New Kazakhstan: The Path to Renewal and Modernization

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The President of Kazakhstan, Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who delivered his “Address to the Nation” speech on March 16, 2022, gave messages revealing the road map of New Kazakhstan. As a matter of fact, the Kazakh leader’s speech titled “New Kazakhstan: A Path to Renewal and Modernization” also contains clues about the future of the country. It is now clearly stated that Kazakhstan has entered a period of renewal and modernization.

Stating that “Under the leadership of the First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, we have come a long way, we have made significant achievements, but we can lose everything if we do not maintain unity. The upheavals at the beginning of the year have clearly confirmed this.” Kazakh leader said that New Kazakhstan did not reject the 30-year independence period but he also stated that he needed a strong nation-building and a sense of togetherness. In fact, Mr. Tokayev’s speech makes it clear that Kazakhstan wants to reach a prosperous future based on the accumulation of the past.

In this context, the President of Kazakhstan, who started his speech by mentioning the most serious terrorist incidents that the country has faced since its independence, underlined the importance of the unity of the Kazakh people by saying, “Thanks to our unity, we have defended our state.” The speech of the Kazakh leader, who gave information about the investigations into the events, contain three messages. These are “transparency”, “justice” and “determination in the fight against terrorism”. While Mr. Tokayev drew attention to the importance of the fight against terrorism and national unity, his words “I instructed the Prosecutor General’s Office to determine the degree of their guilt and, if there were no aggravating circumstances, to mitigate the punishment of detainees. As a result, many citizens were released.” showed that he attaches importance to fair administration. Mr. Tokayev shared all these with the Kazakh people within the framework of transparency.

Commenting on the reasons for the terrorist acts in this context, the President of Kazakhstan said, “In recent years, Kazakhstan has embarked on a path of radical modernisation and transformation. Far-reaching transformations have begun in various spheres. Some influential persons did not like this.”, pointing out that the protests that started with peaceful sprit were turned into a destructive action.

According to the Kazakh leader, his main task is to implement the reforms demanded by the people. Mr. Tokayev, who has taken significant steps within the framework of the approach he describes as “Listening State” since the day he became President, thinks that the reforms contribute to a consistent democratization process and ensure the stability and manageability of the state. In the face of the social changes taking place within the country and the increasing geopolitical tension, stable reforms are required for Kazakhstan to maintain its position.

Also, it is clear that Mr. Tokayev is an experienced politician who does not fall into the trap of populism and reads the issues with great common sense. That is, the President of Kazakhstan does not reform just for the sake of political populism, on the contrary, it opposes such an understanding and approach. It places the needs of the people and the state on the basis of the understanding of reform. This is an admirable approach.

Pointing out that the creation of a market system in which fair and open competition conditions are created is essential for the welfare of the people, Mr. Tokayev aims to strengthen the role of the Parliament in order to create a “Listening State”. This adds a key formula of state-building: “A strong President – an influential Parliament – an accountable Government”.

Reflecting the spirit of the aforementioned slogan, the Kazakh leader proposed 10 different initiatives, the direction of the reforms has revealed how the future of Kazakh politics will be shaped. These initiatives can be listed as follows:

  1. On the powers of the President

Mr. Tokayev, showing great democratic maturity, by opening the Presidency’s powers for discussion in order to make the country more democratic with the following statement:

“As I have already said, Kazakhstan has developed a super-presidential model of government. At the initial stage of the country’s development, it was justified. But we are not standing still – society is changing, the country is changing. And our political system must constantly adapt to new realities. Today, literally everything is focused on the President, and this is fundamentally wrong. We need to gradually move away from this practice”

Moreover, Mr. Tokayev points out that the concentration of state powers in the hands of a single person strengthens the close circle of this person, especially his family, and that financial-oligarchic structures have emerged. This situation is the main reason for the inequality of income distribution in Kazakhstan. In this context, the President of Kazakhstan states that “ Nepotism, in whatever country, inevitably leads to negative personnel selection and becomes a fertile ground for corruption to flourish.” and states that as the President, he will position himself as the guarantor of equal opportunities for all citizens.

