Kazakhstan democracy

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  • 1. Kazakhstan DemocracyIn 2010 President Nazarbayev rejected a call from constituents to hold areferendum to keep him in office until 2020 and, instead, insisted on an electionto be held in April 2011. President Nazarbayev received 95.54 percent of the votewith 89.9 percent of registered voters participating. Many independent observersaffirm that Kazakhstans Presidential election shows progress. The decision byPresident Nazarbayev to hold an election is evidence of the substantial progresstoward Kazakhstan’s democracy.Prior to the election in April 2011, President Nazarbayev affirmed in an opinionpiece in the Washington Post that Kazakhstan’s “road to democracy isirreversible.” President Nazarbayev outlined his plan for continued prosperity,progress, freedom and stability for Kazakhstan in his 2011 inaugural address.LegislationIn February 2009, Kazakhstan signed into law new legislation regarding themedia, elections, political parties, and local government. Through closecooperation and intensive discussions with NGOs, political parties and OSCEinstitutions, Kazakhstan incorporated many of their proposals into the final draftof the new legislation. The ODIHR and the Office of the Representative on theFreedom of the Media were very active and most helpful in bringing Kazakhstan’slaws in line with OSCE standards. As Chargé dAffaires of the U.S. Mission to theOSCE Kyle Scott stated at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna: “Thislegislation marks a step forward on Kazakhstan’s path to democracy.”The law on elections. Twenty-nine amendments signed into the law on electionshave further perfected the electoral process in Kazakhstan. Five of them wererecommended by the ODIHR/OSCE. Eight of them were recommended byKazakhstan’s human rights community, in close cooperation with U.S. humanrights NGOs, including Freedom House. The law now: Guaranteesrepresentation of at least two parties in the Parliament even if one of them doesnot win enough votes (i.e., over a 7 percent threshold). It excludes the possibilityto elect a one-party Parliament; Makes it mandatory for the media to equallycover the candidates and parties, including the period of nomination andregistration; Cancels any requirements for thousands of foreign observers, whousually come to Kazakhstan during elections, to have any relevant experience tomonitor electoral process; Decentralizes authority of the Central electioncommission in favor of local election commissions. Now local electioncommissions have greater authority in organizing the electoral process, such asdetermining their schedules to make them more convenient for the voters;Increases salaries for non-public servant members of election commissions atthe election periods; Authorizes the Central Election Commission to strictlyregulate the process of issuing absentee ballots.The law on political parties. Seven amendments signed into the law on politicalparties partly reflect recommendations made by the OSCE and Kazakhstan’shuman rights community, in close cooperation with U.S. human rights NGOs,including Freedom House. The original goal of the amendments is to further
  • 2. liberalize and expand the space for political debate. The law: Significantlyreduces the number of requirements for registering a political party (in the newtext of the law even a party that submits erroneous lists of its members cannot bedenied registration on these grounds); Decreases required membership size for aparty to be registered (now a party needs to have only 600 members in each ofthe country’s regions and 40,000 members nationwide to be registered as anational political party); Simplifies the registration process and the funding ofpolitical parties to strengthen their role in public life; Regulates the legal andtechnical process of establishing (merger, incorporation, split-up or split-off) apolitical party (the ODIHR recommendation); Provides public financing of politicalparties.The law on mass media addressed the concerns that have been recently voicedby the media community. It has been amended to increase the rights ofjournalists and media to ensure greater self-regulation. The amendments reflectthe recommendations of the ODIHR. The law: Removes administrative barriersand re-registration requirements for mass media; Extends the rights ofjournalists. For example media representatives are not required to ask forpermission to use recording equipment when conducting interviews; Provides theright of a citizen to demand retraction of the published defamation or slander if aperson who published this information cannot support the allegations with facts;Denies this right to citizens, thus upholding the adversarial principle in the court’sdeliberations.On January 28 2009, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, MiklosHaraszti, welcomed the adoption of a number of amendments to Kazakhstansmedia law, and underscored the need for further democratization of mediagovernance. "I welcome the easing of administrative burdens on the media, aswell as the fact that civil society was involved in the discussion about thechanges," Haraszti wrote in a letter to Kazakhstans Foreign Minister, MaratTazhin, and Culture and Information Minister, Mukhtar Kul Mukhammed."However, the process of liberalization of Kazakhstans media law shouldcontinue, because the current body of law, notwithstanding these usefulamendments, still fails to meet several international standards," said Haraszti. Heprovided the authorities with a list of the most important reforms which still needto be carried out, including: 1 The media market should be de-monopolized; 2 Registration should be managed by an independent body, and should be declarative and not permissive; 3 The use of closure or confiscation of circulation as a penalty should be abolished; 4 Libel and insult should be decriminalized; 5 Only officials should be in charge of protecting classified information; breach of secrecy by others, including journalists, should not be criminalized.Haraszti offered his offices assistance to help the Kazakh government carry outfurther reforms in the field of media legislation.The law on local self-government codifies local self-governance in the regions(oblast), districts, cities, districts within the cities, towns and villages; significantly
