August 30 is a special day for every Kazakh citizen. The nation commemorates its Constitution Day, the supreme law approved by referendum on Aug. 30 in 1995.
The Constitution was drafted by experts and has passed through a broad public discussion. The country has reaffirmed itself as a democratic, secular, legal and social state and defines a person, his or her life, their rights, and their freedoms as the highest values of the state.
The introduction to the Constitution identifies Kazakhstan as “a peace-loving and civil society dedicated to the ideas of freedom, equality, and concord, wishing to take a worthy place in the world community.” This provides the country with a guide for development and prosperity, which the state enjoys today.
Being home to more than 120 nationalities, Kazakhstan proclaimed that every citizen – regardless of their creed – can feel valued and free while living in the country. This main idea of the Constitution serves as a guide to future success and is unbound by time or historic context.
This year saw a historic event: a nationwide referendum proposed by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev brought new amendments and additions to the Constitution. The last referendum in the country was in 1995 when the people voted for the current Constitution. Since then, four packages of amendments have been introduced to the Constitution, but all of them were made through a vote held in the Parliament.
The reform was made to transform the entire state model, and includes the final transition from a super-presidential form of government to a presidential one with an influential parliament and an accountable government, which entails limiting the powers of the President.
All these amendments serve to reflect modern challenges the country is facing today. As the President noted, a general vote by citizens on the draft constitutional amendments will “demonstrate our strong commitment to democratic principles and determine the future of Kazakhstan.”
If we go back in Kazakh history, we could see that reformative changes were welcomed in the 17th century by Khan Tauke (1680 – 1718), a ruler of the Kazakh Khanate (state). The Zhety Zhargy, the seven foundational provisions of the Kazakh legal system, were also developed to address the challenges of that period.
The constitutional reform is designed to strengthen the representative branch of power, strengthen the system of checks and balances, and increase the independence of the maslikhats (local representative bodies). A mixed majority-proportional model for the election of deputies to the Mazhilis and regional maslikhats will now be introduced. Part of the amendments focus on enhancing the protection of human rights, by establishing the Constitutional Court, consolidating the status of the Commissioner for Human Rights at the constitutional level, and fully banning the death penalty.
In addition to the high turnout of voters, the national referendum displayed an impressive level of political engagement among young people. This determination shows consolidation among people and their readiness for change in society – a state of events no doubt influenced by the January unrest.
The Constitution serves not only as a basis for the country’s stability and future achievements but as a guide to the future of the peace-loving and civil nation.