Category Archives: Kazakhstan


Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia

Sophia Moestrup and I have edited a new volume called Semi-Presidentialism in the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is published by Palgrave Macmillan.


The book contains two chapters by Sophia and I. In the Introductory chapter we describe constitutional variation across the region and outline the basic research questions of the book: do institutions matter in post-Soviet countries? If so, do they matter for democratic performance? Whatever the answer, has the organization of the executive and executive-legislative relations had an impact on political life? In the Concluding chapter, ‘Weaker Presidents, Better Semi-Presidentialism’, we present a single policy recommendation: countries should adopt a constitution with a relatively weak presidency. All else equal, weak presidential institutions are likely to be more beneficial than super-presidencies. We argue that these benefits derive both from the intrinsic institutional incentives associated with such a system as well as the creation of environment in which the choice of a weak presidency is seen as being an attractive constitutional choice.

The book also contains a scene-setting chapter by Alex Baturo. This chapter provides an overview of similarities and differences between the political regimes that emerged in post-Soviet Eurasia, showing how “patronal” first secretaries under the Soviet Union became “patronal” presidents of their own nation-states after independence.

There are also four country case study chapters on semi-presidentiaism in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, as a well as a fifth case study of presidential Kazakhstan. These chapters look at the reasons for institutional choice in these countries, including Kazakhstan’s brief flirtation with semi-presidentialism in the early 1990s, as well as an assessment of the constitutional powers of the presidents in all of these countries, and an analysis of the reality of vertical power and political pluralism (or its absence) in practice.

More details can be found at the Palgrave website. Indeed, there are more details still, including chapter abstracts, from the Springer website.

Kazakhstan – New PM

Kazakhstan has a new prime minister.

The previous PM, Karim Masimov, who had been in the post since January 2007, resigned on Monday. RFE/RL reports that he was immediately replaced by Serik Akhmetov, who had previously served as the Minister of Transport and Communications. The new government is due to be named in the next few days.

I have a colleague who keeps telling me that in many former Soviet countries, including Belarus and Russia, the position of PM is of no significance whatsoever. I agree with him, but tell him that this doesn’t mean that the country is not constitutionally semi-presidential, only that there is a ‘sham’ constitution.

This line of thinking seems to be born out by the RFE/RL report, which states that former PM Masimov has been ‘promoted’ to the president’s administration. His promotion is seen as a reward for doing a good job as PM.

Kazakhstan – Parliamentary election

The election to the Mazhilis (legislature) in Kazakhstan took place on Sunday. The Central Election Commission is reporting the following preliminary result.

People’s Democratic Party “Nur Otan” – 80.74 % of votes;
Democratic Party of Kazakhstan “AK ZHOL” – 7.46 %;
Communist Peoples’ Party of Kazakhstan – 7.2%;
All-National Social Democratic Party – 1.59%;
Kazakhstani Social-Democratic Party “Aul” – 1.46%;
Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan – 0.89 %;
Democratic Party “Adilet” – 0.66 %

As I understand it (the text is here), there is a 7% threshold with a guarantee that the party coming second would still gain representation even if it did not cross the threshold. Anyway, as things stand, three parties will be represented in the legislature.

Kazakhstan – Snap parliamentary election likely

After the snap presidential election in April, Kazakhstan looks like it will be holding a snap parliamentary election in January 2012.

RFE/RL is reporting that 53 deputies have sent a petition to President Nazarbaev requesting the dissolution of the legislature. According to RFE/RL this is the procedure that allows the president to dissolve parliament. I cannot find anything in the constitution specifying such a procedure. However, there may be a law or standing orders that require it.

Anyhow, the speculation is that, unsurprisingly in a one-party chamber, the president will accede to the request, thus paving the way for early elections in January.

RFE/RL also reports that the electoral law has been changed. In effect, the law now guarantees that the second party at the election will be represented in the parliament. However, there is no guarantee that the second party will be a true opposition party.

Kazakhstan – Presidential election

The snap presidential election in Kazakhstan was held on Sunday. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the result was not a surprise.

According to the Central Election Commission, here is the result:

Nursultan Nazarbaev, 95.55%
Ghani Qasymov, 1.94%
Zhambyl Akhmetbekov 1.36%
Mels Eleusizov, 1.15%

Kazakhstan – Early presidential election called

In Kazakhstan the story about referendums and constitutional amendments seems to be coming to a close. As noted in previous posts, there was a ‘popular’ initiative to hold a referendum to allow President Nursultan Nazarbaev to hold office until 2020. The parliament adopted the reform, the president vetoed it, the parliament effectively overturned the veto, and the president sent the bill to to the Constitutional Court.

