69 deputies will be elected to the Mazhilis from political parties, and 29 in single-mandate districts. 30 percent of seats in the chamber were allocated to self-nominated candidates. Political scientist Eduard Poletaev has shared his thoughts on the necessary conditions for political reforms in Kazakhstan and the expectations after the upcoming elections.
— These last three years have been a time of significant change for Kazakhstanis, with 2022 being a particularly transformative year. Various systems within the state are undergoing reform. In your opinion, what were the necessary conditions for these changes to take place?
— The year 2022 has been marked by significant political reforms The year started tragically with the events of January, which made it clear that the political system needed to be modernized at a much faster pace. Consequently, several significant events took place, including a constitutional reform that addressed a wide range of issues and the establishment of a Constitutional Court in place of the Constitutional Council. This reform also led to the limitation of presidential powers, which are now limited to a single term.
The second major event was the election of the head of state, which took place in November of 2022. It is safe to say that these reforms were both expected and necessary, as the political system had reached a point where further development had stalled. During this period, it became evident that significant changes were necessary for the country to truly embody the principles of a "fair Kazakhstan."
The internal political turbulence that took place in 2022 greatly influenced the worldview and mindset of people who were eager for change. And the authorities have demonstrated them.
Naturally, the changes that occurred in 2022 garnered the attention not only of observers within Kazakhstan but also of external players, including China, Russia, and other Central Asian countries. This was evident from numerous publications, visits of presidents and officials of various levels. Fortunately, Kazakhstan has been able to maintain manageability and stability throughout this period of change, giving hope to its citizens that the political reforms are intended to enhance their well-being. In January 2022, there was widespread uncertainty about the direction in which the country would go, with many people fearing that Kazakhstan might slide into chaos, civil war, or even become controlled by external forces. Kazakhstan has passed the test.
— What changes are taking place in the political system and what are they leading to?
— It should be noted that the changes were not revolutionary. Some elements of the former Kazakhstan remained, it was necessary to preserve the manageability of the country, so that those personnel who worked adequately continued to work. There is such a principle "Never change a running system". This approach turned out to be correct.
As for the reforms, they have been announced since Kassym-Jomart Tokayev came to power in 2019. There were four baskets of political reforms that were implemented. Registration of political parties has been simplified. We see that two new political parties will already take part in the elections – these are the Baitak and the Respublica. The CEC allowed all seven officially registered parties to participate in the elections. Four more batches are on the way, are in the process of registration.
To a certain extent, we had a degradation of the party-political field. The number of parties has been steadily declining since the 90s. Now the situation has turned around in reverse. A mixed system of electability has also been introduced. The experience has shown that a mixed electoral system is more suitable for the mindset of Kazakhstani voters, as it allows voters to choose individual candidates based on their personal characteristics, rather than solely on the platforms and programs of political parties. Sometimes they are difficult to distinguish from each other. In general, we still have a party system, which political scientists call a one-and-a-half-party system, when there is a dominant party and small opposition structures.
— Do you think the balance of political forces in the Parliament will change after the elections? Will the Amanat continue to dominate?
— The Amanat party, which used to be called Nur Otan, has been greatly modernized. The very essence of it has changed. If Nur Otan was a leadership-type party headed by the head of state, now the head of state has distanced himself from participation in political parties. However, the Amanat still remains the party of power. The chances that it will dominate and gain more than 50% in the next elections are quite high. They will also nominate their candidates in single-mandate districts, so the majority will be retained. There is hope that the lowered electoral threshold from 7 to 5 percent of the vote will lead to the election of 3-4 parties to the Parliament.
— Many experts agree that under the current election model, single-mandate candidates are of particular interest. The political arena is expected to see the emergence of new faces. What do you think?
— Undoubtedly, these elections are much more captivating for experts and individuals who care about politics, compared to the previous elections in 2019. To a greater extent, the figures of single-mandate candidates will be of interest. The Mazhilis allocated 29 seats for them. The process will not end with the elections. These individual members will have to orient themselves in their future work, considering which factions to join, how to make their mark, and whether any of them will have the potential to become committee chairpersons.
