Nurlan Nigmatullin, Chairman of the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan: Constitutional Reform is the Next-Step Evolution of Kazakhstan’s Democracy

17.02.2017

17.02.2017

Link: Kazakhstanskaya Pravda No. 34 (28413) http://www.kazpravda.kz/fresh/view/konstitutsionnaya-reforma--dalneishee-razvitie-kazahstanskoi-demokratii/

Currently there is a nationwide discussion of the draft constitutional reform proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev. The members of the Mazhilis of the Parliament were among the first to join vigorously this large-scale work.

At meetings with voters, MPs scrupulously discuss the most important aspects of the upcoming political modernization of the state. This is crucial, including, in terms of feedback from the public. On the one hand, we see that Kazakhstanis are positive about the reform of the governmental system; on the other hand, they have actively joined the dialogue by putting forward their ideas and proposals. Citizens are engaged in an active discussion of the constitutional reform, which Nursultan Nazarbayev has called for.

Institute of the President is a key factor of modernization

In solving issues crucial for the country, the Head of State always relies on the opinion of citizens of Kazakhstan. This combination of leadership and trust in society, where every citizen participates in shaping one shared will, produces a synergistic effect, which in many ways ensures a stable growth of our country.

Let’s remember 1995. This was a turning point - the first modernization of Kazakhstan was completed and new decisive reforms became necessary. At that time, Kazakhstanis supported transformations spearheaded by the Head of State and adopted a new Constitution during the referendum.

This was with the adoption of the Main Law that the idea of establishing a compact professional Parliament prevailed, with the presidential form of governance having become a core of the political system.

"I can proudly say that the Constitution, adopted in 1995, has become a powerful impetus for reforms in Kazakhstan. Mostly thanks to its provisions, in a short time we have achieved tremendous positive results in the economy and policies of the young state, and interethnic stability", Nursultan Nazarbayev wrote in his book "The Kazakhstan Way ".

The early years were a time of searching for answers to the global challenges of history. The reforms - economic, legal and socio-political - yielded the expected result: national economy and democratic processes have developed dynamically.

In particular, the President paid special attention to strengthening the role and influence of the legislature, having defined it as one of the most important tasks of the country's development, and, moreover, he became the main initiator of all democratic transformations that had a robust influence on Kazakhstan’s model of parliamentarism.

In his address at the first session of the new two-chamber Parliament on January 30, 1996, Nursultan Nazarbayev noted: "Together with you, we are participants of the event, which is intended to become a landmark page in the history of Kazakhstan, in the history of its statehood. We are at the roots of the birth of Kazakhstan's parliamentarism in a true and civilized way of understanding it". These words have proved to be prophetic.

Looking at the evolution of the system of political governance, one can recall 1998, when, as a result of the adoption of the Law "On Amendments and Additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan", political parties were granted ten seats in the Mazhilis of the Parliament, which significantly strengthened their role in society.

The constitutional reform of 2007 has become the next stage in the evolution of parliamentarism in Kazakhstan, which resulted in the preservation of the presidential form of governance, with the role of Parliament strengthened in the system of state administration.

As a result, the supreme legislative body of the country has been empowered to participate in the formation of the Government and monitor its activities, and approve the two thirds of the composition of such key bodies as the Constitutional Council, the Central Election Commission and the Accounts Committee for Control over the Execution of the Republican Budget.

Parliament has changed not only in terms of quality, but also quantity. The number of MPs was increased to 154, to include prominent public figures, researchers, entrepreneurs, more women, and representatives of various ethnic groups. The system of electing deputies of the Mazhilis changed, now carried out according to the proportional system. This became a serious step forward in the matter of democratization. This increased the role of political parties in the state’s life and, consequently, invigorated a significant part of the local society. Unlike past years, today people vote not for individual candidates, but for party programs.

Thus, a new frame of statehood has come into existence step by step, with powers and the entire public life reloaded in a phased manner. Two indispensable components were taken into account on the way to democracy: stable economic growth and social stability.

Efficiency, responsibility, stability

These are the main components of Kazakhstan's success. For a short period of time - only a quarter of a century - we have managed to achieve truly triumphant victories. Under the leadership of our Leader - First President Nursultan Nazarbayev – the country has made an incredible way from the peripheral republic of the Soviet Union, in fact, a resource colony of the USSR, to a modern state with a stable economy and an authoritative member of the world community.