  • 3. increases the political role of Maslikhates (local elected legislatures) andimproves effectiveness of a “checks and balances system” between maslikhatesand akimates (local executives). The law reflects the experience of both Franceand Britain in providing local self-governance. It includes attributes of theEuropean Charter on local self-government, is generally in line with the finaldocument of the 1990 Copenhagen Meeting and reflects the vision of the UnitedStates on independence of local governance.Members of Maslikhates are elected by people of a region. They approveregional development programs, claim the regional budget, and are accountableto voters. Voters have the right to request a report on the work of members ofMaslikhates, as well as to recall them in case of duties’ breach. Heads of Akimats(akims) appointed by the President of Kazakhstan take the office only afterapproval by Maslikhate. They are accountable to Maslikhates on budget issues.The law also lowers the needed majority (to 51 percent) for Maslikhates to voteAkims out of office.Kazakhstan has also signed and ratified 35 major international instrumentsaimed at upholding human rights and civil liberties. They include internationaltreaties on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well asconventions of the International Labor Organization, and has committed to theoptional protocol to the International Treaty on Civil and Political Rights as well asthe protocol to the Convention Against Torture.Political Parties.Kazakhstan’s law on political parties prohibits parties based on ethnic origin,religion, or gender. There are 10 political parties in Kazakhstan as compared to13 in 2006. Four parties representing supporters of the current Governmentmerged by the end of 2006, and as a result “Nur-Otan” - a new pro-presidentialpro-reform party able to effectively represent interests of its numerous supporters- emerged on the political stage of Kazakhstan. Also in 2006 a leftist NationwideSocial Democratic Party was registered joining the ranks of several otheropposition parties. The beginning of 2007 has seen a robust process of mergersand consolidation of political parties, including opposition ones, particularly, in therun-up to 18 August, 2007 parliamentary elections.Civil Society.Since its independence, Kazakhstan has been fully engaged in the transitionfrom a Soviet political system to democracy. It charts its own destiny under abanner of increasing freedom and decided to follow a formula that has worked forother democracies and requires the involvement of all the stakeholders in thesociety. Therefore, in the mid-1990s, Kazakhstan decided to establish andmaintain a strong and independent civil society since one had never existed. Thethird sector was entirely government-controlled.In close cooperation with European and American partners, Kazakhstan hasbeen creating a legal environment for NGO development and growth.Kazakhstan non-for-profit legislation has been internationally recognized as oneof the best among the Commonwealth of Independent States. The first measure
  • 4. was adopted in the early 1990s and gave a powerful boost to the development ofcivic organizations in Kazakhstan. In mid of 1990s, the government separatedNGOs from commercial entities, significantly simplified the process of stateregistration, separated theirs activity from government, and granted them specialbenefit status. In its “1998 NGO Sustainability Index in Kazakhstan” report,USAID underscored that, “…NGOs exercised tax benefits without unduedifficulty”.Kazakhstan also has been providing opportunities for foreign and internationaldonors to provide financial support to the national non-for-profit sector throughgrants and other means. The peak period of foreign support for the Kazakh NGOsector was from 1996 to 1998. Today, 162 international organizations givinggrants to Kazakhstan’s NGOs and implementing various programs in the countryare entirely tax-exempt. Funds received by Kazakh NGOs under state contractsare exempt from corporate income and value-added taxes.Since Kazakhstan’s independence, thousands of Kazakh NGOs have beentrained by the UNDP, the USAID, the OSCE, and other foreign and internationalorganizations to increase their role in society and participate in nearly all spheresof public life. Recently NGOs have become increasingly active in advocacyefforts. What is encouraging is the sustainability in this trend.The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) 2009 NGOSustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia scoredKazakhstan better than many Eastern European and Eurasian countries andidentified Kazakhstan as having achieved one of the highest levels of NGOsector development among the Central Asian countries. The report also projectedthat the number of NGOs in Kazakhstan is expected to rise because