Kazakhstan is on its way to important political changes in 2021. The upcoming elections to the Mazhilis (lower chamber) of the Parliament will once again demonstrate strong commitment of the leadership of Kazakhstan to consistent democratization and modernization of political institutions that will ensure the renewal of country’s political system.
Previous elections to the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan were held in March 2016, therefore following elections will be conducted not ahead of schedule, but within the constitutional terms – two months before the expiration of the term of the deputies of current convocation. The announcement on timely elections was made on October 21st, 2020 by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in accordance with the Constitutional Law «On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan» and is an important step for effective implementation of democratic process nationwide.
The elections by party lists, are scheduled for January 10th and for the deputies elected by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, for January 11th, 2021. Any citizen of Kazakhstan without an outstanding criminal record and conviction for corruption crimes or offenses, who is at least 25 years old and has permanently resided in the country for the last 10 years can be a member of parliament.
Since 2007, the Mazhilis consists of 107 deputies: 98 of them are elected by proportional electoral system according to party lists, 9 independent non-party members – by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, which is a national political body, created in 1995 on the initiative of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev with the purpose of assessment of the needs and continuous involvement in country’s everyday life of more than 100 different ethnic groups living in peace and harmony in Kazakhstan.
Current composition of the Mazhilis includes representatives of three political parties, which received in 2016 more than 7 percent of the votes necessary to win the right to delegate their deputies to the lower chamber. Among them, «Nur Otan» (81 deputies), «People’s Party of Kazakhstan» (7 deputies) and «Ak Zhol» (7 deputies).
Today, 5 political parties are registered in Kazakhstan (312 candidates):
- «Nur Otan» Party (126 candidates);
- Democratic Party of Kazakhstan «Ak Zhol» (38 candidates);
- «People’s Party of Kazakhstan» (113 candidates);
- People’s Patriotic Democratic Party «Auyl» (19 candidates);
- Party «Adal» (16 candidates).
To ensure the commitment to hold elections according to the highest standards, numerous political reforms have been implemented and number of initiatives were proposed in Kazakhstan, including lowering of threshold for registering political parties from 40,000 members to 20,000, making it easier to establish new ones.
In one of his latest addresses, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan K.Tokayev highlighted the amendments made to the laws on election, which guarantee the involvement of opposition parties in legislation process and prove Kazakhstan’s commitments towards democratic, gender and demographic reforms in political sphere.
According to the amendments, the election of one chairman and two secretaries of the Standing Committees of Mazhilis on various social, economic, political and other issues will be carried out from among the deputies representing the parliamentary opposition. The parliamentary opposition is empowered to initiate parliamentary hearings at least once during one session, as well as to determine the agenda of the Government Hour (governmental report) in the lower chamber at least twice during each session. The leaders of factions of political parties are provided with a guaranteed right to address with the speech during Joint sessions of the Chambers of the Parliament, Plenary sessions of the Mazhilis, meetings of the Standing Committees and various Working Groups, as well as during Parliamentary hearings and other events.
Other important changes in the Constitutional Law «On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan» and the Law «On Political Parties» guarantee a 30% quota in party lists for women and youth under the age of 29.
The major innovation is that along with the elections to the Mazhilis, for the first time, elections based on party lists to Maslikhats will take place.
Maslikhats are local representative bodies, which operate at the regional level – Oblysy (14 state administrative regions), the capital Nur-Sultan and the cities of republican significance, namely Almaty and Shymkent, as well as at the level of cities of regional significance and districts. Governors of cities of district significance, rural districts, settlements and villages are elected through indirect elections by the deputies of the local Maslikhats.
Deputies of Maslikhats are elected by citizens in various administrative-territorial units through direct voting procedure for a period of 5 years. Adoption of local budgets and development programs, and appointments of the officials to the governor’s office must be approved by Maslikhats, which also form audit commissions to control the spending of budget funds and can express a vote of no confidence to governors.
The amendments to Kazakhstan election laws demonstrate the commitment of the government to implement a new strategy of successful economic reforms combined with the modernization of the country’s socio-political life. These initiatives represent President Tokayev’s idea of a state with «Strong President, an influential Parliament and an accountable Government». «Intelligent power based on full dialogue and regular communication» is a new trend in the political space of Kazakhstan, therefore it is important to emphasize that the date of the elections was set in accordance with the constitutional law and removed the feeling of uncertainty within political parties, demonstrating further progressive developments in our society in terms of democratic transformations.
There are expectations, that innovations in political sphere will encourage the functioning of institution of parliamentary opposition, contribute to rejuvenation of the average age of the Mazhilis deputies and increase in number the representation of women in new composition of the Parliament. The elections to Maslikhats based on party lists are expected to give new impetus to the development of regional self-government and provide the opportunity to small parties to be represented at the local executive bodies.
At the same time, the safety of citizens is a priority for any government. For this reason, the whole election process will take place in line with the measures that have been put in place, such as, mask wearing, social distancing and other important means of protection of public health. Furthermore, suitable precautions such as requirements for personal protective equipment and disinfecting polling places will be implemented to ensure that the safety of voters is maintained.
The Government of Kazakhstan is making significant efforts to conduct election process safely and will continue to assess the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, and widely publish the best protocols needed to ensure participation.
Along with the elections in Kazakhstan, all Kazakh diplomatic representations across the world will be conducting them at their premises. They will ensure that during election period, all special procedures depending on host country’s requirements are strictly followed by Kazakhstan citizens and diplomatic personnel.