  1. Reformatting the representative branch of government

Stating that the President’s powers should be reduced and the role of the Parliament should be increased, Mr. Tokayev expressed the importance he attaches to the realization of the national will by saying, “ The country needs a strong representative government, in which responsible deputies with a mandate of people’s confidence will play an active role in state-building.” In addition, Tokayev states that he desires an order in which all ideas are represented by saying “ The presidential quota in the Senate should be considered not as a means of control, but as a mechanism for taking into account the votes and opinions of social groups that are poorly represented in Parliament.” In addition, in order not to abuse the said quota, the President of Kazakhstan proposes to reduce the number of deputies elected from the quota from 15 to 10. All these suggestions can be evaluated as a reflection of Mr. Tokayev’s being a strong leader and his belief in his people.

  1. Improvement of the electoral system

Stating that his country has adopted a proportional (party) election model and that this is even valid for local representative bodies, and criticizing this situation, Mr. Tokayev said, “The presidential quota in the Senate should be considered not as a means of control, but as a mechanism for taking into account the votes and opinions of social groups that are poorly represented in Parliament.” and signals that the electoral system will be revised in line with an approach based on fairness in representation. According to Mr. Tokayev, a proportional-majoritarian model would better reflect the interests of voters at both the national and regional levels. Moreover, it is obvious that such a model will strengthen the ties between the deputies and the people and facilitate the resolution of the nation’s problems.

  1. Expanding opportunities for the development of the party system

According to the President of Kazakhstan, the road to strong democracy is through the need to ensure fair and free political competition. This will be the most important pillar of New Kazakhstan. For this, the Kazakh leader thinks that party formation processes should be facilitated and party membership procedures should be simplified. Because there is a need for new parties that can urgently voice the problems of the Kazakh people. Moreover, this issue emerges as a requirement of the liberalization process in the country’s politics.

  1. Modernisation of the electoral process

Mr. Tokayev is aware that fair and transparent elections are essential for a strong democracy. In this context, it is in favor of facilitating the selection procedures. In addition, the Kazakh leader also cares about the legalization of the activities of his observers. In addition, the financial transparency of the actors running the election campaign is one of the essential parts of both democracy and independence of the country. In this context, it is possible to say that the election processes in Kazakhstan will also be modernized.

  1. Strengthening human rights institutions

According to the President of Kazakhstan, the Constitution has supreme legal force and is the basis of the country’s entire legal system. However, it is not uncommon that it is difficult to give an unambiguous answer as to whether certain legislative acts or decisions comply with its provisions. Moreover, the Constitutional Council is a body, which citizens are deprived of the opportunity to appeal directly to it for clarification.

In the context of the aforementioned problems, the President of Kazakhstan proposes the establishment of the Constitutional Court. The main priority of the Kazakh leader is the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizens. Because, according to Mr. Tokayev, protection of the fundamental rights of citizens requires continuous improvement. It should be emphasized that Kazakhstan has taken critical steps in the abolition of the death penalty and the fight against torture. Mr. Tokayev’s aim is to make reforms that will ensure human rights in a way that will ensure the public’s trust in the judiciary and therefore in the state. Undoubtedly, the steps taken in this direction will make the state-nation unity in Kazakhstan much stronger.

  1. Strengthening the Competitiveness of the Media and the Role of Non-Governmental Organizations

First of all, starting with the power of the media, it should be noted that it is of great importance for any progressive country to have competitive and free media in modern times. Being aware of this, Mr. Tokayev remarked that the state would enable a strong media formation and would attach importance to this issue. As a matter of fact, the speech of the President of Kazakhstan, “I am convinced that there can be no further democratic transformation without an independent and responsible media.” reveals this sensitivity. However, Mr. Tokayev also draws attention to the fact that media organizations should not work with orders from outside and should not take actions that will increase social polarization. Therefore, the Kazakh leader wants a strong media that criticizes and thinks freely, but which has no other purpose than to defend the interests of his country. He also states that he will support free journalism for this purpose.

On the other hand, Mr. Tokayev also states that strong societies and strong democracies need strong civil societies. In this context, the following words of the Kazakh leader reveal how high his awareness of democracy is:

“We need wider and deeper involvement of NGOs and activists in the preparation and implementation of reforms. To achieve this, it is first and foremost necessary to ensure open discussions of all national projects and strategic documents.”

As expressed in the Kazakh proverb, “A fur coat sewn together won’t be short”. In this sense, it is possible to say that Mr. Tokayev’s approach to democracy is actually the revival of the democratic tradition of the “Great Steppe”. In this context, the President of Kazakhstan proposed the establishment of the National Kurultai (Congress) instead of the National Council of Public Trust.

