Power to the People

Congratulations to all those involved in Kazakhstan’s recent municipal elections held across 730 akims and involving nearly 2,300 candidates. The elections covered 13 percent of eligible voters from fourteen regions of the country, and the 67.5 percent turnout indicates the willingness of the people to make their local officials accountable to the people, not the local governor. And there are another 45 districts that will go through the same process by the end of the year.

This is part of a wider slate of political reforms introduced by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, alongside less onerous requirements for forming political parties, a lowered threshold for minority parties to secure seats in the national parliament (from 7 percent to 5 percent), and minimum thresholds for women and young people on electoral lists. The results – the average age of candidates was 45, with the youngest being a youthful 25, and 25 percent of akims being won by women. More work to do, but an excellent start.

And with such wonderful irony, the European Union (EU) has applauded the elections and pushed for a faster transition to a ‘fully democratic’ state, just as it did for Kyrgyzstan (which has worked so well). How the EU can speak about the need for enhanced democracy is a mystery. The EU Commission is the guardian of EU treaties and creates and enforces EU law. This august body comprises 28 unelected commissioners and a president personally elected by the European Parliament from a list of, err, one candidate; not exactly democratic. Makes me think of the European proverb “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”.

I relish the day when the European newspapers speak of democratic reforms in the EU, and it is Kazakhstan that comments about how the changes need to be accelerated!

Rather than criticise, all nations should support reforms that empower citizens, whilst maintaining stability and security. As we see the Taliban take back huge swathes of land in Afghanistan after the forces for democracy withdrew, political systems need to evolve organically, with the support of the people, not as a result of imposed foreign ideology.

There is no doubt that the past 30 years have seen more reforms in Kazakhstan than in any other CIS state, including the creation of an international financial centre to rival any in the world. And those reforms continue at pace, with an ever-greater focus on the empowerment of citizens generally, and the empowerment of women specifically. These must be encouraged, nurtured and promoted.

The expected changes in government later this year (or possibly early next year) will further recognize those ministers that have helped to advance Kazakhstan towards its strategic ambition to be one of the world’s top 30 developed countries by 2050. Equally importantly, they will sideline or remove those ministers who have failed to rise to the challenge. It is the role of each minister, and ministry, to serve the people, not the other way around, and as we see greater accountability at a local level, so I expect the President will be holding each minister to account. Have they improved the lives of each Kazakh citizen? Have they protected the country from COVID-19? Have they developed the economy? Have they enhanced connectivity across the nation? Have they helped the country move closer to achieving the First President’s 100 Concrete Steps? Have they enhanced the international reputation of Kazakhstan?

For those that have been instrumental in the enhancement of Kazakhstan’s position domestically and internationally, can we expect them to have broader portfolios? Is there benefit in linking the key elements of government responsible for driving change forward, such as the presidential administration, the Agency for Strategic Planning and Reforms and the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC)? Many would say there is – let’s wait and see.

The author is Mark Beer, a writer, academic and lawyer. He is the co-founder of Seven Pillars Law in the AIFC, Chairman of the Metis Institute, a visiting fellow at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Shanghai University for Political Science and Law.

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