Over the last few years, Kazakhstan has undergone significant political changes under the leadership of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. He has initiated a series of progressive reforms designed to strengthen state institutions and empower citizens’ rights.
On August 30, Kazakhstan is celebrating Constitution Day, which takes on special significance this year. It is the first time we commemorate this day after a nationwide referendum in June last year, which ratified amendments to the country’s Constitution.
The revised Constitution has laid the legal foundation for comprehensive societal and governmental modernization that includes political transformation, heightened social responsibilities for the state, and protection of human rights.
The constitutional amendments have led to significant changes in various aspects of Kazakhstan’s society. For instance, a key focus of President Tokayev’s reforms has been to reduce presidential powers and expand the influence of parliament and citizens’ participation in the country’s decision-making processes. Local government officials of village districts are now directly elected by the people. In addition, the threshold for political parties to enter the lower house of Parliament has been lowered from 7% to 5%. Furthermore, the reforms enable candidates to run in single-member districts and grant citizens the power to recall parliamentarians who have lost public support. These changes are unprecedented for our country.
As part of our commitment to protect the right to life, the country has abolished the death penalty at the constitutional level. Moreover, progress has been made in promoting gender equality by repealing a law that restricted women from certain job roles and increasing parliamentary quotas for women.
In addition, procedures to register political parties have been simplified, which facilitates greater participation of diverse voices in the democratic process. The introduction of self-nominated candidates has expanded the pool of potential political leaders, creating a more inclusive and diverse political environment. Following recent parliamentary elections in March, six parties gained seats in Parliament, making the legislative body more multi-faceted, competitive, and encompassing a wide range of political views. The diverse and inclusive Parliament has enhanced legislative transparency and strengthened the process of receiving feedback from citizens.
Legal amendments have also simplified the organisation of peaceful assemblies. Organisers are now required only to notify the authorities rather than seek prior permission, thus enhancing freedom of expression. The number of peaceful demonstrations has significantly increased after the amendments to the legislation, reflecting a more politically engaged citizenry.
President Tokayev’s reforms have also fortified protection of human rights. Clear definitions of “torture” and “ill-treatment” have been established, providing citizens with safeguards. In addition, Kazakhstan has established robust mechanisms to protect human rights and democracy by strengthening institutions like the Ombudsperson for Human Rights, the Ombudsperson for Children’s Rights, and the Commissioner for the Rights of Socially Vulnerable Categories of the Population.
Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court, which I chair, commenced its work on January 1, 2023. Its main task is to ensure the compliance of laws with constitutional norms based on specific real-life situations. In just eight months since its establishment, the Constitutional Court has received around 4,000 appeals from citizens, compared to the Constitutional Council’s 140 cases over 27 years, an average of about 5 cases per year. Notably, the Constitutional Court is accessible to every citizen, not just governmental entities, which was the case previously.
The judges of the Constitutional Court have already reviewed 23 cases over the past 8 months and approximately 20 cases are currently being assessed. This demonstrates not only an individual’s ability to protect their personal rights but also contributes to collective rule of law. By applying to the Constitutional Court, a citizen makes their own civic contribution to strengthening the rule of law.
As a result of assessing citizens’ appeals, the Court has scrutinized over 30 legal norms. Five of them were deemed unconstitutional, while eleven were found to be in accordance with the Constitution. Most cases pertained to criminal procedural legislation, administrative offences, the judicial system, and Supreme Court rulings.
Ultimately, promoting the rule of law and safeguarding human rights should remain at the core of any efforts toward conflict resolution, peace, and security.
Kazakhstan has undergone remarkable political transformations as a result of the constitutional reform, which received the backing of over 77% of eligible voters in the referendum. The ongoing reforms in various sectors reflect a deep commitment to building an inclusive and transparent political system, rooted in democratic values and the well-being of its citizens. The reforms aim to actively engage the populace in political life, thereby ensuring stability and economic development.
Elvira Azimova is the Chair of the Constitutional Court of Kazakhstan. Azimova previously served as the Commissioner for Human Rights.