By Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta
Kazakhstan, the largest and most developed country in Central Asia in terms of geography and economic growth, witnessed widespread protests in January 2022. On January 2, demonstrations began in the western town of Zhanaozen before spreading to other parts of the nation. These demonstrations appear to have been sparked by the increase in gas prices. While the immediate cause of the protests was the increase in fuel prices, they also highlighted widespread complaints about structural problems like corruption and socioeconomic inequality as well as calls for regime change.
Protests continued to intensify despite President Tokayev suspending the government and lowering fuel prices as demanded by the demonstrators. Protesters targeted security forces and public property. President Tokayev also replaced Nursultan Nazarbayev as head of the nation’s Security Council after realizing the gravity of the situation. The nation has suffered greatly as a result of these protests. Government officials in charge of internal security have asserted that the protesters not only targeted the government and law enforcement personnel but also innocent civilians and encouraged them to engage in violent behavior.
Following the January protests, the Kazakh government, led by President Tokayev, launched an extensive investigation and prosecution of the protesters, while also initiating landmark political, constitutional, and socioeconomic reforms. According to the findings of the Kazakh authorities, the protests began as a peaceful rally, but some groups with vested interests attempted to stage a coup d’état which made it severe. Following the protests, President Tokayev proposed far-reaching political reforms in a state-of-the-nation address on March 16, requiring amendments to one-third of the country’s Constitution. These amendments were put to a vote in a national referendum, which was held on 5 June. More than 70 percent of people voted in favour of the amendments and the reforms.
After this referendum, President Tokayev publicly signed six significant laws. The establishment of the Constitutional Court which became operational in January this year, the redistribution of power from the president to the parliament, the simplification of the registration processes for political parties, the expansion of citizen participation in state governance, and the expansion of human rights protection are important reforms. Among key objectives behind these reforms are the decentralisation and distribution of power across the country, strengthened rule of law and equal opportunities for every citizen.
To validate the proposed reforms, President Tokayev called snap elections in November 2022, which he won with a majority. His landslide win in the elections once again proved that Kazakh people have faith in him and support his initiatives to transform the country. Peaceful elections, women’s participation, opposition role, and NOTA are all important aspects of snap elections. After his reelection, he started signing the decrees to give the formal forms to the changes initiated by him.
One year after the tragic events in Kazakhstan, and as a result of President Tokayev’s farsighted reforms, the country has seen some meaningful progress.
More transparency and freedom to form political parties and run for elections have been granted as part of the political reforms. Previously, 40000 members were required to form a political party, but that number has now been reduced to 5000. Women and youth have been given political priority. Additionally, peaceful demonstrations are now simpler to organize. The rural Akims (Administrators), who were previously chosen by the government, will now be elected under new reforms. The politics of Kazakhstan will become more democratic as a result of this change.
As was already mentioned, one-third of Kazakhstan’s constitution needed to be changed as a result of the political reforms, but it was also necessary to establish an accountable, just, and fair government. The President’s term and right to reelection were restricted, which was the most important change. A president can now only serve one seven-year term in office. This idea would eliminate the potential for power abuse and accumulation. Furthermore, the Head of State is not permitted to belong to any political party. It is forbidden for close relatives of the president to hold important positions in the government and quasi-state corporations in order to prevent the possibility of dynastic politics.
Two significant constitutional changes that are crucial for a democratic state have been made. The establishment of a constitutional court allows citizens to file complaints about the legal system of the nation. A commissioner for human rights has also been appointed to make sure the nation’s citizens’ requirements are fulfilled.
Socio economic reforms
President Tokayev has initiated broad-scale reforms to address socioeconomic issues such as economic disparity, social security, health, and education. These reforms include reducing the state’s share of the economy to 14 percent and implementing a comprehensive privatization plan. Furthermore, more space is made available to small and medium-sized businesses, which may result in more job opportunities. A commission is also established to bring back the money that has been illegally taken out of the country.
The analysis above makes it abundantly clear that Kazakhstan is moving toward significant socioeconomic and political changes. As a result of these developments, some major problems in the fields of education, health, and the economy are also being eliminated. President Tokayev’s vision of a new Kazakhstan will be favorable to the people of the country. However, with the government’s serious efforts to bring constructive changes to the country, the Kazakh people’s positive and productive participation in making it a reality is also highly required.
Author is Senior Research Associate (Central Asia), Vivekananda International Foundation.
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