Democracy Is a Development Priority
"… The state, the people and the country's political elite are facing a very complicated task at the moment. This is the task of national competitiveness. The world does not stand still, and even to preserve taken positions one always has to move forward. We have set ourselves the task of joining the world's top 50 most developed countries, and this can only be achieved by consolidating political will," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev told the first meeting of the State Commission for Democratisation held on 24 March 2006. The challenges of the 21st century demand a more dynamic modernisation of the whole system of socio-political relations in the country. The Kazakh president said that public accord was the most important factor in building a modern political system. The year 2005 had great significance in Kazakhstan's socio-political life. The main task the country faced was to turn achievements in the economic sphere into socio-political stability and progress. All the country's leading political forces acknowledged this as being a priority, but their views on its forms and the methods of implementing it differed…
The authorities were the first to take the initiative, with President Nursultan Nazarbayev delivering his state-of-the-nation address on 18 February 2005. The address discussed a strategic vision of the country's medium-term development and a number of large-scale initiatives in the social sphere, some of which started being fulfilled straight away. Thus, from 1 July 2005 public sector wages grew (by 32% on average), pensions (by 3,000 tenge), student allowances (by 100%) and social allowances (by 1,000 to 4,000 tenge). In addition, the authorities said that they would introduce a system to offer free medicines and privileges to children, teenagers and pregnant women on certain medical services, and start the first stage of a state housing programme (under which housing is to be sold at $350 per sq m).
According to the government's estimates, in 2005 the state's social spending to fulfil the tasks set in the state-of-the-nation address exceeded 100 billion tenge.
Along with strengthening its social orientation, the state is also constantly developing democratic reforms. The National Commission for Democratisation and Civil Society, initiated by President Nazarbayev in 2004, has become the main arena for discussing the framework and the direction of the National Programme for Democratic Reforms. The commission has employed a practice of holding meetings in regional centres since 2005 in order to expand the coverage of public opinion. Even though leaders of the opposition boycotted the work of the National Commission for various tactical reasons, its regional leaders often took part in commission meetings, regarding multilateral discussions on political issues as mutually-beneficial contacts. The National Commission's activities in 2005 resulted in the adoption of a Blueprint for Developing a Civil Society in Kazakhstan and the drafting of a National Programme for Democratic Reforms for 2006-2011.
In line with the blueprint, the development of a civil society in Kazakhstan aims to create a system of public and state institutions that should implement the main principle of a democratic state in the country – ensuring the observance of human rights. "The authorities and society will unconditionally maintain adherence to freedoms of speech, religion and assembly, and citizens' rights to associations, impartial justice and fair and transparent elections," reads the document.
The project is to be carried out over a medium-term (approximately between 2006 and 2015). The authors of the blueprint believe that fulfilling a set of proposed measures will make it possible to complete the transitional period of the Kazakh society and enter a period of a functioning democracy. The draft blueprint, published in national newspapers, underwent several stages of discussion, and the second Civil Forum of Kazakhstan approved it in September 2005.
The second important document – the draft National Programme for Democratic Reforms for 2006-2011 – provides for specific solutions to outlined tasks. The most significant proposals include the type of a future political system, parliamentary and judicial reforms and local self-government. In particular, the National Commission spoke in favour of preserving the presidential form of governance and the bicameral parliament while increasing it in number (the Majilis, the lower chamber, to 134 members, 50% of whom are elected in single-seat constituencies and the other 50% on the party ticket; the Senate, the upper chamber, to 65 members, of whom 48 are elected by regions and 17 appointed by the president).
The National Commission also advocated strengthening the role of parliament in running the state by delegating additional (monitoring and appointing) functions to it with future extrapolation of similar functions to legislative bodies at lower levels. In the judicial system, a jury system is expected to be introduced to improve the impartiality of judiciary proceedings. The election of heads of local administrations is expected to be limited to a district level.
The National Commission is to carry out its future work as the State Commission for Drafting and Specifying the Programme for Democratic Reforms under the chairmanship of the country's president. It should also be noted that the main conceptual provisions of the reforms programme drafted by the National Commission were reflected in President Nazarbayev's speeches delivered at the opening of the new session of the Kazakh parliament on 1 September and at the second Civil Forum of Kazakhstan on 12-13 September 2005.
