Political System: Reforms, Election, Cadres
By Daniyar Ashimbayev, Editor in Chief, Kazakhstan biographical encyclopedia
The election to parliament’s lower chamber, the Mazhilis, held in August and the reshuffle of the government have drawn a line under the process of political reforms conducted earlier this year.
Back in the 1990s, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev adhered to principle of economic reforms being more important than the political ones, building a strong administrative vertical, when the country had a formally liberal economy. All the political novelties carried out in the country at that time to some extent aimed to strengthen (not tighten) the current political regime. The reform carried out in 2007 was no exception. It was carried out on the basis of transferring a number of powers of the executive to parliament.
While comparing the amended and the former wording of the country’s constitution it is hard not to notice that the strengthening of the powers of parliament bears exclusively an “editing” nature.
At the same time, the president received the right to dissolve parliament and local legislative bodies “without motivation” (without government conclusion which is obligatorily for all others).
The number of senators appointed by the head of state grew from seven to 15. A quota was set for members of the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People, which is, by the way, headed by the president, to be elected deputies of the Mazhilis. It should also be noted that in the old wording of the constitution, a ban was lifted on the existence of the investigation apparatus in the system of prosecution and judiciary, which was proclaimed to be one of the main principles of legal reform (in 1995).
The most prominent novelty of the constitutional changes is the switch to a new system of electing the Mazhilis based exclusively on party lists (plus a quota set for the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People). Through simple, although slightly theatricalised, measures MPs themselves initiated the dissolution of the previous Mazhilis, which made it possible to “speed up political reforms”.
The early parliamentary election (which had no serious political or even legal necessity and was held on the slogan of democratisation and the strengthening the role of political parties) resulted quite expectedly in the presidential Nur Otan party becoming the only party to overcome the 7% barrier and receiving all 98 seats. Regardless of the fact that this result could have been predicted based on the established logic of the political process, many, including government functionaries, hoped that there would be slightly more parties in parliament, especially when many of them were set up by the very same presidential administration and the main opposition force – the National Social-Democratic Party (OSDP) – openly hoped to get to parliament not by mobilising the protest vote, but thanks to certain preliminary accords with the authorities. However, as a result of involving the head of state in campaigning for Nur Otan the election was turned into a referendum on a vote of confidence in Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Since the results of the election were not quite in accordance with political reforms declared, Astana shyly said that a one-party parliament was one of the individual, but quite legitimate cases of a multi-party democratic system (a classic joke: black is also a colour), while the leader of the tiny Party of Patriots, Gani Kasymov, was urgently appointed senator in line with the presidential quota.
The New Face of Parliament
Aslan Musin – former governor of Aktobe Oblast and Atyrau Oblast, former economy and budget planning minister and deputy prime minister – became the new speaker of the Mazhilis. Having joined the ranks of regional governors back in 1995, Musin was always regarded as one of the strongest governors and his transfer to central bodies was expected for quite a time. However, his work in the government in the past year, in particular on another administrative reform, caused disappointment.
As a result, his transfer to parliament made it possible to not only observe the traditional “regional balance” but also get out of the not quite popular government without serious damages to his reputation.
Sergey Dyachenko (who used to be deputy speaker in the previous Mazhilis) and Bakytzhan Zhumagulov, the first deputy chair of the Nur Otan party and the head of the election campaign, became deputy speakers. Zhumagulov also headed the party’s parliamentary faction which practically equated him to speaker, as parliament is made up of one party.
As for chairs of Mazhilis committees, posts were preserved by Romin Madinov (the committee for agricultural issues) and Yerlan Nigmatulin (the committee for environmental protection and mining). The head of the presidential administration’s department, Financial Police Maj-Gen Serik Baymagambetov, became chair of the committee for legislation and judicial and legal reform. The former health minister, Zhaksylyk Doskaliyev, chaired the committee for social and cultural development, while the former labour and social protection minister, Gulzhan Karagusova, chaired the finance and budget committee. In addition, two MPs of the previous parliament were also promoted: the “grave digger” of the previous parliament, Nurbakh Rustemov, chairs the committee for international affairs, defence and security, while Vladimir Bobrov became head of the committee for economic issues and regional development.
Yergen Doshayev and Viktor Suprun, a close entourage of Aslan Musin both in Aktobe, Atyrau and the Economy and Budget Planning Ministry, became chair and deputy chair of the apparatus of the Mazhilis, respectively.