of the“stable domestic policy climate laws that are favorable to NGOs.”The dynamic of NGO growth in numbers. In early 1990s, about 400 NGOs wereestablished as Kazakhstan experienced a rapid rate of reform. These NGOswere mainly involved in human rights issues and furthering democracy in thecountry. From 1994 to 1997, more than 1,600 NGOs have been registered. Thatgrowth continues even today. Last year, the number of NGOs has risen by 10percent. Today, more than 25,000 nonprofit organizations are active inKazakhstan, including 13,000 NGOs. More than 550,000 people are involved inthe “third sector.”Cooperation between government and NGOs. At the beginning of 2002, thegovernment decided to expand its effort to develop the third sector. It approvedthe Concept of State Support for Non-Commercial Organizations, includingsupport for socially significant projects of NGOs through the signing of socialcontracts with them. In 2006, Kazakhstan adopted the Concept of Civil SocietyDevelopment for 2006-2011, a “road map” for improving relations between thegovernment and not-for-profit sector. During the first and second phases ofimplementing the Concept, Kazakhstan reduced the registration fee for NGOs,signed and ratified the Optional Protocol to the 1966 International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights, simplified long-criticized reporting requirements forNGOs receiving foreign aid, and lifted the ban on state financing of NGOs. Anumber of laws have improved and enacted, including those dealing with the
  • 5. Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, local administration, political parties,election and mass media. These acts have encouraged active cooperation withcivil society institutions and made a significant contribution to the process ofintroducing OSCE standards.As the third phase of implementing the Concept gets under way in 2010,Kazakhstan will continue drafting an effective legal framework for NGOs. Theoriginal goal is to promote and secure stable development of civil institutions andimprove the quality of dialogue between the government and NGO community.One of the most prominent platforms for this dialogue was established in 2003with the creation of the so-called biannual “Civic Forum.”Civic Forum. Years ago, President Nazarbayev called for the government tocooperate with the NGO sector, recognizing the power that partnerships withthese organizations can play in developing and improving a civil society. As aresult, Kazakhstan has initiated the Civil Forum to facilitate greater involvementof the NGO community in the government’s efforts for political reformnationwide. Civil Forum is a mechanism for engaging in meaningful dialogue,positive interaction, and results-driven collaboration with NGOs, giving theseorganizations direct access to decision-makers within government. This processpromotes the kind of participation, synergy, and exchange that result in theformulation of beneficial policies and laws. What is most significant about theCivic Forum is that through dialogue and deliberations it has provided theopportunity for Kazakh NGOs to be participate in government policy discussionsand formulation. Kazakhstan held three forums last year and a fourth forum thisNovember.At the time of the Civil Forum I, the nongovernmental sector of Kazakhstan wasrecognized as an important power within the democratic process. A newpartnership among the government, business, and NGOs was announced duringthis initial forum. It is worth noting that the Civil Alliance of Kazakhstan wascreated during Civil Forum II. The Concept of Civil Sector Development wasadopted and approved by the President then. The action plan for the conceptimplementation was developed and approved by the Prime Minister during thisforum as well. Civil Forum III was devoted to further developing partnershipswithin the framework of the civil society democratization and realization of theCivil Sector Development Concept.The 2009 Civic Forum IV held in Astana on November 23-24 hosted more than700 participants from an array of countries, including the United States, Russia,Germany, France, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan. Representatives from trade unions,media, international and foreign NGOs, central and local executive bodies, andregionally elected representatives from various political parties attended. “TheCivic Forum, which this year is the largest ever, proves that the partnershipbetween Kazakh society and the Government is deepening,” said ProgramDirector for Central Asia at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law(American based NGO) Ms.Elizabeth Warner.The forum was opened by 2010 OSCE Chairman-in-Office H.E. KanatSaudabayev. He stressed that cooperation between NGOs and the governmentwill only increase as Kazakhstan begins its chairmanship of the Organization for