The National Commission's active work had a powerful stimulating impact on parliament too. Over the past year, MPs initiated a number of draft laws which give substance to certain aspects of democracy building. The most important of them include the draft laws On Self-Government, On the Media and On Jury. Parliament's ratification of the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights and the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in late September 2005 was a significant step in bringing the country closer to international standards of civil society. Since 2006, the discussion by parliament of and the parliamentary approval of the appointment of ministers responsible for the government's socioeconomic policies has become practice in running the state.
Annual account reports given to the population by regional governors, heads of districts and villages and mayors have become a norm of democratic life. The main aim of such reports is to inform people on the socioeconomic and political reforms carried out in the country and on the activities of the central, regional and district bodies of the executive to improve the living standards of Kazakhs. Moreover, this kind of dialogue helps create a "feedback" system between the state and the people, and this should improve the quality of work of the state bodies and their transparency.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are making their contribution to building a civil society in Kazakhstan. According to official information, in this country their number now exceeds 5,000. The activities of NGOs cover a wide range of society's spheres of life, from environmental and social problems to international cooperation.
Thanks mainly to the activities of NGOs, the state bodies received the possibility to study positions adopted by independent experts on problems which are not covered by the state bodies' work. Taking into account their role and significance in society's life, the state has started providing serious support to NGOs. Cooperation between the authorities and NGOs resulted not only in a sharp increase in funds allocated under the state social order, but also in involving NGOs in examining future laws. In particular, delivering his speech at the second Civil Forum, President Nazarbayev proposed that a Chamber of Public Experts made up of representatives of NGOs should be set up in parliament to make its proposals and recommendations on improving lawmaking.
The freedom of speech situation was controversial in Kazakhstan last year. On one hand, the opposition press, which ensured the spread of alternative views to those of the authorities, was widely accessible and circulated in great numbers. Therefore the statement that the climate of ideological pluralism deteriorated in the country is debatable. The closures of some opposition newspapers which broke the law cannot be and should not be considered as pressure on dissidence. On the other hand, the strictness, and sometimes bias, of legal measures taken against the opposition press and the seizure of issues of independent newspapers by power-wielding structures suggest that the trappings of power were abused during the presidential election campaign.
Kazakhstan's intention to strengthen the foundation of tolerance in society is obvious. This is proven by President Nazarbayev's initiative to make two religious holidays – the Muslim Kurban Ayt (Eid al-Adha) and the Orthodox Christmas – public holidays, and this was backed by parliament. This reflected the recognition of the role of these denominations in Kazakhstan and serves to strengthen their internal accord. Kazakhstan's role in establishing a constructive dialogue between world religions is recognised too – Astana is currently actively preparing to hold a new forum of leaders of world religions in 2006. Great work is being done by a unique body of interethnic cooperation – the Assembly of Kazakhstan's Peoples, which marked its 10th anniversary last November. The status and significance of this body are expected to be increased further by transforming it into the Council of Kazakhstan's Peoples under the president.
An important achievement in developing democracy in Kazakhstan is the fulfilment of the principle of political competition. This was clearly demonstrated in last year's presidential election campaign. During the official registration period, which, by the Majilis's endorsement, started on 7 September, 18 people put forward their candidacies for the post of head of state. Moreover, perhaps for the first time competition between the main rivals to gain power had real nature, and was not just a show. Bearing in mind that the observance of the principle of political competition is the main principle in legitimising a democratic election, a number of steps were taken in this direction. In particular, on 2 August 2005, the Justice Ministry registered the national movement For a Fair Kazakhstan which was in opposition to President Nazarbayev, and later the Kazakh Central Electoral Commission registered the opposition's candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbay. Additional factor was the guarantee given by the president to hold a fair and just election (the presidential Decree On Measures to Realise Kazakh Citizens' Rights to Ensure a Fair, Just and Transparent Election issued on 9 September 2005). In addition, under voluntary obligations to the international community assumed by Kazakhstan in order to maintain democracy, the country's leadership invited many observers from authoritative international organisations and individual countries. The right to monitor the election was also given to a large group of local observers who ensured wide public monitoring over the election campaign and the voting. In total, 1,634 international observers and foreign journalists and 34,623 representatives of presidential hopefuls and public associations observed the election.
