Kazakhstan after post- constitutional reforms: new challenges of the political system

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

Author: Alibekov Batyrkhan, Eurasian National University in honor of L. Gumilyov, Kazakhstan


The focus of the present paper is to examine the evolution of the political system of Kazakhstan after post-constitutional reforms (1993, 1995) using history and comparative analysis as a guide. The current development stage is characterized by intensification and growth of democracy in the political system of the country. In addition, Kazakhstan is the first of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union being in charge of chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe now. In this perspective, the paper discusses the question when and how a unique “Kazakhstani model” of democratic development emerged (A.C. Bowyer, 2008); how the allocation of constitutional powers between an executive presidency and the legislature of a democratic republic coexists, and if Kazakhstan copes with the strict requirements mandated by the OSCE itself. An answer to these questions also sheds light on the set of problems like compatibility between capitalism and democracy, “unemployment”, “migration and migrants”, “interethnic relations”, “transparency” of parliament and executive decision-making, “access” to public opinion research data; and “modification” of the electoral code.

Moreover, the paper argues that the country’s norms and values influenced development of the political system; as a result, it provides evidence for the conclusion that policy choice rather than cultural values played a determining role in the formation of the renewed political system in Kazakhstan. This argument rejects the assumption of cultural determinism, but does provide a nuanced interpretation of the continuing influence of cultural values on the process of policy. The paper is based on published materials, including official, historical documents, and archival materials from Library of the Presidential Centre of Culture and Astana State Archive.


There are two constitutions in the history of independent Kazakhstan – the 1993 Constitution and the 1995 Constitution. The first Constitution of independent Kazakhstan was accepted at XIII session of the Supreme body of Kazakhstan of XII convocation on January 28th, 1993. Working out, discussion and its acceptance have poured out in infinite search of the compromise formulations arranging various, at times contradictory positions. As a result, the conclusive text of the Constitution differed by its vaporous style, excessive desire for universality when one side declared by the pursuit of what has reached modern human civilization, on the other hand, the old system of socio-economic and political-legal relations was actually preserved.

At the same time, the 1993 Constitution laid the foundation for the construction of national and state independence, marked the beginning of structural socio-economic and political reform. Structurally it was divided into a preamble and 4 sections consisting of 21 chapters and 131 articles. The Constitution incorporated many of the legal norms adopted after Kazakhstan gained sovereignty: national sovereignty, the independence of the state, the principle of separation of powers, the recognition of the Kazakh language as the state language, the recognition of the President as the head of the state, and the organs of the court: the Supreme, Constitutional and Supreme Arbitration Courts and others.

A model of presidential - parliamentary republic laid down in the basis of the 1993 Constitution. Despite all the above-described advantages and progressiveness compared to the Constitution of the USSR and Каzakh SSR, in this Constitution there was a significant flaw that outweighs all of its dignity – in the conditions of crisis the political system built on it could not function effectively. There were several interrelated reasons: first - the constant coordination of government actions, the president and the parliament were required and secondly – a huge number of the Supreme Council (360 members) elected during the Soviet era whose members were very different people who did not have the skills and experience required for this activity. As a result, the Supreme Council could not in the required time to make decisions. Constant conflicts between the executive and legislative branches of government and individual deputies of the Supreme Council among themselves led to a constitutional crisis. Moreover, the Supreme Council of XII convocation itself was dismissed, and the newly elected Supreme Council of XIII convocation was recognized by no legitimate decision of the Constitutional Court on March 6, 1995. Under these conditions, a New Constitution drafting began. Constitutional reform, which began in April 1995, was marked by the adoption of a new Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan by a referendum on August 30, 1995. By form of government Kazakhstan became a presidential republic, but for variety and flexibility of elements of this board, approved by the constitutional practice of developed democracies, the Kazakh presidential form of government acquires logically complete form of the special separation system and the functioning of the unified state power in society.

Institution of the presidency "is not built in" in the executive branch now, as it was in the 1993 Constitution, but is intended to embody and implement the state unity of the people of Kazakhstan. The President, as the head of state is, firstly, the symbol and guarantor of the unity of the people and government and, secondly, ensures the coordinated functioning of all branches of the government, as well as the responsibility of its organs before the people of Kazakhstan. In accordance with this standard all the remaining elements of the system of government forming a harmonious mechanism of checks and balances are lineup.

Thanks to the new status of the President the potential of the Kazakhstan parliamentarism and independence of an executive vertical considerably amplify, and also independence of the judicial power is more full guaranteed. For the first time in history of the Kazakhstan constitutionalism the democratic institute of impeachment or dismissal of the head of the state from a post is established. The Constitution provides to what officer in the state passes through the discharge of duties of its head in case of remission or dismissal from a post of the President of the republic, and also in case of his death.