  • 6. Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). He called on NGOs to contribute toKazakhstan’s success as chair of the OSCE, which he said is a “great honor andhuge responsibility not only for state organs but for all the institutions of civilsociety, including NGOs.”At the 2009 forum, the government reported to assembled NGOs that it hadimplemented 226 socially significant projects during the previous year—all inpartnership with various NGOs. As a result, Kazakhstan was able to avoid socialinstability and, through this partnership, minimized the after-effects of the worldeconomic recession. This partnership has had a defining effect as observed byMs.Warner: “Since the first Civic Forum in 2003, we have seen many importantdevelopments in the partnership between the Government and civil society—simplified registration laws, the participation of NGOs in policymaking at thenational and regional levels, and the beginning of more favorable tax laws thatwill promote private philanthropy.”One of the main outcomes of Civil Forum IV is the agreement reached betweenthe government and NGOs to continue working together on improving the qualityof their cooperation, the role of NGOs in the social and political life of the country,social monitoring, social orders, among other important areas.Setting the Course Together. One of the more telling signs of the “deepening”partnership on issues of political development of the country has been thegovernment’s involvement of and partnership with NGOs in the drafting of twosignificant documents—the National Human Rights Action Plan of the Republic ofKazakhstan, 2009-2012, outlining steps to strengthen the national system ofhuman rights protection, and the Concept of Legal Policy for 2010-2020, which,among other things, sets a plan for improving state governance based on theprinciples of effectiveness and accountability, ensuring protection of human rightsand freedoms, and protecting the interests of the state and society.Eighty percent of the Action Plan was developed by Kazakhstan’s non-governmental organizations. It was preceded by a baseline study and report onhuman rights in Kazakhstan that analyzed the national legislation, lawenforcement practices, and compliance with international law provisions inhuman rights protection. The Human Rights Commission and the group workingon the plan closely studied the breath of international experiences. The LegalConcept was also prepared in close cooperation with Kazakhstan’s NGOcommunity. It defines the main directions of legal policy and is intended as afoundation for the development of programs in the sphere of legal policy and isprojected to bring Kazakhstan’s legal system closer to international standards insuch areas as the constitution, administration, taxation, customs, as well as civil,financial, and criminal law. It envisages reforms in law enforcement, the judiciary,and the protection of human rights.Middle Class.Unlike many nations that have recently developed their energy reserves, the risein revenues from foreign energy sales has had a trickle-down effect inKazakhstan, producing the embryo of a new middle class. Kazakhstan has madea cornerstone of its social policy to foster the development of an indigenous
  • 7. middle class, seeing it as a social and political guarantor of stability. Privatisation,housing, banking, education reforms, numerous initiatives on supporting smalland medium businesses have helped emerging Kazakhstan’s middle class.Kazakhstan’s middle class began to use their disposable income to travelabroad, to acquire items essential for the Western lifestyle such as computersand cell-phones. According to Kazakhstan’s Statistics Agency, in mid-2008 therewere more than 8 mln. cell phone users in Kazakhstan, representing more thanhalf of the population. As the Kazakh middle class became increasingly visible,new political parties and the government itself began to vie for its support.While estimates vary, some analysts put its numbers at 25 percent of the totalpopulation, representing people who consume 50-80 percent of the financialvalue of all goods sold in Kazakhstan. Analysts further divide this group into twosections, a lower middle class, with individual annual incomes of $6,000-9,000,(an estimated 70 percent of the stratum,) and the “upper” middle class, withannual individual incomes of $9,000-15,000, (30 percent of the total group.)According to official Kazakh statistics, salaries increased by 21 percent in 2001and by 12 percent in 2002 and have consistently risen each year since (theprincipal criterion used by analysts to define Kazakhstans middle class is not thenature of labour, professional association or property, but income level). OtherKazakh experts give figures on the extent of the group as ranging between 18percent and 60 percent of the population.Court System.The legal system of Kazakhstan owes its origin to the Continental (Roman-German) legal family. Since independence Kazakhstan has successfullyreformed its legal and judicial sectors and constantly continues the modernizationprocess by introducing the best world practices. Such reforms as the move ofpenitentiary system from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice,introduction of a moratorium on death penalty with a view of future total abolition,introduction of jury trials for the most serious crimes have all won internationalacclaim and praise.There are local and oblast (regional) level courts, and a national-level SupremeCourt and Constitutional Council. A special arbitration court hears disputesbetween state enterprises. There is also a military court system. Local levelcourts serve as courts of first instance for less serious crimes such as theft andvandalism. Oblast level courts hear more serious criminal cases and also hearcases in rural areas where no local courts have been established. A judgment bya local court may be appealed to the oblast level. The Supreme Court hearsappeals from the oblast courts. The constitution establishes a seven memberConstitutional Council to determine the constitutionality of laws adopted by thelegislature. It also rules on challenges to elections and referendums andinterprets the constitution. The president appoints three of its members, includingthe chair.Under constitutional amendments of 1998, the president appoints a chairpersonof a Supreme Judicial Council, which nominates judges for the Supreme Court.The Council consists of the chairperson of the Constitutional Council, thechairperson of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General, the Minister of
