19.02.2022, 10:02
Фархад Касенов

Unexpected Founding Fathers of Kazakh Democracy

The political life of Kazakhstan, previously a calm swamp, seethed in 2022, under the influence of serious security challenges, as it became clear that the old tried and true ways of working no longer work.

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Now there is a search for new forms of relations between society and the state, while ordinary citizens hope to maintain the stability of the political system, but not to the detriment of the overall socio-economic development of the country.

In this aspect, it is very important to answer the question of what foundations from the previous political era we can rely on in order to build a developed democratic society that would not slide into authoritarianism, with any wind of history.
Oddly enough, it can be confidently noted that one positive democratic tradition in the country has already begun to strengthen, and it was founded by the former head of state, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Despite the strong criticism associated with this name, it is important to note that it was the first president of Kazakhstan who laid down the tradition of voluntary resignation from power, albeit with great reservations.

For a post-Soviet society with its totalitarian past, this is a rarity, since the rotation of heads of state occurred either for natural biological reasons, due to the death of a leader from old age (USSR, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan), or due to a revolt of citizens tired of economic turmoil ( Kyrgyzstan). A dynastic transfer of power is also being tested, as in Azerbaijan, and, apparently, this mechanism has been launched in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Belarus, where the heirs of the current heads of state are unofficially announced as the main contenders for the throne.

The case of Kazakhstan is clearly different from this practice, since N.Nazarbayev voluntarily initiated his resignation from the presidency in 2019, and doing it with a fair amount of humor, having previously sent a request to the Constitutional Council whether he has the right to rest, like any other person in the country. Despite the fears of critics, the republic did not receive a new dynasty, and after less than three years, Nursultan Nazarbayev in a special appeal confirmed his status as a well-deserved pensioner, calling for support for the legally elected head of state in troubled times.
Often, the rejection of Boris Yeltsin in 1999 is not a good example, since the coming to power in the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin was not marked by democratic reforms, enshrined both legislatively and at the level of political practice, but, on the contrary, led to the establishment of a rigid authoritarian regime. In other words, Yeltsin could not lay a political tradition, since his undertakings were completely disavowed by the successor.

In this regard, the figure of K.Tokayev looks more promising, since the current head of the state has repeatedly stated the need for further democratization of social and political life in the country, confirming the words by actions. Of course, the speed of real changes is not really so great, and is divided into a certain extent with declared intentions, but it is more important that the overall positive vector is still preserved.

Even the tragedy of January, when many innocent citizens suffered, which became hostages of provocateurs, although he slowed down the processes of civil liberties, but did not turn them back, which became noticeably on the reaction of the state to the indignation by society torture detainees. In a similar situation, the dictatorship of A. Lukashenko in Belarus did not simply strengthened terror against its own citizens, but also denied its wrong with anything, despite the mass multi-month protests of angry voters.

In Kazakhstan, the authorities after the January events quickly promptly recognized their mistakes, condemned the illegal actions of law enforcement agencies, the beginning of a dialogue with society, tried to establish relations with international human rights organizations, and even despite the attempt to blackmail by force structures.

At the same time, it is necessary to note an interesting detail: even being tempted by temptation to shift all the blame for the existing systemic problems on the predecessor, K.Tokayev found the courage to recognize the merits of the country's first president in the formation of independent Kazakhstan, while noting that N.Nazarbayev mistakes will become a lesson for subsequent generations of politicians. In other words, such an approach, with all flaws, ensures a guarantee of a peaceful and voluntary transfer of power for the future, not condemned the first person of the state to convulsive throwing in search of a refuge country after departing.

The next six years will be the time for laying down a number of necessary political traditions that ensure the stable development of Kazakhstan, but the most important of them may be the rooting of the norm of a democratic society that the head of state cannot be in power for more than two terms. Despite the apparent simplicity of this rule, it is rarely observed in post-colonial states; it is enough to recall the African and Asian leaders who have been in power for several decades.

And in a country that is a symbol of democracy throughout the world, the United States, the twenty-second amendment to the Constitution was adopted only in 1951, after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a very popular leader, was elected for four consecutive terms. But the political tradition of limiting the stay in power to two terms was laid down by the first president, George Washington, the founder of the state, after whom the capital of the united states is named. The tradition was continued by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote on this occasion that "unless some limitation on the term of office of an official is established by the Constitution or is not implemented in practice, the office, formally four years, may actually be for life."

In Kazakhstan, this norm, originally enshrined in all versions of the Constitution, starting from the first in 1993, was not actually implemented, and now the theory of democracy must be put into practice. At the end of January 2022, K. Tokayev noted the following in an interview: “I don’t know how long I will be the president of Kazakhstan, but absolutely for sure - in accordance with the Constitution, no more than two terms. That is, there will be no rewriting of laws, and even more so of the Constitution.” If these words are realized, then they can be considered the first evidence of the establishment of a new political tradition that will greatly change the course of political processes in the country.

After thirty years of independence, Kazakhstan will finally receive a clear calendar of political life, on the basis of which it will be possible to make calculations about electoral activity, prepare a resource base for elections, conduct a civilized struggle for the votes of citizens, which will undoubtedly contribute to the growth of public confidence in the political system as a whole while ensuring its stability.

The development of two traditions laid down by N. Nazarbayev and, hopefully, K. Tokayev, will help strengthen the institution of statehood in Kazakhstan, make it unshakable, despite all external threats. This is precisely the rational legacy of the first two presidents of Kazakhstan, no less valuable than the foundations laid by Washington and Jefferson in the foundation of the United States.


Farkhad Kassenov, political observer

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