We had 107 people in the previous convocation. But even experts can name no more than 15-20 surnames of active deputies who are well-known. The rest, we can say, were holed up. And even if they did not hole up, then their work was not very visible in the public space. This needs to be changed, people need to see what budget money is being spent on, why these people are sitting in the Parliament.
Without a doubt, the Parliament will see new faces as a result of these elections. Although they may be few, new faces in parliament will certainly add some vitality to the political landscape. Even if there are some odd or unconventional characters. These people will draw attention to the work of the legislature. Pools for adults and children
Permanent early elections have become a tradition. They negatively affect the image of our legislative bodies. People believe that at any moment they can be dissolved, they will voluntarily do it and it will allow for a new political landscape to emerge. I think it is important now that those people who can say their own opinion, regardless of the position of the faction, show certain initiatives, get into Parliament.
— How have the reforms of President Tokayev changed Kazakhstan?
— Any broom sweeps in a new way, although the president himself is a product of the system of independent Kazakhstan, which appeared in 1991.
For example, let's take the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. He was in the team of the first president Islam Karimov for a long time, was prime minister. Many thought that the system would not change much with the coming of Mirziyoyev to the power. But it has turned out that the prime minister is the person who coordinates all the major factors of the country's development; he understood the mistakes, miscalculations, and eliminated them all. He pulled the country back onto the path of sustainable development in a short time.
Tokayev also has a lot of experience: Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister, and Speaker of the Senate, which is the second man in the state. Of course, he saw not only achievements, but also many mistakes that were made.
The population has certain expectations that the country will move forward. No one is promising mountains of gold, but look - the minimum wage has increased. A man looks at his pocket in the first place, the opposition sentiments arise when it hits his pocket. The government is working effectively in this regard.
They allowed the pension money to be used to buy real estate. They raised the minimum wage from 42,500 tenge to 70 thousand tenge from 2023. A part of the investment income of the National Fund will be distributed to Kazakhstani children from 2024. These things give hope. This is an attempt to involve the entire population in moving the country forward.
After the president spoke about 162 people who actually control the economy of Kazakhstan, the fight against oligarchs started. That is, the wild income division of Kazakhstanis should be minimized and strive to increase the share of the middle class in the country.
The demand for stability and security, which was under the first President, has been preserved even now. Of course, people want the government to be fair. The fact that Tokayev came, strengthened the demand for justice.
— Are there any difficulties for voters due to the new rules of elections to the Mazhilis and maslikhats?
— It is important that the voter does not get confused in the ballots. There will be a lot of changes. There the column "against all" will appear. Depending on the region, there will be 4 and 5 ballots. There is a need to educate voters about this so that they just don't get confused. There are fears that there will be a lot of defective ballots due to incorrect filling.
Recently, the Public Opinion Foundation conducted the first preliminary survey. It turned out that 53.3% of the respondents want to come to the polls. This is clearly an insufficient figure. Sadly, presidential elections are more attractive and meaningful to voters than parliamentary elections. Although it is also elections to local authorities.
— What tasks will the deputies of the new convocation face?
— The main task is legislative work. It must be admitted that in this regard, the previous several convocations worked quite effectively. This function remains with them. They will also continue to discuss and pass laws. All this is within the bicameral system.
We had a request that a bicameral Parliament was not needed: "Let's create a unicameral one." But practice has shown that countries with a multinational population, whose population is growing, and in Kazakhstan it has grown to 20 million people, introduce a bicameral Parliament to balance the legislative system. There are more and more such countries.
And judging by the fact that the qualitative composition of the Parliament is changing, new people, new parties and single-mandate candidates are appearing, the proportion of women is set at 30 percent, of course, the representative function will increase significantly.
The population will have the opportunity to complain and send a request not to the party, representative offices and public reception offices, but directly to deputies. We will have a cohort of public politicians of a new format, because they will have a political microphone. The political field will be updated, people who are already known will appear, but they will have much greater opportunities.