Political parties in Kazakhstan are generally based on the personal appeal of leading individuals rather than political orientation. Observers have fruitlessly looked to find an opposition party with a defined policy platform. The opposition political parties are organized around personalities, largely those who previously served in the government but subsequently split with Nazarbayev. The "social movements" do have policy platforms, but are generally restricted to a single issue. Nonetheless, these movements have had some limited success in changing government policy and may represent a first step toward a uniquely Kazakhstani path to exerting the people's will.
As of 2013 there were nine registered parties in Kazakhstan. Another party, Alga, had been unsuccessfully seeking official registration since 2006. Following 2007 Parliamentary elections, only one political party, the President’s Nur Otan, which dominates local and national government bodies, was represented in Parliament, as no other party achieved the requisite 7% threshold. President Nazarbayev has been Chairman of Nur Otan since its 2007 congress. Theparty has a strong vertical structure, an extensive local network, and a clear platform. The 2009 amendments to the law on elections require that the party with the second-highest vote count automatically receive seats in the Mazhilis, even if it fails to reach the 7 percent threshold.
By the end of 2011, there were nine registered political parties, including the opposition parties Ak Zhol, Rukhaniyat, Auyl, and the National Social Democratic Party ‘Azat’. Other political parties include: Adilet; The Communist Party of Kazakhstan; The Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan; and The Patriot Party of Kazakhstan. On 04 October 2011, a Kazakhstani court issued a six-month ban on the Communist Party of Kazakhstan because it formed an illegal alliance with the unregistered Alga opposition party.
Political parties must register members’ personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties. There were credible allegations that authorities pressured persons entering government service to join the Nur Otan party. In order to register, a political party must hold a founding congress with minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates from two-thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Parties must obtain at least 700 signatures from each oblast and the cities of Astana and Almaty, registration from the CEC, and registration from each oblast-level election commission.
Political parties must pay for their candidates' campaigns, publications and media advertising out of their own election funds. These funds may be formed from two sources: the parties' own resources, and contributions by individual citizens and organizations. A candidate, however, cannot use his/her own resources. Expenditures from a political party's own fund cannot exceed 48,760,000 tenge ($400,000) and voluntary contributions cannot more exceed 97,520,000 tenge ($800,000). Thus the total amount of a political party's election fund shall not exceed 146,280,000 tenge ($1,200,000) regardless of the number of candidates. Foreign support is banned. Political parties may not fund their campaigns with any government resources. The government, however, will give each political party an opportunity to participate in TV debates on one of the national TV channels.
After the early dissolution in 1993 of Kazakstan's first parliament, an election for the 177 seats of the new, "professional" parliament was held in March 1994. Elections which were held on 7 March 1994 contributed to the multiparty system in the Republic. 73,84 per cent of the electors participated in the elections. 910 people were nominated from 135 one-mandate constituencies, 962 candidates endured the terms of registration and 5 candidates on average struggled for one deputy mandate. The election was so closely managed and restricted by the government that observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE; before 1995, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe--CSCE) initially were reluctant to certify the election as fair.
In accordance with provisional regulations on the bases of party representation, party factions were formed to the Supreme Soviet: the Union of People’s Unity of Kazakhstan (32 people), the Party of Popular Congress of Kazakhstan (22 people), Socialist party (12 people) and Federation of Trade-unions (12 people), as well as 14 deputy groups which were basically formed as to their professional indications. For the first time in the history of Kazakhstan, political parties and movements got access to real levers of power, possibility to affect formation and adoption of the state programs.
The period between the years 1994-1995 was exceedingly important in the history of formation of Kazakhstani parliamentarism. The Supreme Soviet of the thirteenth convocation functioning from April 1994 to March 1995 became the first professional Parliament of Kazakhstan in which deputies worked on permanent bases. However, the fate of the Supreme Soviet of the thirteenth convocation turned out to be very dramatic. It entered into the most complex period of state constructing, when the mechanism of partition of the branches of power was not led to the logical completion, the system of checks and balances was not filled with real content, and eventually re-defined the status of the Supreme Soviet, The President and the Government.
