Constitutional reforms in Kazakhstan | By Professor Shazia A Cheema, Prague

Constitutional reforms in Kazakhstan

Central Asia’s largest republic, Kazakhstan, held a referendum on June 5, 2022, and its citizens voted to approve 33 of the document’s 98 Constitution articles to make the document more viable, operational, practical and compliant with emerging realities.

The president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, rightly believes that the referendum was designed to establish a “second republic” by reforming “the parliamentary and party system” and moving away from the “super-presidential regime”.

The June 5, 2022 referendum was the third since Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991 and the first since the 1995 referendum that established the current Constitution.

I am of the opinion that after the violent civil unrest in January 2022, there was an urgent need to review everything – I mean literally everything because stability could only be brought about through rapid political, social and economic reforms.

This referendum granted more powers to Parliament; making it the supreme institution by eliminating the powers that former President Nursultan Nazarbayev retained after his resignation in 2019.

The interest of the public in this referendum can be judged by the fact that the turnout in the referendum was 68.1% and of this percentage, 77.2% voted in favor of the reforms.

After these constitutional amendments, public participation and interest in politics would increase as massive changes in the electoral law and party registration process are already encouraging the public to be an active member of political activities and this political participation is due to the decentralization of powers. at regional/local level.

Many of my Kazakh friends who study with me abroad believe that they have more to say and more to do in the new political system and believe that the decentralization introduced by reforms through a referendum will surely provide space so that an ordinary man can participate in political, social, and economic activities.

It is important to mention that new laws prevent relatives of any incumbent president from holding government positions or running parastatals.

Also, the president will hold office or be a member of any political party after being sworn in as president and it will not be possible for anyone to resume a continuous presidency like the former president because the number of terms consecutive presidential elections has been reduced to two. .

Some amendments indicate that more powers have been given to Parliament, especially the Lower House.

The lower house of Kazakhstan is called the Mazhilis and functions similarly to the National Assembly in Pakistan.

Now, as in Pakistan, the Lower House will have the main role in drafting laws and the Upper House (the Senate) will be limited to approving or rejecting laws proposed by the Lower House.

I believe that the political reforms undertaken by Kazakhstan and the significant and practical changes adopted by the referendum on the Constitution should be taken as a positive example for other countries not only in Central Asia, but Pakistan should also consider following the way because we have been arguing for ages that The 1973 Constitution needs massive changes to become more practical.

There is no doubt that constitutional changes in Pakistan are made by Parliament, but I am of the opinion that drastic changes must come directly to the public through a referendum because Parliament would not allow any drastic changes that could minimize its power or share power at the local level. level.

In Pakistan, the local government system has not been allowed to operate freely because parliamentarians are not willing to share their powers with elected local government officials like councilors etc.

Our politicians are not ready to believe that their only responsibility is legislation and not the use of public funds and the provision of public jobs to their constituents.

Our members of the National Assembly, Senate and Provincial Assemblies are not prepared to share public funds with anyone and the power they enjoy in Thana (police station) and Kachairi (district courts).

In Pakistan, we continue to debate whether or not the existing social contract has failed and whether we should need a new system and a new social contract.

I believe that a referendum like the one in Kazakhstan can be useful to revise our Constitution as well as the social system which has failed miserably to help the weak and the powerful.

In Pakistan, power belongs only to the powerful. Can we run the state of Pakistan for a longer period in which 75% of the poor and weak people have no role to play and no rights to enjoy?

—The writer is a Prague-based author, columnist and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media.

Berta D. Wells