Established by the 1995 Constitution the unitarity and territorial integrity of the state, also the republican form of ruling cannot be changed under any circumstances. Thus, defaults of existing system have been eliminated and the vector of the further development of the state is set. Hereinafter, changes in 1998 and in 2007 have been made to the effective Constitution. The first changes were brought on October 7, 1998. The essence of changes came to the following: further accretion of the President’s power (increase in duration of terms of staying in office from 5 till 7 years, the appointment of heads of local executive boards is exercised by President); involving to a legal field of political parties (increase in Mazhilis of Parliament from 67 to 77 benches, on these 10 benches the elections were carried out by the party lists). Changes made on May 21st, 2007 were more essential: the term of presidential powers decreased from 7 till 5 years; the government apportionment of liability before parliament increased; the amount of members in both Chambers of Parliament essentially increased (Mazhilis – from 77 to 107, herewith 98 deputies were elected by the party lists, 9 were elected by Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan; the Senate – from 39 to 47 deputies).

It is possible to make the following number of conclusions from these changes: firstly – the political parties have become the main subjects in a political field; secondly – Parliament positions (as a consequence from the first) have strengthened, that is a pledge of political stability and democracy development in the long-term prospect. Nevertheless, it is necessary to notice, that presidential powers as a whole have not decreased – the nominee of the prime minister is offered by the President, heads of local state bodies are still appointed by the President; the same applies to the appointments of NSC Chairman and Procurator General. A combination of these two at the first sight mutually exclusive things – the strong presidential power and the developing parliamentarism – also generates that system which A.C. Bowyer (2008) called «the Kazakhstan model» of developments. It is the combination which allows implementing the democratic transformations without social and economic shocks. «The Kazakhstan model» of political and economic development has allowed realizing the necessary reforms in all vital areas. It has also been recognized at the international level – Kazakhstan, becoming the single candidate from member countries of CIS on the post of OSCE chairman, further it was elected the Chairman of OSCE for 2010 at Foreign affairs Council Meeting in Madrid in 2007.

Before the inauguration Kazakhstan was to get through a number of reforms in the field of human rights, freedom of speech, mass-media etc. These reforms were successfully got through, and on January 1st, 2010 Kazakhstan asumed office of OSCE Chairman. This presidency means not only that Kazakhstan complies with all norms and standards of this organization, but also can introduce something new to this organization. This could include the experience of Kazakhstan in the field of interethnic and interreligious harmony, the success of economic and political reforms under difficult conditions.

For a multinational and multi-religious Europe in terms of financial crisis, it is especially important. However it is necessary to note a few things that bother OSCE member states: firstly, presence in the Majilis of only one party, and secondly, lack of organized opposition to the existing regime and an alternative to the presidential Nur Otan. For elimination of these things the following steps were undertaken: amendments to the Law on the elections, excluding the variant of one-party parliament, creation of a platform for interparty dialogue on the basis of public chamber under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The western experts add here some more recommendations. For example, the same A.C. Bowyer (2008) recommends lowering a selective barrier in the Majilis from 7 to 5 %, to enter the mixed electoral system etc. Also it is necessary to consider the influence of culture and national mentality on formation of internal and foreign policy, consequently, its possible inclusion into the Main Law of the country.

Historically, the Kazakhs developed as nomadic people with advanced tribal relations, in other words, tribalism. Many Western experts tend to exaggerate the national factor and the historical character of the people and, therefore, individuals in both political and economic decision-making. Of course, there is an element of cronyism, but it is not medieval tribalism, but rather a group of like-minded unity of common goals. To some extent, it is natural, because one person cannot achieve some significant results alone, without support. The influence of cultural traditions and features there, but it is manifested mainly at the household level (e.g.: thanks for the successful birth midwife and so on) and does not constitute any meaningful sense when making strategic decisions.

It is promoted by following factors:

1. Legislation - discrimination of citizens on ethnic, religious and other discrimination is prohibited; to work in directly subordination to the relatives is forbidden.

2. The need for efficiency – a corrupted system tied on consanguinity, is not viable.

3. At the present stage it is understood by most of the people who make strategic decisions.

4. Large time span (since 1930) pale Kazakhs, which destroyed much of the prevailing at that time tribal relations.


From the above written we can conclude that - despite all the changes, fluctuations and upheavals of the political process, the Constitution proved its viability and is a cornerstone of the legal field of Kazakhstan, giving impetus to further development of Kazakhstan’s political system.


1. (1993) Constitution РК

2. (1995) Constitution РК

3. (10.07.1998). The law of Republic Kazakhstan. About modification and Additions in the Republic of Kazakhstan Constitution, N 284-1.

4. (05.01.2007). The Republic Kazakhstan law. About modification and additions in the Republic Kazakhstan Constitution. № 254-III ЗРК.

5. History of the state and the Republic Kazakhstan right. http://uchebnik.kz/

6. (07.23.1999). The law of Republic Kazakhstan. About public service. N 453-1.

7. A.C. Bowyer. (2008). Parliament and Political Parties in Kazakhstan. Silk Way Paper.

8. ШЕРЬЯЗДАНОВА. Kazakhstan and OSCE: a way to Europe, a way with Europe. http://www.baiterek.kz/

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10. Kazakhstan and OSCE. Magazine "KAZENERGY". №3.

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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010

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