All the registered candidates launched their election campaigns on 25 October. The Central Electoral Commission registered five contenders – Yerasyl Abylkasymov from the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan; Alikhan Baymenov from the (moderate opposition) Ak Zhol democratic party; Mels Yeleusizov from the Tabigat environmental movement; Nursultan Nazarbayev from the People's Coalition of Kazakhstan election bloc; and Zharmakhan Tuyakbay from the radical opposition For a Fair Kazakhstan movement. Thus, 13 people left the ranks at the registration stage (four failed to pass a Kazakh-language test, two voluntarily withdrew their candidacies and six failed to submit necessary documents to the Central Electoral Commission).
The fight launched by the presidential candidates in late October was relatively calm and this was helped by bringing the radical opposition into the legal arena. Certain nervousness in the election campaign was caused by the large-scale involvement of the trappings of power which often was not justified.
Nursultan Nazarbayev's election platform was not built on a single document, but represented in three speeches. Its social component was discussed in the president's state-of-the-nation address delivered in February 2005; political section was discussed in the speeches made at the opening of the new session of parliament on 1 September and at the second Civil Forum on 12 September 2005; and its economic part in the speech delivered at the eighth Congress of the Otan party on 9 September.
The targets outlined by the president aimed to improve the state's social orientation accompanied by large-scale expansion of the state's social spending; make a new economic leap through diversifying and restructuring the economy; and carry out political modernisation through increasing the powers of the legislative, developing a civil society, its institutions and local self-government, and by reforming the judiciary. The mandatory condition for implementing the set aims was internal and external stability based on preserving the status quo and evolutionary changes.
Zharmakhan Tuyakbay's programme entitled Through Justice to a Deserved Life! comprised seven chapters, involving the political sphere ("Systemic Crisis of an Authoritarian Regime and Open Political System and Efficient State System"), economic ("New Economic Policy") and social section ("Responsible Social Policy, the Health of Everyone is the Nation's Prosperity, Reviving Culture and Developing the Language"), as well as foreign policy ("Foreign Policy and National Security: Clarity of Preferences and the Transparency of a Choice").
Despite certain similarities in the strategic aims specified in the programmes of Mr Tuyakbay and Mr Nazarbayev, the specific difference in the former's programme was the emphasis made on the criticism of the shortcomings of the existing regime and the demand that constitutional reforms should be carried out immediately to separate the three branches of power and a parliamentary-presidential system of running the state should be established. On the other parameters, Mr Tuyakbay's programme differed slightly from the incumbent president's programme (in figures or deadlines, but not in content). The shortcoming of the programme of the candidate from the radical opposition was its bulkiness and the complexity of the economic terminology, which complicated understanding the ideas for people who were not prepared for digesting them and such people accounted for the majority of the electorate.
Mr Baymenov presented his programme Changes without Cataclysms! in Almaty on 29 October 2005. It included seven sets of programmes: Deserved Employment and Labour, Village, Our Home, the Human Being Is the Country's Main Asset, Spirituality and the Unity of People, Responsible State – Free Individual and Merited Kazakhstan towards the 21st Century.
Conceptually, Mr Baymenov's programme was the middle ground between the programmes of Mr Nazarbayev and Mr Tuyakbay. Thus, on economic issues it shared the demands of the radical opposition on greater economic liberalisation, but also repeated the main strategic aspects of development proposed by Mr Nazarbayev (diversifying the economy, promoting competition, supporting small and medium-sized businesses and others). The social section was not creative either when compared with the proposals made by the incumbent and only differed in pledges of greater state support for the vulnerable strata of the population. Mr Baymenov's programme repeated Mr Tuyakbay's promises to lower the retirement age and to divide the National Fund among all future newborn citizens by 200,000 tenge each when they come of age. The programme paid great attention to developing the Kazakh language. Its political part mainly corresponded to the radical opposition's programme and envisaged building a parliamentary-presidential system. Both wings of the opposition had the same demands of limiting the presidential term to five years and the number of terms to one.
The 4 December presidential election ended the 2005 political season in Kazakhstan. According to the election results announced by the Central Electoral Commission, Mr Nazarbayev received 91.15% of the votes, Mr Tuyakbay 6.61%, Mr Baymenov 1.61%, Yerasyl Abylkasymov 0.35% and Mels Yeleusizov 0.28%. There was no need for a run-off election as Mr Nazarbayev won the election by a landslide.