Despite his careful electoral management, Nazarbayev netted a reliable bloc of only about sixty of the 177 seats. The remaining deputies quickly organized themselves into a "constructive" opposition bloc, a center-left configuration calling itself Respublika. It included a number of disparate political groups. A subgroup of Respublika organized a shadow cabinet to provide alternative viewpoints and programs to those of the government.
The one type of party that initially failed to thrive in Kazakstan was a "presidential party" that would serve as a training ground for future officials, as well as a conduit for their advancement. Nazarbayev lost control of his first two attempts at forming parties, the Socialists and the People's Congress Party (NKK). The latter particularly, under the leadership of former Nazarbayev ally Olzhas Suleymenov, became a center of parliamentary opposition. Nazarbayev's third party, the People's Unity Party (SNEK), remained loyal to the president, although it was unable, even with considerable government help, to elect enough deputies to give Nazarbayev control of the 1994-95 parliament. SNEK formally incorporated itself as a political party in February 1995.
With the exception of SNEK and some smaller entities, such as the Republican Party and an entrepreneurial association known as For Kazakstan's Future, most of Kazakstan's parties and organizations had little or no influence on presidential decision making. Because privatization and the deteriorating economy have left most citizens much worse off than they were in the early 1990s, most of the republic's organizations and parties have an oppositional or antipresidential character. The Communist Party of Kazakstan, declared illegal in 1991, was allowed to re-register in 1993. Kazakstan also has a small Socialist Democratic Party. Both parties made poor showings in the 1994 election, but two former communist organizations, the State Labor Union (Profsoyuz) and the Peasants' Union, managed to take eleven and four seats, respectively.
In autumn 1999 in accordance with introduced constitutional amendments, for the first time in the region of Central Asia, the elections on mixed scheme to the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic were held. The scheme afforded the possibility for political parties to be elected to the Parliament as to party lists on the basis of proportional representation. As a result of innovations, elections differed by high political tension and alternativeness, stimulating the process of creating political parties of parliamentary type. Ten political parties participated in the elections. 547 candidates were registered in majority one-mandatory constituencies. On the whole in the process of elections, unprecedented number of candidates – on average, 8 people for one place at that period for Kazakhstan were nominated.
As to results of the elections to the Mazhilis of the Parliament 67 deputies in one-mandate constituencies and 10 deputies from parties in united national constituencies were elected. They represented four parties "Otan" (motherland), Civil, Agrarian and Communist Parties which had overcome seven percent barrier.
In 2002, the 1996 Law on Political Parties was amended to increase the number of registered members of a political party in order to register from 3,000 to 50,000. The effect was to considerably reduce the number of registered political parties. During the 1999 parliamentary elections, 19 political parties were registered. Only 12 parties were registered during the 2004 parliamentary elections. In 2009, new legislation was introduced reducing the 50,000 threshold to 40,000.
Elections to the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan of the third convocation were held in September 2004. 12 political parties participated in the elections, 4 of them are in the composition of two elective blocs. Elections to the Mazhilis in September 2004 yielded a lower house dominated by the pro-government Otan party, headed by President Nazarbayev. Two other parties considered sympathetic to the president, including the agrarian-industrial bloc AIST and the Asar party, founded by President Nazarbayev's daughter, won most of the remaining seats. Opposition parties, which were officially registered and competed in the elections, won a single seat during elections that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said fell short of international standards.
As to results of the elections to the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan - 77 deputies were elected. 67 deputies were elected in one-mandate territorial constituencies, set up as to administrative-territorial division of the Republic with approximately equal number of electors. 10 deputies were elected on basis of the party lists under the system of proportional representation and the territory of united nationwide constituency. 7 deputies from Republican political party "Otan", and one in each of the following parties – Republican party "Asar", Democratic party "Ak zhol" and electoral bloc "AIST" (Agrarian and industrial union of working people) Agrarian and Civil parties of Kazakhstan. From the total number of elected parliamentaries 59 deputed were nominated by political parties: Republican political party "Otan" – 42 deputies, electoral bloc "AIST" – 11 deputies, Republican party "Asar" – 4 deputies, Democratic party "Ak zhol " – 1 deputy, Democratic party of Kazakhstan – 1 deputy. 18 deputies are self-nominees.
