NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Council began its consideration of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s proposal to amend the country’s Constitution to implement the reforms voiced in his recent state of the nation address, the Council announced on Monday on their official website. The council is expected to convene a meeting soon to discuss the suggested amendments.
On April 22, President Tokayev, who stepped down as the Amanat party’s chair on Tuesday, submitted the draft bill to the Council, the move required by the law. “I am sure that the amendments to the Constitution will open a new chapter in the history of independent Kazakhstan. This is an important milestone in building the New Kazakhstan,” said Tokayev addressing the April 22 meeting on the amendments in Akorda presidential residence.
The draft bill, which was developed with representatives of NGOs and lawyers, includes 35 amendments.
Some of the major ones are the abolishment of the death penalty, a ban on political party membership for the chairs and members of the Central Election Commission, the Accounts Committee and the Constitutional Council, governors and their deputies as well a ban on a political party affiliation for the President for the period of his or her term in the office and on positions at government and quasi-public sector for close relatives of the President.
The amendments also envisage transitioning the Mazhilis, a lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament, to a mixed proportional-majoritarian model, where 70 percent of deputies will be elected by a proportional model, and 30 percent by a majoritarian rule.
“The draft law envisages further improvement of the forms of super-presidential governance that currently exist in the country. To this end, the head of state transfers some of his powers to other bodies or executes them by agreement with them. This is a continuation of the decentralization process that has been taking place in the country in recent years,” said Bakhyt Nurmukhanov, a member of a working group and head of the Constitutional Council Staff.
The presidential powers will also be limited in affecting the composition of the Parliament. The President’s quota in the Senate will be reduced from 15 to 10 and five of them will represent the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, which previously elected nine representatives to the Mazhilis. This, according to Tokayev, was not right because the lower house of parliament should “reflect the whole electoral landscape of the country without giving any artificial preferences to anyone.”
One of the major amendments will also be reestablishing the Constitutional Court, which has existed in Kazakhstan until 1995. Unlike the council, citizens will now be able to appeal directly to the court.
Nurmakhanov noted that such practice becomes increasingly commonplace in countries around the world, including in neighboring countries.
“Until now, citizens could appeal to the Constitutional Council only through courts and the courts could submit this appeal (to the council) only in the process of a particular case. The judge decided the fate of every such appeal but this order was not effective. Now citizens can appeal directly to the Constitutional Court,” he said.
According to the draft bill, the Constitutional Court will consist of 11 judges, including the chair, whose powers will last for six years and who may not be appointed as a judge of the Constitutional Court more than two times in a row.
The chairperson will be appointed by the President and his or her candidacy will require approval from the Senate. The President will also have powers to appoint four judges, while the Senate and the Mahilis will appoint three judges each.
If adopted, the constitutional amendments will serve as a solid legal basis for a structural change in the country and a transition to a new political model – envisioned in the idea of the Second Republic voiced by President Tokayev.
These changes are expected to make the state and the government more transparent and accountable.
“Overall, the implementation of these ideas will allow to effectively develop the legal system in accordance with the Constitution, strengthen the guarantees of constitutional rights of citizens and the rule of law in the country, increase the trust of the population in state institutions,” said Nurmakhanov.
According to Doctor of Law Indira Aubakirova, who is also a working group member, by initiating these amendments, Tokayev chose to strengthen his role as the guarantor of the Constitution.
“This in itself is remarkable, in fact, we can call this process self-limitation. In the conditions of the Second Republic, the transition from the super-presidential system of power to the strong Parliament, in general, to the strong representative bodies is a restriction of the president’s role in a number of those areas, which were previously in the competence of the highest state official,” she told the press briefing.
She said the members of the Parliament have a lot to do to fulfill the ideas put forward by President Tokayev and the needs of the people must be central to these efforts.