The New Leaf Annex

Constitutional Reform in Kazakhstan

From a report by Brad Matthews at The Washington Times:

Political reforms were also on the menu Saturday, as President [Kassym-Jomart] Tokayev altered his office’s term limits. Presidents will no longer be able to run for reelection, but will now have a term of seven years instead of five.

Moreover, the reform is designed to be irreversible (albeit, whether presidential term limits are enforced is often more of a question of force than law):

The term-limit amendment is itself now unamendable, the same status given to lines in the constitution about Kazakhstan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

This is certainly interesting news. Kazakhstan’s President had been Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev from December 1991 through March 2019. Mr. Nazarbayev was carry-over from the Soviet period after serving as the last leader of communist Kazakhstan. Mr. Nazarbayev voluntarily left the presidency in 2019, but he kept several powerful positions before Mr. Tokayev removed his titled after mass demonstrations last January. The report reminded me of one of my earliest New Leaf Journal articles, wherein I semi-speciously expressed concerns about whether a four-hour speech by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan on curtailing the excesses of the security services under his predecessor, Mr. Islam Karimov (another leader who transitioned from leader of a Soviet state to president of the successor state) would amount to anything in the way of liberalization.

Kazakhstan is not on the brink of becoming a Western European-style democracy of the kind that NGOs and United Nations diplomats dream. But if the new constitutional provision limiting presidents to single seven-year terms holds up, that would be a meaningful gain for the people and citizens of Kazakhstan in that it would at least restrict the ability of a single individual to consolidate an iron grip over the country’s affairs. That is worth something even if the reform does not lead to genuinely open elections or multiple competitive parties. See that Mr. Nazarbayev’s influences cratered fairly quickly after he gave up the presidency. At the very least, Kazakhstan’s reforms appear to be more consequential than the reforms evinced by a 4-hour 2017 speech in Uzbekistan.

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