Experts believe that the predetermination of Mr Nazarbayev's victory was due to a number of reasons of both an objective and a subjective nature. They included the people's relatively favourable (especially compared with other Central Asian countries) socioeconomic situation which formed electoral conservatism, the successes in economic growth and the optimistic expectations of the people linked to them, as well as the Kazakhs' strong perception of the current authorities as the guarantors of political stability. Mr Nazarbayev had advantages of the trappings of power and organisational, financial and media resources, and all this made it possible to conduct a consolidated campaign to support him. The implementation of the February 2005 state-of-the-nation address, especially its social programme, produced a powerful propaganda effect in favour of Mr Nazarbayev. His election platform looked more creative and large-scale compared to those of his opponents, and it put stress on the ambitious economic growth, serious social promises and evolutionary political modernisation. In essence, it ensured the interception of not only political initiative but also ideological initiative from the opposition. Finally, excellence in using political technologies, which ensured a steady increase in the popularity rating of Mr Nazarbayev in the run-up to the voting, had a positive impact on the incumbent's victory. A special role was played by using Kazakhstan's economic successes and political stability against the negative consequences of "colour-coded" revolutions in post-Soviet countries. Russia's and other neighbouring countries' support for Mr Nazarbayev along with neutralising geopolitical factors aimed against the electoral process in our country made some contribution to the voting results.
For its part, the opposition failed to use its full potential. The widespread brainwashing of people to persuade them that election results were predetermined because of the unconditional advantages Mr Nazarbayev had produced a defeatist mood among opposition supporters and therefore many of them simply refused to go to the polling stations. Splitting the protest electorate between the two opposition candidates played its role too. However, the main strategic mistake committed by the opposition was that it almost fully betted on the protest electorate which could not possibly be the majority and this led to its defeat. The attempts by the opposition that followed the election to appeal against its results (over 1,000 lawsuits into violations of the election law were filed in courts of various instances) could not influence the very fact of Mr Nazarbayev's victory. The legitimacy of this victory was confirmed by numerous observers, both foreign and local ones. At the same time, we should admit for the sake of objectivity that Kazakhstan's election legislation still does not meet all the international democratic criteria, and so that mistakes and shortcomings in the election campaign were inevitable. In connection with this, Kazakhstan treated with understanding the criticism expressed by the OSCE ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) on these issues and reiterated its intention to continue cooperation with the OSCE on improving democratic norms.
As for developing democracy in our country, we can only point to the fact that this process was not always steady last year. In certain cases there were attempts to back away from democratic achievements because of both hypertrophied reaction to international events and a low level of development of democratic culture in society.
For example, in June 2005 the country's national security legislation was reinforced by two laws on monitoring the activities of NGOs, including foreign organisations and their branches operating in Kazakhstan. Regardless of strong criticism from the Kazakh and international public, parliament adopted these draft laws, being concerned over the destabilisation of the situation in the country because of the March revolution in Kyrgyzstan or the Andijon events in neighbouring Uzbekistan. Had these laws been endorsed by the president, the state would have established almost full control over religious and non-governmental organisations in Kazakhstan by demanding that they undergo compulsory registration and submit financial account reports. Widespread protest actions held by the public, including pro-presidential parties, and mainly the threat that many NGOs would begin opposing the authorities resulted in the president vetoing and rejecting the draft laws in late August. A technical reason for this was that the Kazakh Constitutional Council found them contradictory to the country's constitution. The Justice Ministry's refusal to register the opposition Nagyz Ak Zhol and Alga! parties for formal reasons also gives rise to criticism. Of course, depriving these parties of the possibility of operating in the legal political field does not meet the democratic principle of political pluralism.
In conclusion, we can say that 2005 was saturated with political events, and the main result of the year was that the people of Kazakhstan chose an evolutionary path of developing democracy and President Nursultan Nazarbayev was entrusted with the mandate to pursue this aim.
By Yerbulat Seylkhanov and Aygul Abylgazina
New Emphasis in Foreign Policy of Kazakhstan Murat Laumulin
Democracy Is a Development Priority Yerbulat Seylkhanov, Aygul Abylgazina
Kazakhstan ?apable of a Qualitative Economic Breakthrough Irina Ivankova
Kazakhstan – Socially Oriented State Roza Zharkynbayeva
Kazakhstan's Culture: Eurasian Direction Tatyana Frolovskaya
The Kazakhs: Pictures of a Millennium-Long Life Shaizada Mynzhasarova
The Great Silk Road: Architectural Treasures of the Steppe Arman Nurmukhambetov