region, Aktau, Almaty, Karaganda, the Kostanai Region, Oral and Taldykorgan to spread the key points in her campaign platform. Having collected 112 million tenge (US$295,433.60) in voluntary donations from Kazakh citizens and legal entities, the Ak Zhol Democratic Party spent 109 million tenge (US$287,520.20) by May 17 on the production and distribution of campaign materials, transportation costs and the rental of premises for meetings with voters, reports the CEC.

“These kinds of meetings (with voters) are very important,” said Yespayeva at a May 17 visit to the Kostanai Region. “Today, 43 percent of Kazakhstan’s population resides in rural areas. It is very important for me to convey to the villagers my position on agricultural development as a candidate. Firstly, rural labour must be highly remunerated, farm workers must receive no less than those who work in businesses in the urban area. This is how we can raise living standards, engage young people who are currently leaving their homes to earn money elsewhere.”

“It is during these business trips that we gather a portfolio of points that our candidate and parliamentary party will pay attention to,” added Ak Zhol Democratic Party Head Azat Peruashev during a May 21 visit to Karaganda.

Voters will decide whether Kazakhstan’s first female presidential candidate will become its first female president June 9.

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