The 09 February 2005 ruling by an Almaty appeals court resulted in the liquidation of Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. (DCK). The Almaty City Court upheld the ruling of the Almaty Interdistrict Economic Court to liquidate Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) on charges of undermining the security of the state and fanning social hatred. The charges stemmed from a December 11 statement that described the September parliamentary elections as "rigged" and called on the public to exercise civil disobedience to remove President Nazarbayev's "family clan." Over a hundred DCK supporters (mostly elderly) wearing orange scarves packed the courtroom, occasionally interrupting proceedings. A handful were ejected for unruliness. The way the hearing was conducted confirmed earlier impressions that the case against DCK is politically motivated, and raised serious questions about due process.
On July 23, 2005, Alga ("Ahead"), an opposition movement comprised largely of one faction of the disbanded Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) party, held a formal meeting to propose founding a new party. Alga filed required registration paperwork with the MOJ on September 22, 2005. On 20 April 2006, the Astana city court ruled against opposition movement Alga's lawsuit to overturn a decision by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) denying Alga's registration as a political party.
The two principal opposition parties had an opportunity to wage a vigorous campaign in 2007, with few obstacles to meeting voters and placing advertising on television and radio, and in the print media. Television, while neither unbiased nor equal in its reporting, nonetheless has for the first time provided substantial coverage of the opposition's campaign efforts and broadcast two debates.
According to the preliminary election results released by the Central Election Commission (CEC) on 19 August 2007, President Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party received 88% of the votes (5.174 million votes). No other party reached the 7% threshold necessary to win seats in the Mazhilis. The National Social Democratic Party [NSDP] finished second with 4.6% of the vote; Ak Zhol received 3.27%, Aul 1.58%, Communist People's Party 1.31%, Patriot's Party .75%, and Rukhaniyat .41%. The CEC announced that 64.56% of the electorate voted, and turnout ranged from a high of 90.12% in Almaty oblast to a low of 22.51% in Almaty city. According to election observers, turnout was much higher in rural areas than in urban centers. Two Kazakhstani organizations, Ksilon Astana and the Kazakhstan Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists, released exit polls showing Nur Otan winning approximately 80% of the vote and NSDP and Ak Zhol both hovering at or slightly below 7% of the vote.
The NSDP called the results "a direct consequence of totalitarian processes" and "a rollback to the Soviet past," charging that the government thwarted the will and expectations of millions of citizens and "massively falsified" the results. Among other things, the NSDP said that the 64.56% turnout was inflated through the unlawful use of administrative resources, orchestrated multiple votes, ballot box stuffing, manipulation of voter lists, and the complicity of precinct election commissions which had few opposition representatives. The NSDP also alleged that precinct election commissions openly hindered the work of election observers and party representatives at the polling places in vote counting stations.
Ak Zhol also released a statement decrying the election results and demanding a recount and investigation. Ak Zhol refused to recognize the preliminary results released by the CEC, citing "mass rigging and falsifications of the voting results at all levels." The party called the election "a step backwards in the political development of Kazakhstan," and reserved the right to carry out "any forms of civil protest allowed by the law of Kazakhstan." The OSCE/ODIHR International Election Observation Mission released its Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions on August 19, the day after the election. The ODIHR report commended Kazakhstan for several noticeable improvements over previous elections, and said that the authorities demonstrated a willingness to conduct a more democratic election process. In particular, the report concluded that parties had greater access to media and greater freedom to campaign than in previous elections.
In ODIHR's view, however, these improvements were not sufficient to bring Kazakhstan into compliance with OSCE and Council of Europe standards. ODIHR's criticism of the election focused heavily on a number of new legal provisions and the vote counting process after the polls closed. ODIHR concluded that a "combination of restrictive legal provisions creates obstacles to the development of a pluralistic political party system" and "significantly decreases accountability of elected representatives to voters...."
Nobody doubted that Nur Otan would be overwhelmingly victorious on August 18, though many observers, and the opposition leaders themselves, genuinely expected that NSDP or Ak Zhol or both would cross the 7% threshold. Three factors explain their failure to do so: the confidence of Kazakhstanis in President Nazarbayev and the direction of the country, the institutional advantages - legal and illegal - of Nur Otan, and the failure of NSDP and Ak Zhol to mount effective campaigns.
