Kazakhstan has adopted and approved a whole package of political reforms that create a new stage in the liberalization of its socio-political life. The new laws impact the development of the basic institutions of democracy – the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly, the organization of elections and political parties.
At the end of May of this year, the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a number of laws important for the further socio-political development of the country. They include the laws “On the procedure for organizing and holding peaceful assemblies in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, “On introducing amendments to the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan“, “On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan”, and “On introducing amendments and additions to the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Political Parties”.
These laws and the transformations they envisage are part of the package of political reforms put forward by the President as part of the National Council of Public Trust. Their adoption is an important step towards the realization of the concept of a “state that listens”, strengthening of the state’s democratic foundations, and enhancing the role of civil society.
The new law on rallies greatly simplifies the legal regulation of peaceful assemblies. Independent experts, civic and human rights activists, and non-governmental organizations participated in the process of drafting the legislation. The result of the multi-level discussion was a change in the originally laid down provisions in the direction of further liberalization.
Now, public spaces in the cities of the country can be used by citizens to hold peaceful assemblies. In addition, the notification procedure for peaceful assemblies will be reduced from 15 days to 5.
The law is fully consistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The document sets out the basic principles of peaceful assemblies: they must be legal, voluntary, not violent, and not pose a danger to either the state or citizens. Bans and obligations restricting the activities of journalists are also excluded.
“We are shaping a new political culture. Pluralism of opinions and alternative views are coming to the fore. The authorities do not believe that disagreement is destructive”, the President of Kazakhstan said. According to Tokayev, it is time for society and the state to treat correctly public expression of views. “And it is better to come to this independently, consciously, and not forcedly”, the head of Kazakhstan added.
The previous law was adopted 25 years ago and, according to domestic experts and international observers, has long required a conceptual review. The new law of 2020 fully complies with international standards – the principles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The law ensures the most important thing – the right to freedom of expression.
The legislation clearly outlines the basic principles of peaceful assemblies: they must be legal, voluntary, not violent, and not pose a danger to either the state or citizens. That is, the principles of human rights are observed – “everything that is not forbidden is allowed” and “your rights end where the rights of others begin”.
Therefore, the law “On peaceful assemblies” is a demonstration of the successful implementation of the concept of a “state that listens,” announced by President Tokayev.
The law on elections is also being improved. The new law establishes the introduction of an obligatory 30% quota for women and young people under 29 years of age to be included in party registry lists. This ensures their active participation in the elections to represent the local representative body and the lower house of Parliament.
The new laws will further strengthen the rights of women and youth to participate in the country’s political life. According to statistics, today more than 4.5 million economically active women and 2.8 million young people aged 20 to 29 live in Kazakhstan.
22% of members of parliament are women (the average representation of women in the OECD legislatures is 30%). There are 29 women in the Mazhilis of Parliament (the Lower House), and 6 in the Senate, while young people under the age of 29 are currently not represented in Parliament.
There are 740 women in maslihats (local representative bodies), around 22%, and 53 members are under the age of 29 years. Overall there are 3,335 representatives in maslihats.
In general, the quota policy is a fairly widespread international practice. Special party quotas are applied in European countries and are most common in Germany, Norway, France and Belgium, where these norms are enshrined in law.
The introduction of special quotas in Kazakhstan through the new law will incentivize the young generation of Kazakhstan and women to actively participate in the country’s political life. The impact of the new legal norms will most likely be felt in 2021 – the year of the next elections to the Mazhilis of Parliament.
The amendments to the Constitutional Law “On Elections” and the Law “On Political Parties” signed by the President have become an important part of the reform package that modernize the political system of Kazakhstan towards liberalization.
Reducing the threshold number of signatures needed to create a political association that can participate in elections from 40,000 to 20,000 people is a very important step to activate political life. This amendment facilitates the creation of political parties, which will positively impact the processes of development and adoption of government decisions.
Changes to the legislation will help to strengthen the role of political parties and increase their influence on all processes taking place in Kazakhstan. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said that Kazakhstan is establishing a “state that listens”. And the state can hear its citizens through civil society institutions such as political parties, and through their participation in the electoral process.
Today, 6 political parties are registered in Kazakhstan, and the adopted law will create an additional impetus for the emergence of new parties.
The measures included in the laws are aimed at reformatting the socio-political space, increasing competition in the political party field, and making electoral bodies more inclusive and balanced.