Kazakhstan took a very important step towards political reform last week after approving constitutional amendments laid out by an absolute majority in a referendum.
This can be seen as a very progressive response to the widespread unrest of last January that gripped the oil-rich country and escalated into anti-government demonstrations in the country’s largest city of Almaty and resulted in the Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to dismiss his government and declared a state of emergency in response.
This is a progressive approach to countering domestic crisis in the current atmosphere as many other countries use the Ukrainian crisis to trigger a state of emergency and lock down governance and control.
The constitutional reform would change the country from a super-presidential model to a presidential republic based on re-distribution of power that increases the role and power of the parliament. It is a positive move for democracy as we do not often see a model where those in power give up some of it, but increasing political inclusion is the only sustainable way to address the high level of frustration and the sense of deprivation that people are experiencing.
It demonstrates a true desire for change to address the risks of de-stabilisation and reduce the potential sparks of revolution. Rather than limiting reform, they are pushing to de-centralise power and give more authority to the Parliament, while also focusing on the mechanism for the protection of people’s rights, enabling political activism and freedom of speech. This is a political recipe that a society really needs in parallel to any political reform.
For a rich country like Kazakhstan, political stability was a key driver of massive western investments in energy and the mining industry. This was at risk from the request of the president last January to a Russia-led security bloc for help in quelling the unrest, portraying Kazakhstan as a Russian dependent ally, immediately making it less appealing for Western investors.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the negative economic impacts affected Kazakhstan and its currency, especially with Western sanctions against Russia and created serious difficulties for Kazakh companies to deal with European companies. So, the political courage to undertake these serious reforms gives Kazakhstan a new position as part of the democratic world, further distinguishing it from many others. Further, it sends a clear message that the country is keen to be seen as part of the democratic world, with open doors for all countries, and not being associated to repressive regimes and authoritarian governance models.
This is a beacon for other countries yet to achieve the goals of reform as a model to follow. Much will depend on the integrity of the model that follows to protect from interference of regressive powers. It is critical from a domestic perspective, but also as a response to a changing world and the need to keepy up with these changes.`
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh