Category Archives: Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan – Senate election

The Kazakhstan constitution dates back to 1995. In May 2007 a number of major constitutional amendments were adopted. For example, only a simple majority, rather than a two-thirds majority, is now required to bring down the government in a vote of no-confidence, though of course the fact that there are no opposition parties in the parliament renders this latter event rather unlikely at the moment. Also, the president’s term was reduced to five years (after the next election), but term limits were abolished. So, President Nursultan Nazarbayev may end up being president for life. The 1995 constitution is available here. I do not have an English version of the revised constitution, but a resume of the 2007 amendments is available here.

One amendment related to the Senate and yesterday was the first Senate election under the new system. The Senate comprises 47 Senators, 15 of whom (rather than 7 previously) are now chosen by the president and 32 of whom are elected indirectly. Art. 50 (2) states: “The Senate shall be composed of deputies elected in twos from each oblast, major city and the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan, at a joint session of the deputies of all representative bodies of the respectively oblast, major city and the capital of the Republic.” The Senate term is 6 years and half of the elected representatives are elected every three years. so, apart from the presidential nominees, 16 Senators were up for election.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given there is no opposition representation in the lower house, it seems that no opposition members will be either appointed to or elected to the Senate. RFE/RL has two reports, both of which seem to confirm this situation. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2007 (the term is five years), the next presidential election is also scheduled for 2012 (the full 7-year term is being played out and the new 5-year term is being introduced thereafter).

Semi-presidentialism in the FSU – When did it begin?

The Former Soviet Union (FSU) is the home of a number of semi-presidential countries. In terms of their current constitutions, there are some unequivocal cases of semi-presidentialism: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine. Previously, Moldova was unequivocally semi-presidential too. The situation in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is a little more ambiguous. In both cases, parliament ratifies the president’s decrees that appoint and dismiss the prime minister. It is debatable as to whether this is sufficient to constitute a semi-presidential constitution. The level of responsibility to parliament is low and, in any case, responsibility is only individual and not collective.

Sticking to the unequivocal cases, the question is when do we date the start of semi-presidentialism? In the case of Georgia, the answer is easy. As per a previous post, it became semi-presidential in 2004 after a constitutional amendment. For the other countries, the dates of the first independence constitutions are as follows: Armenia (1995), Azerbaijan (1995), Belarus (1994), Kazakhstan (1993), Kyrgyzstan (1993), Lithuania (1992), Moldova (1994), Russia (1993) and Ukraine (1996).

While these are the dates of the first constitutions, it is common to think of semi-presidentialism starting earlier. This is because in the period immediately following the declaration of independence, and prior to the passage of the new constitution, most of these countries grafted a directly elected president onto the existing Soviet-era constitution. So, for example, the first presidential elections under Soviet-era constitutions were held as follows: Armenia (1991), Azerbaijan (1992), Kazakhstan (1991), Kyrgyzstan (1991), Moldova (1991), Russia (1991) and Ukraine (1991). Given these constitutions were, nominally, parliamentary, this combination of a direct presidential election and a parliamentary system seems to create the conditions for semi-presidentialism. (In Belarus and Lithuania, the first direct presidential elections took place under the first independence constitution. So, there is no doubt about when they began to be semi-presidential.)

All the same, I think we have to be a little careful as to when we date the beginning of semi-presidentialism and for two reasons. Firstly, I am not sure that there are consolidated constitutional documents prior to the passage of the first constitutions. Certainly, I have been unable to find them. If they do exist, then please let me know where to get hold of them. In the absence of a consolidated document, it is to difficult to verify the start date of semi-presidentialism. Secondly, even if there were consolidated documents, would they indicate semi-presidentialism? According to the 1978 constitutions of the socialist republics of the USSR, it is certainly the case that the Council of Ministers was responsible to the parliament (Supreme Soviet) and that there was a person who occupied the position of Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Moreover, prime ministers certainly existed in the newly independent countries from an early point: Armenia (1990), Azerbaijan (1991), Kazakhstan (1991), Kyrgyzstan (1991), Moldova (1990), Russia (1991) and Ukraine (1990). Again, though, in the absence of consolidated documents, it is difficult to verify the specific start date of semi-presidentialismism. Were there other amendments to the constitution apart from just the direct election of the president? Were there changes to the status of the prime minister and cabinet? And so on.

The precise start date of semi-presidentialism can be important because a couple of these countries experienced a brief period of democracy but then collapsed. For example, according to Freedom House Azerbaijan was a partial democracy in 1991 and 1992, but collapsed in 1993. The same is true for Kazakhstan from 1991-93 before its collapse in 1994. Studies about the positive or negative effects of semi-presidentialism on partial democracies do not have a large number of cases to go on. Therefore, the decision about whether or not to include two collapses is potentially important. If anyone has any comments, then please let me know.