The headship of the Senate was also renewed. The former head of the presidential administration’s human resources department, Aleksandr Sudyin, was elected second deputy speaker and the former emergency situations minister, Mukhambet Kopeyev, also preserved his post of deputy speaker. Nurlygaim Zholdaspayeva heads the new committee for economic and regional policy. The former secretary of the Atyrau Oblast legislative body, Kayrat Ishchanov, was elected chair of the committee for agricultural issues and environmental protection. Musiraly Utebayev and Yermek Zhumabayev preserved their posts of chairs of the budget committee and the committee for legislation, respectively, while Kuanysh Sultanov and Akhan Bizhanov “exchanged” with their place: the former headed the committee for international affairs, while the latter headed the committee for social and cultural development.
The Senate – which was joined by eight new senators, including aforementioned Sudyin and Kasymov, as well as the former head of the presidential administration, Oralbay Abdykarimov, and the former governor of South Kazakhstan Oblast, Bolat Zhylkyshiyev, – declared itself a new Senate (although the principle of forming it rules out the possibility of it being new or previous).
Thanks to the new system of electing deputies in both chambers, the significance of the presidential administration and the government as a source to form the leadership of parliament has grown. At the same time, the role of regional elites (in particular, local administrations) in choosing candidates for deputies of parliament has been reduced. Traditionally, local administrations tried to use their ability to nominate their people to the government to the fullest precisely through helping them to be elected to parliament. They do not have this opportunity now: Astana appoints people from its own pool of people.
One Country – Two Systems
Since parliament was formed by political expedience, the observance of ethnic, age and gender balance and former and current services to the party and the government, and MPs went through the double sieve of the Central Electoral Commission and the party congress, and were endorsed personally by the head of state, sectoral and regional elites lost the possibility of ushering their “own people” to parliament. There are very few of those who managed to get some seats in parliament with the possibility of influencing the lawmaking process.
The most “parliamentary” corporation is Kazakhmys, which has its own people in both chambers. The “construction lobby” also strengthened its positions in all levels of the legislative branch: top managers and owners of major and medium-sized companies are present in the Senate, the Mazhilis and local legislative bodies. However, this is not surprising if we take into account the inseparable link between the construction business and executive bodies. The agrarian sector also preserved its positions, while the banking and oil sector ended up outside parliament altogether.
Analysing the situation developed in the ruling elite and the new parliament, in particular, we can see a number of interesting trends.
For many years, the domestic business, especially the financial one, has been actively trying to convert its economic potential into political influence. All information and PR wars, the activities of many “democratic” and “liberal” parties, the demands of political reforms were based on the fact that the “new business elite” (which received all kinds of benefits thanks to certain high-ranking officials) needed guarantees for its business and capital. This, it thought, could be ensured only by “political reforms” and “liberalising the regime”.
However, Astana has categorically denied the very possibility of sharing power with anyone. As a result, the situation developed “evolutionally”: the big business did receive real power but not through election and political parties but its merger with government bodies. The Samruk holding company, the Kazyna Fund, social-entrepreneurial corporations and the Atameken union of enterprises, the 30 Corporate Leaders programme, the campaign to legalise property, the existence of appointees in the presidential administration, the government, the National Bank, the Financial Control Agency, local administrations and so on have turned the interests of the big business, both private and public, into a state policy.
It is not surprising that the election of the one-party parliament in these conditions was almost painless: it just ceased to be a priority for the sides concerned.
As a result, the country received two realities which are tied to one another loosely. Parliament, the government, the election, Nur Otan, political and administrative reforms, the media, voters and so exist in one reality, the banking, construction, metal and oil business and state corporations exist in the other. Both realities live according to their own laws, although they are geographically located in one “plane”, but they do not have ties between one another. They are united only by the head of state who is recognised as a guarantor of stability in “both worlds”.
However, we should not forget that stability in many respects is based not on political achievements and propaganda, but the economic wellbeing of the population in general and the elite in particular. A financial crisis, inflation, a growth in tariffs, problems on the grain market and corruption – all this combined with the executive branch’s inability to quickly and properly, and, above all, systematically solve economic problems seriously undermine economic and, consequently, political stability in the country.
However paradoxical it is, this, generally, has no impact on people’s readiness to vote for the ruling party.
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