The opposition's uphill climb was further hindered by an uneven playing field. Nur Otan is much larger, better organized, and wealthier than all of the other parties, and enjoys significant institutional advantages. Though opposition parties had greater freedom to campaign than in previous years, they still faced some interference from local authorities, media bias, and difficulty accessing advertising space.
The missed opportunity for NSDP and Ak Zhol was obvious: they failed to capitalize on their greater freedom to campaign and communicate with voters. Neither party was able to establish a clear message - the NSDP's message was not very different from Nur Otan's. The unwillingness of Ak Zhol and NSDP to collaborate also damaged their chances, as they ultimately undercut each other. Their failure to win seats in the Mazhilis denied them the opportunity to develop a constructive opposition presence in Astana and leaves them with little to build on for future campaigns.
In order to secure the 2010 OSCE Chairmanship, Kazakhstan committed itself to legislative reforms, including in the areas of political parties and elections. The resulting legislation in 2009 guaranteed that from the next Parliamentary elections onwards, there will always be a minimum of two parties in Parliament. The legislation does not reduce the 7% threshold (as recommended by ODIHR). Instead, the second placed party will automatically be included.
Seven parties contested the 2012 elections. Of the remainder, Rukhaniyat were disqualified by the Central Election Commission mid campaign, the Communist Party were unable to field candidates due to a six month ban on their political activities and the unregistered Alga Party was barred from participating. Altynshash Zhaganova, the founder and former leader of the Rukhaniyat Party, accused Serikzhan Mambetalin, who took the leadership of the party in 2010, of fraud and demanded that Rukhaniyat should not be allowed to participate in the 2012 parliamentary election. Two new political parties entered Kazakhstan's parliament, where every seat was held by the ruling party. An exit poll taken after the 15 January 2012 parliamentary elections gave the pro-business Ak Zhol party and the Communist People's Party at least seven percent of the vote each. The president’s party Nur Otan won 80 percent of the vote, Ak-Zhol won 7.47 percent, and the Communist People’s Party won 7.19 percent. All three parties elected are generally considered supporters of President Nazarbayev.
Under Kazakhstan's new election law, the second-place finisher automatically gets seats. But any party that gets at least seven percent of the vote also wins seats. Three parties passed the 7% threshold and gained seats in the Majilis: Nur Otan (83 seats), Ak Zhol (8 seats) and the Communist People’s Party (7 Seats). ODIHR’s initial evaluation was critical, stating that that the elections were “guided and orchestrated”. While the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) asserted that the election did not meet Kazakhstan's OSCE commitments or international standards for democratic elections, and opposition groups denounced the election as fraudulent, no significant demonstrations against the results occurred.
Vladimir Kozlov was sentenced on October 09, 2012 to seven-and-a-half years in prison on charges of fomenting unrest in the Central Asian republic. Prosecutors say his property is also subject to confiscation. Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga Party, was arrested in January 2012 after taking part in oil workers' protests in December 2011 that left at least 15 people dead. The clashes, in the western town of Zhanaozen, occurred on the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union, when a protest by laid-off government oil workers turned violent. The United States criticized Kazakhstan's jailing of a leading activist, accusing the government of using the criminal justice system to "silence opposition voices." The U.S. embassy in Astana expressed concern about the prosecution and sentencing.
The Alga opposition party is widely believed to be financed by ousted, self-exiled chairman of Bank Turam Alem (BTA) bank Mukhtar Ablyazov. Ablyazov is a fierce opponent of Kazakhstan's long-time president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The former banker fled to London in 2009 to avoid embezzlement charges. In February 2012 in London, he was sentenced to 22 months in prison for contempt of court. He fled before imprisonment, and his whereabouts are unknown. On March 28th, 2012 authorities in Kazakhstan said they had thwarted a plot to carry out terrorist bombings planned for last Saturday in the commercial capital, Almaty. The general prosecutor's office Wednesday gave few details on how it uncovered the plot. It blamed associates of fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov.
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