President Tokayev Announces Major Political Reforms in Address to the Nation

NUR-SULTAN – President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s address to the nation, which was delivered on March 15, outlines a program for the large-scale transformation of the country and shows the way forward towards building a New Kazakhstan.

Photo credit: Akorda.

“The significance of today’s address is special. Its scope of work is not limited to one year. It is broad in scope and content. Our goals are high. Together with you we began creating a New Kazakhstan,” the President said.

In the beginning of his speech, Tokayev spoke about the tragic events that took place in early January 2022. Nearly 2,000 suspects have been detained and the investigation is still underway.

Political Agenda of the President’s Address 

In his remarks, the President noted that people understood the importance of peace and stability, and that it was necessary to keep this unwavering unity. He called on people “to work together to build a new Kazakhstan.”

Tokayev reiterated that political reforms have been a priority. The course towards political liberalization was set forth in Tokayev’s election program in 2019. The President has promoted political transformation through specific initiatives during his state-of-the-nation addresses in 2019, 2020 and 2021. 

“Four political reform packages have been implemented for further democratization. This led to positive changes in the society as more than ten laws have been adopted in the political sector only. For example, the new democratic law on peaceful assemblies. It allows activists, including opposition-minded public figures, to hold rallies and express their opinions there,” he said.

Before announcing the political reform program, Tokayev noted that these reforms are set to meet the demands for radical changes.

The program is also based on the recommendations provided by the deputies of the Parliament, the Constitutional Council, the Central Election Commission, the Supreme Court, the expert community and the members of the National Council of Public Trust. The proposals made by representatives of political parties, civil activists and non-governmental organizations have also been considered.

“The program will contribute to a consistent democratization, and ensure the stability of the state,” said Tokayev.

The program for political reform sets limits to Presidential power, introduces a mixed proportional-majoritarian electoral system and changes in the formation and functions of the Parliament, strengthens the role of maslikhats (local representative bodies), increases the role of civil society institutions and the media and protects human rights.

Reforms in the judicial and law enforcement systems are also a priority.

The President announced plans to alter the distribution of power and make a shift from the office of the Presidency to a strong Parliament through enhancing the power and responsibilities of the legislative body of the government.

The President’s current right to cancel or suspend the legal acts issued by regional akims (governors or mayors) can also be abolished, he argues. The reforms to increase the role of the Parliament should start with the review of the formation and functions of the Senate (upper house of Parliament) and the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament).

“The key goal of the country’s political modernization is to increase the role of people in the state governance through electoral processes,” he said.

The Mazhilis electoral system will be transformed into a mixed proportional-majoritarian model, where 70 percent of deputies will be elected by a proportional model through lists of candidates from political parties, and 30 percent by a majoritarian rule, where independents may run. This will open the doors for the participation of candidates that are not nominated by political parties.

Favorable conditions will be created for the institutional and organizational development of parties to ensure free political competition. The changes include the simplification of party registration procedures and electoral campaigns to overcome obstacles in conducting fair and transparent elections.

The President proposed to establish the Constitutional Court, whose council is responsible for the interpretation of legal norms. The Prosecutor General and the Commissioner for Human Rights might be given the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court, in addition to the President and the Parliament.

“These initiatives are an important step in building a just and legal state, strengthening the system of checks and balances, and protecting the constitutional rights of people,” he said.

The President emphasized protecting the rights of people was a matter of particular importance.

Kazakhstan ratified the Second Optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights aimed at the abolition of the death penalty in 2020. A number of initiatives were also implemented for long-term and comprehensive development in this area.

“I believe that in order to consolidate the decision to abolish the death penalty, it is necessary to make appropriate changes to the Constitution. It is important to introduce a systematic approach to the investigation of crimes related to torture. I propose to assign responsibilities for investigating cases of torture to the Prosecutor General’s Office,” said Tokayev.

The President also proposed to review the laws on the media with a mission to build an environment for more open, competitive and responsible media. 

Public organizations and activists should take part in the preparation and implementation of reforms to ensure open discussions of all national projects and strategic documents.

The President remains committed to the “strong regions – a strong country” principle. He proposed a reorganization of the regional structure of the country. The Abai region will be established with a center in Semei city. The Ulytau region will be established with the center in Zhezkazgan town. The Almaty region will be divided into two regions – the Almaty region with the center in Taldykorgan, and the Zhetisu region with the center in Kapshagai. 

Overall, more than 30 articles of the Constitution need to be amended to implement the President’s initiatives. In addition, more than 20 laws will be adopted by the end of the year.

“We should preserve our independence, strengthen the national identity, and focus on the transformation of the country. This is our duty to future generations… We should follow the main principle – different views, but a single nation in a new Kazakhstan,” he said.

State Secretary Erlan Karin believes that the address to the nation is the starting point for the building of a new Kazakhstan. “The initiatives represent a well-balanced program of reforms aimed at a transformation of the system of government institutions, an increase in civic participation and the formation of a new political culture in Kazakhstan,” Karin wrote on his Telegram.

This will lead to positive changes in the social sphere, increase political stability, contribute to the multipolar party system, promote civic activity in the decision-making process, strengthen human rights protection, and improve the administrative-territorial structure.

“The reform in the parliamentary system intends to strengthen the role of the Mazhilis and the influence of the legislative branch of power. The procedure for the formation of the Mazhilis and the Senate is important. A mixed electoral system of the Mazhilis will strengthen its institutional legitimacy. The Senate strengthens its role in promoting the interests of the regions, underrepresented social and ethnic groups,” he said.

All the initiatives will have an impact on the formation of a new political culture in the country, and strengthen trust between the authorities and people, said Karin.

Mazhilis deputy and candidate of Sociological Sciences Yuliya Kuchinskaya noted that every citizen should take part in building a new Kazakhstan.

“The implementation of these initiatives will contribute to further changes in our lives, changes in the current model of behavior, ways of interaction between government agencies. We should ensure that new conditions and formats of interaction develop, so that new principles work,” Kuchinskaya told the Kazinform news agency.

The financial independence of maslikhats from local executive bodies is also an important initiative that strengthens the role of representative bodies.

Some 47 deputies of the Senate, and 103 deputies of the Mazhilis, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, heads of state bodies, local executive bodies, regional governors, representatives of non-governmental organizations and the members of the National Council of Public Trust took part in the joint session of the chambers of the Parliament.

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