Recent political developments in Kazakhstan have increased hopes that the country may be on a path towards democratization. Kazakhstan has been under autocracy since it first began to be taken over by the Russian Empire in the 18th century, throughout its years as part of the Soviet Union, and since its independence in 1991. After all that time, could it be possible that the country is heading towards having a more democratic nature?

 

From 1990 until early  2019, Kazakhstan was led by Nursultan Nazarbayev. He was chosen by the Communist Party to rule the country and shortly afterwards led Kazakhstan into becoming an independent state when the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991. He was elected several times since then, with the last election being held in 2015. However, no opposition parties were allowed to run in these elections and he received a suspiciously high vote share of 95% in his last two elections. Along with these electoral irregularities, his regime was marred by accusations of human rights abuses. Protests and independent media were generally suppressed, and torture was common for those detained in the country’s prisons. It is also illegal to insult Nazarbayev, making criticism of the government difficult.

 

In March 2019, following a series of protests across Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev resigned as president. He appointed a successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, to serve the rest of his presidential term. Tokayev was re-elected in snap elections shortly afterwards. Despite Tokayev being the official president, Nazarbayev still holds much power, remaining the leader of Kazakhstan’s ruling political party. He has also been appointed for life as chairman of the Security Council, which advises the president with military and law enforcement policy. This means that his influence on Kazakh politics remains strong.

 

Despite Nazarbayev’s firm grip on Kazakhstan, the Tokayev presidency has marked some changes in the political situation. While his re-election in June 2019 was also marred by allegations of voting irregularities and the detention of peaceful protestors, he has made some small steps towards improving human rights in Kazakhstan. Tokayev established the National Council of Public Trust, a body which is supposed to allow greater dialogue between the public and the government. On December 20th, at a meeting of the National Council, Tokayev announced important changes to the country’s laws. Protests will no longer need approval from state authorities to be legal, it will become easier to form political parties as the number of supporters needed to start one will be reduced, and punishments for hate speech and libel will be abolished or reduced- meaning criticism of the government will be easier. The fact that these changes were announced just days after the detention of dozens of people who peacefully protested against the government regime makes them hard to read – will Kazakhstan begin to liberalize its laws, or are these changes intended to pay lip service to democratization while making little difference to the government’s control of society? 

 

Neighbouring Uzbekistan, under a new leader since 2016, has also been experimenting with some political reform and has reduced restrictions on the media. Tokayev and Nazarvayev could be following Uzbekistan’s model. However, given Nazarbayev’s previous human rights record it may be hard for Kazakhstan to turn over a new leaf, and even in Uzbekistan, there are still many restrictions on rights. The implementation of the new laws in the coming year will be closely watched by many in Kazakhstan, and hopefully, the government will stay true to its word, allowing increased freedom of expression in a country that has been without it for so long.

 

Photo by 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

COVID-19 is attacking not only our ability to be heard but also the legitimacy of that voice. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is one of the many prevalent examples where freedom of speech has been hindered by COVID-19’s continued exponential growth. Unlike other examples I could use, Ethiopia could disproportionately suffer from the stripping of such freedoms.

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

Detached reporting of asylum crossings in the English Channel resemble “a sports commentator watching a boat race or a tour operator on a whale watching tour.” Dehumanising refugees is is a long-standing problem within UK journalism that is seeping into politics and impacting the lives of those seeking international protection.

The Politics of a Global Pandemic

As the world adjusts to living with Covid-19, combatting the virus has become another platform for certain brands of politics. When politicians of different ideological beliefs clash, and the authority of science is called into question, what results is a fractured and uncoordinated response that only perpetuates the pandemic.

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Donald Trump suggested on 30th July that the election be delayed – an idea which most press outlets and even the US congress assured was not going to happen, putting the president firmly in his place. Trump didn’t think his latest election threat all the way through, but he continues to set a terrifying precedent for a nation which touts itself as a global inspiration for democracy.

Olympic Dreams: The Cost of Labour Exploitation for the Worlds Biggest Sporting Events

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have been happening this summer if it was not for the outbreak of Covid-19. These games, and many mega sporting events before them, have been plagued by human rights abuses of workers. What needs to be done in order to prevent this?

Greenwashing Austerity: What Do Young Greens Feel About the New Government?

The General Election of February 2020 feels like a world away now. Not only do the pre-social distancing days seem like a weird alternative universe, but also the hopes for radical change which many, particularly young, people dared to hold as they headed to the ballot box are starting to seem like a crazy dream. As the coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party settle into the Dáil, the political landscape of the next five years is beginning to come into focus.

Share This