  • 8. Justice, senators, judges, and other persons appointed by the president. Thepresident recommends and the senate (upper legislative chamber) approvesthese nominees for the Supreme Court. Oblast judges (nominated by theSupreme Judicial Council) are appointed by the president. Lower level judges areappointed by the President from a list presented by the Ministry of Justice. TheMinistry receives the list from a Qualification Collegiums of Justice, composed ofdeputies from the Majlis (lower legislative chamber), judges, prosecutors, andothers appointed by the president). Under legislation approved in 1996, judgesserve for life.In accordance with 2008 Constitutional reform, the judicial-legal system wasimproved with the aim to strengthen the independence of courts in pronouncingjudgments. The reform facilitated a near total abolishment of capital punishmentin Kazakhstan, limiting its application exclusively to terrorist crimes involving theloss of human life, or wartime crimes. A system of judicial custody has beenintroduced and the Constitution prohibits investigation by the Office of PublicProsecutor. These reforms are directed towards further democratization of theinstitutions of the Government and society. In order to make the legislationactivity more effective, the Kazakh Government is in the process of creating asystem that would be modern in content and have regulations that vividly reflectall stages of legislation and law-enforcement activity.Each Legal Act will and is being evaluated as per international standards toensure that the interests of Kazakh citizens, society and the State arecomprehensively and rationally taken into consideration. Efforts are on to evolvea system of legal expertise in accordance with the development of Kazakhsociety and the Kazakh State. Presently 17 branches of legislation have beenidentified which require legal codes for their regulation.Media in Kazakhstan.Having emerged on the world map from the shackles of the Soviet Union in 1991,Kazakhstan has started actively developing its media market. It is a remarkableachievement for a country that used to have only few media outlets, purelyofficial, to provide access today to more than 2,000 local media resources, about85 percent of which are non-governmental.There are major newspapers as well as TV and radio channels providing newsand entertainment in 11 languages, including German, Ukrainian, Turkish,Ukrainian etc., to reflect the great ethnic diversity in Kazakhstan. Media outletsbroadcasting in ethnic languages are subject to grants and other types offinancial support from the national budget. In 2002 the first Kazakh satellitechannel – Caspionet – was launched and broadcasts successfully both in thecountry and abroad.International media corporations such as CNN, BBC, Radio Free Europe,Deutsche Welle, Polonia and others actively broadcast their programs inKazakhstan through local cable television companies. Over 80 foreign massmedia from more than 20 countries, including the largest news agencies such asthe Associated Press, Interfax, France Press, Xinhua, Reuters, ITAR-TASS,Bridge news, etc. are accredited in Kazakhstan
  • 9. A liberal and democratic government information policy is the basis for theseprocesses. The main mechanisms of the policy are: 1 legal guarantees and practical insurance of the principles of freedom of speech, free receiving and spreading of information, censorship prohibition; 2 continuing improvement of legal framework of mass media activity; 3 annual placing of budget financed government order for implementation of the government information policy. A right to get this order is assigned through a contest among mass media bodies irrespective of their ownership. This measure allowed to create equal conditions for receiving government financial support by both government and non-government press consequently encouraging their creative activity and business initiative; 4 transparent process of receiving frequencies for TV and radio broadcasting. The Commission on providing rights for radio frequency use comprises representatives of the Parliament, international and Kazakhstan public associations. Activity of the Commission is widely covered by the mass media; 5 creation of economic conditions for mass media growth. All the publications and TV stations are exempted from VAT. Charges for use of radio frequency decrease almost every year; 6 continuing and constructive cooperation with public associations, international organizations, media research institutes in the area of mass media development. Journalists rights associations such as the Journalists Congress of Kazakhstan, Journalists Union of Kazakhstan, Teleradiobroadcasters Association of Kazakhstan, offices of international organizations (the OSCE, Human Rights Watch, Internews network, Adil Soz, etc.) fruitfully work in Kazakhstan; 7 close attention to journalists development. To this end every year the government provides grants and loans for education in this field, a TV Journalism School was established. An important event for mass media development in Kazakhstan was the establishment of the Public Council on Mass Media (information policy). This entity unites MPs, the Chairman of the Board of the Journalists Union of Kazakhstan, President of the Tele-Radiobroadcasters Association of Kazakhstan, Editors-in-Chief and journalists of leading mass media bodies.