Kazakhstan - Government

In March 1995, the Kazakh Constitutional Court ruled that the March 1994 legislative election was invalid because it violated the principle of "one person, one vote." Constituencies had not been drawn up representing approximately equal populations, and confused voting procedures resulted in electors voting for several candidates, it declared. On 11 March Nazarbayev announced that the decision was in accordance with the constitution and dissolved the legislature. Some of the dismissed deputies tried to set up an alternative parliament, but the rebel movement soon fell apart. Nazarbayev announced that he would rule by decree pending new elections and called for a new constitution to be drafted, using France's parliamentary system as a model. On 30 August 1995, a referendum on a new constitution that widened presidential powers was passed with 89% of the vote. According to the US State Department, proposals by democracy and human rights advocates during the discussion phase were not incorporated into the final constitutional draft submitted to the referendum, and the turnout and results were "exaggerated."

Compared to an earlier 1993 constitution, the 1995 constitution increases the president's powers and reduces those of the legislature, and places less emphasis on protecting human rights. As fleshed out by a presidential edict, the legislature does not control the budget or its agenda, cannot initiate changes to the constitution, or exercise oversight over the executive branch. The president's nominees for premier and state bank head are ratified by the Majlis, the lower house of parliament, but he appoints the rest of the cabinet. If the legislature fails within 30 days to pass an "urgent" bill brought by the president, he may issue it by decree. About 10% or less of bills are initiated by deputies, but they debate and have forced minor changes in bills initiated by the presidency. While the president has broad powers to dissolve the legislature, it may only remove him for disability or high treason.

In October 1998, without any public debate, the legislature quickly rubber-stamped nineteen constitutional amendments and announced an early presidential election. The changes included increasing the presidential term from five to seven years, lifting the 65-year age limit on governmental service, creating party list representation in the Majlis, extending the term of office from four to five years for the lower legislative chamber (the Majlis) and from four to six years for the upper legislative chamber (the Senate). The Majlis consists of 77 seats, 10 of which are elected from the winning party's lists. The Senate has 39 seats (previously 47). Seven senators are appointed by the president; other members are popularly elected, two from each of the 14 oblasts, the capital of Astana, and the city of Almaty.

On 10 January 1999, Nazarbayev won reelection as president for a seven-year term in an election that fell far short of international standards. He won 81.7% of the votes cast; three other contenders shared the rest. Nazarbayev's most serious challenger, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, was excluded from running on a technicality.

Kazakhstan held indirect elections 17 September 1999; regional legislatures elected 32 members of a 39-seat upper legislative chamber, the Senate. (On 29 November 1999, the remaining seven Senators were constitutionally appointed by Nazarbayev.) The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that Kazakh Central Electoral Commission (CEC) officials had improperly blocked some monitoring, and cited reports that other officials had threatened local legislators not to vote for oppositionists.

Elections to Kazakhstan's lower legislative chamber, the Majlis, took place on 10 October 1999, with 595 candidates and nine parties competing for 77 seats. Ten seats were reserved for a party list vote. Runoffs on 24 October were required for over two-thirds of constituency seats where no one candidate received over 50%. Ten seats were elected by party lists based on the percentage of votes parties received nationally (with a minimum vote threshold for representation of 7%), and the other 67 by single constituency voting. The Kazakh Communist Party (KPK), Otan, the Civic Party, and the Agrarian Party won seats under party list voting. No candidate nominated by a non-communist opposition party gained a party list or single constituency seat. About one-half of the winning deputies ran as independents, though many of them were former government officials who were presumably pro-government. OSCE monitors concluded that the race was "a tentative step" in democratization, but decried interference in the race by officials, biased local electoral commissions, manipulation of results, unfair campaign practices by pro-government parties, and harassment of opposition candidates. Members of the KPK, Republican Party, and Azamat joined in a "Forum of Democratic Forces" that on 27 October stated that the Senate and Majlis elections were rigged by the government and were invalid. The next elections are due in 2004.

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