RFE/RL is now reporting that the Court rejected the constitutionality of the proposed referendum reform, stating that the president had the right to accept or reject the referendum. In turn, President Nazarbaev announced that he rejected the referendum, but that he was proposing an early presidential election.

RFE/RL reports that a constitutional amendment was required to allow the early election (though I am unclear why President Nazarbaev could not have resigned and provoked an election). The amendment has now been passed.

There is now a further report indicating that the election date has been set for 3 April. Opposition leaders are criticising the early election, stating that they will not be ready. However, the notion that President Nazarbaev could be defeated is virtually unimaginable.

Kazakhstan – Constitutional amendment and proposed referendum

The story of the proposed constitutional amendment in Kazakhstan is becoming more and more tortuous.

According to RFE/RL, these are, I think, the most recent developments. Parliament passed a law to extend President Nazarbaev’s term of office to 2020. The president vetoed this reform. Parliament then, in effect, voted to overrule the president’s veto and has now passed a bill to hold a referendum to extend his term to this date. According to RFE/RL, the president then asked the Constitutional Council to rule on the proposed referendum’s legality. This decision is awaited. Basically, it seems as if President Nazarbaev is playing hard to get, even if the eventual outcome is scarcely in doubt.

However, it appears as if the Kazakhstan parliament has passed one constitutional amendment. RTE/RL reports that Art. 46(4) of the constitution has now officially been changed and that it now reads something along the lines of “The status and authority of the First President of the Republic, “El Basy” [leader of the nation], shall be determined by the Constitution and constitutional law”. The amendment introduced the honorific “El Basy” into the article.

Kazakhstan – Constitutional amendment still possible

In Kazakhstan the saga of constitutional amendment continues. As reported previously, plans for constitutional reform in December seemed to have been scuppered when President Nazarbaev declined to sign a bill that would, among other things, have given him lifetime immunity from investigation or prosecution. Now, RTE/RL is reporting that another bill has been passed regarding the president’s position.

Apparently, there has been an initiative to collect signatures to support an amendment that would keep President Nazarbaev in office until 2020 or 2022. Any such amendment would require a referendum. Reportedly, 2 million signatures have been collected. It also seems as if the Majlis – the lower chamber of parliament – passed a bill to support the citizens’ initiative on 29 December 29, while the Senate supported it on 6 January.

That said, there is a further report indicating that President Nazarbaev has rejected the proposed bill and any referendum. In other circumstances, such disagreements might be the sign of a vibrant and plural democracy, but the seeming scramble to demonstrate who supports President Nazarbaev the most suggests otherwise in this case.

Kazakhstan – Constitution not amended

In a previous post, I reported that there was likely to be a constitutional amendment in Kazakhstan.

RFE/RL reported that President Nursultan Nazarbayev was going to be known as the “leader of the nation” and that he would with lifetime immunity from investigation or prosecution.

At the time, the reform seemed to have been passed very quickly. However, I have just come across a subsequent report suggesting that President Nazarbayev did not sign the reform and that the constitutional amendment was never enacted. The report is available here.

The suggestion is that President Nazarbayev yielded to international pressure, given Kazakhstan was chairing the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2010.

So, the 1995 constitution as amended up to 2007 seems to be the current constitution. The text is available here.

Kazakhstan – Constitutional Amendment

I am having difficulty posting from my laptop while I am away. So, please forgive me if the posts are less regular than normal for a while.

RFE/RL is reporting that there has been a constitutional revision in Kazakhstan According to the report, President Nursultan Nazarbayev is now officially known as the “leader of the nation”. In addition, RFE/RL reports that the “legislation gives Nazarbaev final say in the country’s domestic and foreign policy in the event that he leaves office, and also provides ‘the first president of Kazakhstan’ [i.e. Nazarbaev] with lifetime immunity from investigation or prosecution”.

The amendment seems to have come somewhat out of the blue. Perhaps events in Kyrgyzstan precipitated the clause concerning immunity from investigation or prosecution. There is speculation to this effect at another website.

In the RFE/RL report, there is also mention of a law, though not, I believe, a constitutional law, that was passed in 2001 that contains the following remarkable clause: the ‘first president’s’ approval of new legislation is mandatory, even if he is no longer president! I cannot think of an equivalent law anywhere else.