Constitutional reforms in Kazakhstan – a pathway to democratization?

On January 25, 2017, Kazakh President Nazarbayev announced the proposed constitutional changes at the TV-address to the nation. It will be the forth constitutional reforms in Kazakhstan since the current constitution was approved by a national referendum in August 1995 and replaced the constitution of 1993. The constitutional reforms of 1998 and 2007 focused on the strengthening and increase of presidential competences, and consequently, Nazarbayev grew more authoritarian over this time in office; the upcoming amendments are going to change the political system toward a “more liberal” one.

The President promised to delegate some of his power to the Parliament and the Government. The Government, ministries and regional executive offices (akimats) will be responsible for the regulation of social and economic processes. The role of Parliament should be strengthened in the formation of Government. According to Nazarbayev, about 40 functions can be transferred either to the Government or the Parliament. The President will act as a supreme arbiter. In addition, he will also focus on foreign policy, national security and defence. Moreover, the possibility of adopting the presidential decrees (they have the force of law) should have lost their relevance.

The proposed constitutional reforms will help to ensure stability of the political system, to provide more effective mechanisms of response to modern challenges and, finally, to move in the direction of democratic development. At this point it should be noted that Nazarbayev distanced himself from the universal concept of democracy in several speeches. He claimed that the latter concept is not appropriate for Kazakhstan, therefore he praised Donald Trump for saying that there is no need to spread American values across the whole globe to promote democracy. In this vein, it remains unclear, what he meant by the concept of democracy and therefore, whether the proposed constitutional reforms will lead to democratization.

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