Judge it yourself: within the first 20 years of independence alone, GDP per capita increased 16 times, while in Malaysia it grew only twice over the same period, in South Korea – three times, and in Singapore – four times. World history does not know so many examples of such a successful and rapid construction of state, and our country is this example.

All this characterizes the results of the second modernization of the nation, which was marked by the completion of all the goals of the Kazakhstan-2030 Strategy well in advance. This was the time that saw the phenomenon of Nazarbayev finally come into existence - a concept that is now firmly embedded in the language of world politics.

An effective combination of economic and political changes, the timeliness of social reforms, the ability to build long-term prospects in accordance with one’s particular vision of the future – these are the main components of the presidential strategy. Therefore, the Head of State remains the key guarantor of the country's dynamic development for all fellow citizens.

Today, Kazakhstan faces new challenges. As an outstanding Leader and far-sighted strategist, Nursultan Nazarbayev understands that without new decisive reforms, the country may find itself in a "middle-income trap". Therefore, the President has declared a number of new initiatives - the Third Technological Modernization Program and the draft constitutional reforms. These naturally complement each other; their synchronization will be the next logical stage in the development of the state.

In particular, the draft constitutional reform is comparable scale-wise to the adoption of the 1995 Constitution. Political modernization will determine the evolution of our statehood for many years to come. It is designed to provide the best conditions for the implementation of the Five Institutional Reforms and the promotion of Kazakhstan to the top 30 developed countries in the world.

Overall, there are main principles of a political reform, which intends to delegate a part of President’s powers to the Government and Parliament.

The first principle is "EFFICIENCY". Modernization of the political system and improvement of the state authority aim primarily to boost the efficiency of state administration, which will ensure better implementation of social and economic programs intended, ultimately, to improve the living standards of all Kazakhstanis.

This is an imperative of our time. Yes, over 25 years we have built a modern and internationally recognized state, and have created a competitive economy. But in the 21st century, it is time for more resilient models of public administration. Feeling the pulse of global changes, Nursultan Nazarbayev took a decision crucial for the legal and administrative system to balance the relations between the branches of power at the constitutional level.

The second principle is "RESPONSIBILITY". The forthcoming reforms will strengthen the role of the Government and the entire executive branch in regulating the most important social and economic processes. This will make it possible to make important decisions independently as part of the policy determined by the Head of State. However, autonomy entails full responsibility for the decisions and the state of affairs in the social and economic sphere.

It is envisaged that the Government will be endowed with an authority to approve state programs as agreed with the President. Executive power will be fully responsible for the instruments it develops and delivers.

The same applies to an authority to create and abolish central executive bodies that are not part of the Government. Practice shows there is a need for more rapid decision-making on restructuring the executive bodies.

What is equally important is that the reform is designed to strengthen the accountability of the Government and the entire system of executive power to the Parliament and maslikhats. In case of adoption of constitutional amendments, the Prime Minister will submit proposals to the President on the structure and composition of the Government after consultations with the Mazhilis. It is expected that the Government will resign before the newly elected Mazhilis. The procedure for dismissing members of the Government at the request of MPs will now be simpler.

Such stronger control exercised by the Parliament over the Government adds more responsibility to MPs: they will now face tougher criteria both in terms of professionalism and civil liability.

Certainly, this will increase the role and responsibility of the parliamentary parties, especially a party of parliamentary majority, which will be facing even more vigilant control by society, its voters and opponents.

The third principle is "STABILITY". The Head of State has placed greater focus on complying with this principle. Indeed, it is a high reserve of stability of the local political system, based on the exclusive role of the First President, which has made it possible not only to effectively overcome the crisis of the 90s, but also to join the top 50 most competitive countries. This factor is important today as well. The world faces increasingly complex mechanisms of regulating social processes. All this requires adaptation to new challenges of our time.

Thus, building on democratic principles, Nursultan Nazarbayev has consciously resolved to delegate a major part of his powers to the Parliament and the Government. It is expected that about 40 presidential powers may be delegated to other branches of government. Let me add that this is an unprecedented step, which has no parallels in world practice. There are no examples where a head of state, especially under the presidential form of governance, would delegate his rights to other branches of government in such a large volume.

At the same time, there are limits to the redistribution of power. It is important to understand that the institution of the President is, and will remain, the backbone of Kazakhstan’s statehood. Certainly, the key issues of the operation and interaction of the branches of government will be the competence of the Head of State. Constitutionally established powers that ensure the status of the President as Supreme Commander, as well as those relating to national security, and ensuring law and order shall not be revisited.