  1. Improvement of the administrative-territorial structure of the country.

At the point of democratization steps to be taken in Kazakhstan, it can be said that reforms will be made to improve the administrative and regional structure. Being aware of this need, the Kazakh leader has been saying the policy he wants to implement on various platforms since his National Address in 2019 with the slogan “strong regions – strong country”. It is also possible to see Mr. Tokayev’s ideas for improving the administrative and regional structure of the country in his article titled “Independence Above All”.

In this context, Tokayev expresses the steps taken in this direction in the past and his suggestions for the new process with the following words:

“Earlier, Shymkent was given the status of a city of national significance, and the South Kazakhstan region was renamed Turkistan, with the city of Turkistan as its administrative centre. These were the right decisions, supported by the people. … First and foremost, I propose to form the Abai region with the city of Semey as its centre. I know the people of the region have been raising this issue for a long time. There are a lot of unsolved problems there now, for example, outdated infrastructure. The condition of Semey, once the centre of the Alash movement, is not good either. We must restore historical justice and revive this sacred land which gave our nation many great sons of our people. The Ulytau region must be formed on the territory of the former Zhezkazgan region. The city of Zhezkazgan will once again become the regional centre. The creation of a separate region has not only economic, but also spiritual and cultural significance. The Ulytau region, which is located at the heart of Kazakhstan’s great spaces, holds a special place in our history. … Located in the heart of Saryarka, Ulytau has enormous tourism potential. Its production and logistics capabilities need to be fully realised. Essentially, we are opening the way for the development of the Ulytau region. There are also many questions regarding the Almaty agglomeration. Residents of the region mainly live in the suburbs of Almaty. At the same time, it is not easy to solve problems of Uzynagash or Talgar, for example, from Taldykorgan. In addition, people have to travel long distances to get to the centre of the region. Given these and other circumstances, I propose to divide this region into Zhetysu and Almaty regions. The centre of the Almaty region will be Kapshagai, and the centre of the Zhetysu region will be Taldykorgan. I believe that these steps will give a strong impetus to the development of the region… For instance, Kapshagai town is closely connected with Dinmukhamed Kunayev, an outstanding personality in the history of our people. And if the public proposes naming the town after him, I will support such a position. I am saying all this on the basis of suggestions and opinions of citizens. If local residents support these initiatives, they should already be put into place in the near future.”

As can be understood from the statements above, Mr. Tokayev seems to have a great command of the problems of all provinces of Kazakhstan and the opportunities in these cities. He cares about both the socio-economic development of the regions and the revitalization of the historical identity. This is the signal of significant reforms in the area in question.

  1. Decentralisation of local self-government

Emphasizing that the center will strengthen the regions, Mr. Tokayev gives the message that we will continue to transfer real powers from the centre to the regions by saying, “It should be understood that a strong system of local self-government is the foundation for the direct participation of citizens in improving the quality of life in their home locality.” Because, according to the President of Kazakhstan, the steps to be taken in this direction are the key to the development of the regions. As a matter of fact, the President of Kazakhstan stated that he instructed this issue to be taken into account while developing the “Local Self-Government Law”. In this context, it can be foreseen that the economic financing system of the regions will be radically revised.

  1. On priority anti-crisis measures

Mr. Tokayev stated that Kazakhstan is facing some financial and economic difficulties in connection with the sharp worsening of the geopolitical situation, but also expressed that there is nothing to panic about. Because Kazakhstan has the necessary means to overcome even large-scale crises. However, some steps must be taken.

In this context, the Kazakh leader emphasized the importance of the fiscal policies to be implemented by saying “First of all, it is necessary to ensure the stability of the national currency. This is a key factor in our economic security.” In this context, Kazakh leader also mentioned the situation of banks and underlined the importance of food safety.


The foundation of the new Kazakhstan is based on the harmony of political and economic reforms. This harmony will enable the country to progress and the Kazakh people to have a more prosperous future. As can be understood from Mr. Tokayev’s “Address to the Nation” speech, reforms that will change the political system and administrative-territorial structure of the country will be made in Kazakhstan. These reforms will enable the country to take a serious leap towards democratization. Therefore, Mr. Tokayev, who is aware of the internal and external difficulties, takes important steps in line with his belief that the Kazakh people, a nation with a high patriotic spirit, will achieve their goals. These reforms will be implemented in a way that is far from populism, taking into account the needs of the Kazakh people. The most substantial stage of this process will be the strengthening of democracy in Kazakhstan. In this sense, Mr. Tokayev’s thinking of reducing his own authority appears as a concrete indicator of his democratic maturity and patriotism.

