Government & Politics

Political Overview

On 16 December 1991 the Republic of Kazakhstan declared its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1995, democracy was installed in a nationwide referendum. Since then, the country has undertaken ambitious political reforms to improve democracy and to become an advocate of peace and stability in central Asia. Taking into account that democratic institutions are still young, international experts consider Kazakhstan’s progress as remarkable.

International relations: Kazakhstan has stable relationships with all of its neighbours. Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has pursued multidimensional foreign policy, seeking good relations with Russia, China, the USA and Europe. The policy has yielded results in the oil and gas sector, where companies from the U.S., Russia, China, and Europe are present at all major fields, and in the multidimensional directions of oil export pipelines out of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan also enjoys strong, and rapidly developing, political and economic ties with Turkey.

Kazakhstan is a member of the United Nations, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). It is an active participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's (NATO) Partnership for Peace programme. Kazakhstan is also a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a permanent intergovernmental organisation promoting peace and security in the region. Since January 2007, Mr Bolat K.Nurgaliev (Kazakhstan) holds the position of Secretary-General of the SCO for a period of three years.

The nations of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan established the Eurasian Economic Community in 2000 to re-energise efforts at harmonising trade tariffs and the creation of a free trade zones under a customs union.

In an attempt to integrate its economy into the world market Kazakhstan applied for membership at the WTO in 1996. Negotiations are underway and the Chairman of the Working Party on the Accession of Kazakhstan, Vesa Tapani Himanen, stated in June 2005 that “this accession has taken an important step forward”, in reference to the key domestic reforms undertaken by the government of Kazakhstan.

The political system of Kazakhstan can be characterised as a presidential system with a strong position of the president. The President is the head of state, appoints prime minister and cabinet and defines the major guidelines in domestic and foreign policy. In October 1998, the Constitution was amended to provide for a seven-year presidential term. The first presidential election under the amended constitution was held in January 1999 and resulted in the election of President Nazarbayev to his first seven-year term; the second took place in December 2005 (see below).

The parliament consists of two chambers: the 39-seat upper house (Senate) and the 107-seat lower house (Majilis). The Senate is made up of two elected representatives from each of Kazakhstan’s 14 regions, plus the cities of Astana (capital) and Almaty (former capital). Representatives serve terms of two, four or six years. The remaining seven members are appointed directly by the President from a choice of prominent public figures, academics, intellectuals etc. The Majilis is a directly elected body. According to the new election law (amended in June 2007) 98 of the 107 seats in the lower chamber (Majilis) are elected by direct suffrage according to a proportional representation system with one national electoral district. Parties reaching the 7% threshold receive mandates according to their share of votes. The remaining 9 deputies are appointed by the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (APK) and represent the national minorities.

There are 8 political parties in Kazakhstan, compared to 13 one year ago. 7 parties submitted candidate lists for the 2007 parliamentary elections, only the Communist Party of Kazakhstan renounced. The leading Nur-Otan party resulted from a merger of four parties representing supporters of the current government. Other fusions have also recently taken place, namely the fusion of opposition party Nagyz Ak Zhol and the All National Social Democratic Party (ANSDP) which later merged with Adilet.

The democratization process

30 August 1995 A new Constitution was approved in a nationwide referendum. Kazakhstan officially becomes a democratic republic.

January 1999 First ever presidential elections with four alternative candidates for the presidency; observed by the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe)

December 1999 First ever parliamentary elections carried out on party basis with 8-9 candidates per seat and 9 parties taking part in elections, observed by the OSCE.

September 2004 New parliamentary elections, held under the revised Election Law of April 2004. Electoral turnout: 56%.

December 2005 New presidential elections with 5 candidates, including 2 major opposition leaders. President Nursultan Nazarbayev is re-elected for a new seven-year (concluding) term in office after campaigning against four other candidates and winning the majority of votes with an electoral turnout of about 80%.

May 2007 Parliament approved amendments to the Constitution, aimed at redistributing the balance of power in favour of the legislature. The reforms include an increase of Majilis members from 77 to 107. The presidential term is also to be reduced from seven to five years – although another change allows the current president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to be re-elected indefinitely.

20 June 2007 The President dissolves lower house and calls for early Majilis elections to speed up the parliamentary reforms. The Majilis, whose term officially ends in 2009, needs to be re-elected for these reforms to come into force.

18 August 2007 The fourth parliamentary elections since Kazakhstan’s independence take place. Following the count, on 20 August President Nazarbayev's Nur-Otan party received 88% of the vote, and no other party cleared the 7% barrier needed to win a seat in the legislature.