Hence, in the new environment the Head of State rises above the branches of government and is the supreme arbiter, and guarantees their coordinated operation and interaction. Only such a status is able to ensure rapid rates of political, economic and social modernization in the conditions of Kazakhstan. The Institution of the President plays, and will continue to play, an extremely important leading role in the state and public life of our country.

Historical role of the Leader of the Nation

Another important aspect that needs to be emphasized is the leadership factor. Over the years of independence, the President has built and accumulated human capital; he is able to unite the interests and goals of a huge number of people into one. This energy of creation nurtures the most important initiatives that allow the country to move along a stable development trail. So, today a new reality is being forged with constitutional reforms. The nation of Kazakhstan, along with its Head of State, is becoming a creator of this new reality.

I would like to emphasize that the nationwide discussion of the constitutional reforms is not only one of the forms of direct democracy, but also an element of educating the society. Discussions encourage a more active involvement of citizens in the process of adopting socially significant decisions; they provide a link between the state authorities and public opinion. The importance of this interaction cannot be overestimated. It not only makes it possible to take into account the interests and views of millions of people in solving the most acute issues for the country, but also helps to instill responsibility in citizens, and gives them a sense of belonging to landmark events.

It is hard not to agree that it is crucial that you feel yourself as a builder of your own life and a companion of the Head of State.

Honestly speaking, the society needs not only a verified development strategy. The success of any reforms depends on the support from people, first of all, with such support possible only in one case – if the Leader is able to respond to the needs of the society.

Our President has fully secured the support of his nation. Indeed, even in the toughest periods, Nursultan Nazarbayev knew where to go and was able to win people’s support. In this regard, let me recall one of the interviews of the Head of State, in which he discussed how difficult it was to choose the way.

"You have to take responsibility and put everything at stake. And you say, "Let's go there". Well, people want to follow the track to which they are used. Walk the road they know. Everything that is new is always scary. And only when you take them to the goal, do they say: well done, all right", said Nursultan Nazarbayev.

There is a lot you can see in these words. You can see the difficulties of the first years, and why the Head of State today enjoys unquestioned reputation. By the way, MPs know this firsthand. Visits to the regions make it possible to witness that the population takes an active part in the discussion of the constitutional reform, emphasizing its adherence to the strategic goals of the First President, sharing his ideology and values.

This is a well-deserved result. Over 25 years, thanks to the decisive and well-thought reforms of Nursultan Nazarbayev, we have built a new country, new society, with the ideas and purposes of the Head of State having become nationwide values. These are now firmly rooted in the public perception making up the core of Kazakhstan’s lifestyle.

National cohesion, public accord, stable development, striving towards better future – all these basic values have eternally and inextricably been linked to the figure of the Leader of the Nation.

So is it any wonder, when the absolute majority of citizens of Kazakhstan voice proposals and sometimes, even as an ultimatum, call for constitutionally securing the historical role and contribution of the First President Nursultan Nazarbayev to the successful development of the country.

Moreover, the history has had precedents. Constitutions of such large and influential countries as China, Turkey and Pakistan, have reflected the role of the state founders. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, is called the nation’s founding father.

Some leaders in the West have been granted a status certainly higher than what might be offered by the position of the Head of State. These are the 31st president of the US Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led America out of the Great Depression; Winston Churchill, who was in charge of the British Government in a difficult war period.

By the way, MPs of Kazakhstan have already expressed their position on the issue. The Declaration of the 25th Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan adopted by the Parliament on the eve of the anniversary has become the expression of the collective will. The Declaration recognizes solid commitment to the strategic course of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Leader of the Nation Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is the most credited for creating and establishing independent Kazakhstan.

The landmark accomplishments of the Head of State include establishing constitutional institutes of the independent state with its borders recognized worldwide for the first time; setting up effective structures of the market economy; construction of the new capital Astana; and development of the integration projects across Eurasia and many others.

This is why the Declaration contains an appeal to enshrine an outstanding contribution of the First President – Leader of the Nation to building our state in the Main Law of the country. This will be a valuable legacy for the generations to come.

Of course, discussion is still to be held at the level of legal experts and researchers on how and with what formulations it would be possible to consolidate the people's will in the main law of the country.

But, of course, one thing is clear: this step will become an effective form and a symbol of unity for all Kazakhstanis, and another factor of consolidation of the entire society around the figure and the course of the Leader of the Nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The strategic course of the Head of State aimed to modernize all areas of social life, improve quality of life, and promote peace and stability, as before, will remain the core of our unity, our confidence in the future, and our further successes and victories.