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin EROL
Born in 1969, Dörtyol-Hatay, Prof. Dr. Mehmet Seyfettin Erol graduated from Boğaziçi University (BU), Department of Political Science and International Relations in 1993. After completing his master's degree at BU in 1995, Erol was accepted to the PhD program at BU in the same year. After completing his PhD at Ankara University in 2005, Erol became an associate professor in the field of “International Relations” in 2009 and a professor in 2014. Erol worked at the Eurasian Center for Strategic Studies (ASAM) between 2000 and 2006 and and served as the General Coordinator of ASAM for a period. In 2009, he served as also Founding Chairman and Board Member of the Institute for Strategic Thinking (SDE). He is also the Founding President of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies (USGAM) and the President of the International Relations Institute of the New Türkiye Strategic Research Center (YTSAM). Prof. Erol has also served as the Director of Gazi University Strategic Research Center (GAZISAM). In 2007, Prof. Erol received the “Turkish World Service Award” from the Writers and Artists Foundation of the Turkic World (TÜRKSAV), and has received numerous awards for his academic work and his activities in the media. Some of them can be listed as follows: 2013 “Print Media of the Year Award” by the Association of Contemporary Democrats, 2015 “APM 10th Year Service Award”, “2015 Press-Intellectual of the Year Award” by the Writers' Union of Türkiye (YTB), “2016 Volunteer Ambassadors Media Honor Award” by the Anatolian Village Guards and Martyrs' Families, “2016 Türkiye Honor Award” by the Yoruk Turkmen Federations. Prof. Erol has 15 book studies. The names of some of them are as follows: “The United States of Turks from Dream to Reality”, “Türkiye-EU Relations: Foreign Policy and Internal Structure Problems”, “The New Great Game in Eurasia”, “The Search for Strategy in Turkish Foreign Policy”, “The Search for Security in Turkish Foreign Policy”, “The Republic of Türkiye-Russian Federation Relations”, “The Cold Organization of Hot Peace: The New NATO”, “Theoretical Approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis: The Case of Turkish Foreign Policy”, “Crises and Crisis Management: Actors and Case Studies”, “Kazakhstan” and “Current Issues in International Relations”. Since 2002, Prof. Erol, who has carried out radio programs such as “Eurasia Agenda”, “Strategic Perspective”, “Global Perspective”, “Analysis”, “File”, “News Desk”, “The Other Side of the Agenda” on TRT Türkiye's voice and TRT Radio 1 (Ankara Radio), made the programs “Arayış” on TRT INT television between 2004-2007, “Beyond the Border” on Kanal A television between 2007-2010 and “Foreign Policy Agenda” on BBN TÜRK television in 2020-2021. Prof. Erol, whose foreign policy column “Arayış” was published in Milli Gazete between 2012-2018, is consulted for his expertise in numerous national and international media outlets such as television, radio, newspapers, news websites and magazines. Prof. Erol, who also taught at Gazi University Department of International Relations and Ankara University Latin American Studies Center (LAMER) between 2006-2018, has been continuing his academic career as a faculty member at Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli University Department of International Relations since 2018. Since 2006, Prof. Erol has also taught in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Ufuk University. The main areas of interest and expertise of Prof. Erol and the titles of his courses at the undergraduate, master's and doctoral levels in this area are as follows: “Geopolitics”, “Security”, “Intelligence”, “Crisis Management”, “Current Issues in International Relations”, “Turkish Foreign Policy”, “Russian Foreign Policy”, “US Foreign Policy” and “Central Asia and South Asia”. Prof. Erol, whose articles-evaluations have been published in many journals and newspapers, has been editor of academic journals such as “Eurasia File”, “Strategic Analysis”, “Strategic Thinking”, “Gazi Regional Studies”, “The Journal of SSPS”, “Black Sea Studies”. He is currently in the editorial boards of “Regional Studies,” “International Crisis and Political Research,” “Gazi Academic View”, “Ege University Turkish World Surveys”, “Ankara International Social Sciences”, “Democracy Platform”. Prof. Erol, who has been working as the Founding President of the Ankara Center for Crisis and Political Studies (ANKASAM) since 2016, is married and has three children.