Amending the Constitution by referendum has always been a fundamental practice of direct democracy. It is one of the ways of public participation in making decisions that are important to both the state and the citizens. Today, Kazakhstan emerges as a state that is open to constructive dialogue and supports the active participation of citizens in decision-making processes. An explicit confirmation of this is the submission of the issue of the adoption of amendments and additions to the Constitution to the Republican referendum on June 5, 2022.
The initiative to hold a referendum belongs to the President of Kazakhstan, Mr. Kasım-Cömert Tokayev, on April 29, the XXXI of the People’s Assembly of Kazakhstan. During his session, he made the following statement:
“I initiated amendments to the Constitution that had fundamental characteristics and radically changed the country’s political system. We are moving to a new model of the state, a new form of state-society interaction. This qualitative transition may be called the Second Republic.”
In his message to the public, Mr. Tokayev stated that the Constitutional amendment aims to build a “New Kazakhstan.” In this context, the constitutional referendum, with 56 amendments and additions proposed in 33 articles, is aimed at three specific objectives strengthening the separation of powers, the check and balance mechanism, the rule of law, and democratic processes.
A major amendment to the Constitution focuses on the redistribution of powers of the President, Parliament and Government. For example, according to the planned changes, President, the incumbent, will not be a member of a political party and his close relatives will not be able to work under the leadership of public companies. In other words, attempts to prevent the concentration of powers in the country will act as an unwavering guarantor of equal opportunities for all citizens and representation of all segments of the population, without leaving any special opportunities to anyone.
As for the parliament, it is envisaged that Mazhilis deputies will be elected with a mixed electoral system. 30% of the Mazhilis will be composed of deputies elected from “single-authorized regions,” and voters will also have the right to withdraw their mandate. This, in turn, will enable voters to reflect their interests better and strengthen the political culture of mutual responsibility in the country. In addition, the establishment of a Constitutional Court with 11 judges will contribute to further increasing access to justice and the development of legal culture.
Another critical aspect of the amendments to the Constitution concerns the strengthening of the mechanism of protecting the rights of citizens and expanding the participation of the population is running the country. Thus, the Constitution establishes the final and unequivocal rule that land and subsoil, water, flora and fauna, and other natural resources belong to the people. Property rights are exercised by the state on behalf of the people.. The introduction of this change will lay a solid foundation for full-fledged public participation in the fair distribution of state revenues from the economic and productive use of Kazakhstan’s land and its wealth of natural resources. In addition, the state will reflect the interests of the people and be accountable to the people.
. In addition, the death penalty was abolished at the Constitutional level. The rejection of such state measures for crimes accords to the world practice of humanizing criminal legislation. In particular, upon the request of citizens, the Constitutional Court will evaluate the normative legal regulations that directly affect their fundamental rights and freedoms in terms of conformity with the Constitution. Citizens of Kazakhstan are given the right to apply now to the Constitutional Court during the consideration of a particular case. In addition, the Human Rights Commissioner will be able to act independently from other state bodies and authorities in exercising his powers to promote the restoration of violated human and civil rights and freedoms. This strengthens the exercise of independent control over the observance of the rights and freedoms of man and citizen. All these changes prove once again that Kazakhstan prefers the development option in line with democratization and a state that ” Hearing the Voice of the People.”
According to another significant change, the President will not have the right to dismiss district, provincial and rural district governors. Thus, the President’s powers regarding local governments were reduced and concentrated on governors at the regional level. This change is based on increasing the responsibility of local representatives, bringing authorities closer to the people, hearing them, responding to their demands, and ultimately strengthening general well-being and stability. Especially the tragic events in January once again revealed the necessity of establishing a solid relationship between the center (state) and the periphery (people).
Therefore, the constitutional reform in Kazakhstan is systemic and ultimately aims to increase the efficiency of the state model further. In other words, the “New Kazakhstan” movement, initiated by Mr. Tokayev, entered a new era with this referendum, with its strong “social contract” centered on the understanding of the state that “Hearing the Voice of the People.”
The data and results that emerged in the referendum contain important messages. According to the data in question, 77.18 percent of the citizens approved the constitutional amendment. 7,986,293 citizens voted in the elections, and the participation ratewas % 68,06. The participation of the voters in determining the fate of the country with such a large proportion is a vivid indicator of the will of the people and the comprehensive democratization process.
The constitutional amendment referendum emerges as solid support to the “New Kazakhstan” process, which centers the state-people unity, and the will put forward in this context. In other words, the result of the said referendum can be regarded as the public’s trust and support for Mr. Tokayev’s initiatives. This is the approval given to the New Kazakhstan process in the referendum at the ballot box. In this context, the adoption of the amendments and additions to the Constitution by referandum revealed the common desire of the Kazakhs to build a fair, democratic, and developed Kazakhstan. It is also worth emphasizing that this process will not be limited to internal changes. It will positively affect Kazakhstan’s relations with other international actors, accelerate regional integration in Central Asia, and strengthen the country’s international image.
To sum up, with the referendum, “New Kazakhstan” has taken a step forward in the transition to the East-West synthesis. The referendum’s result revealed the determination of the people of Kazakhstan to make their country a regional and global center, especially in Central Asia and Eurasia, with its potential, especially in energy, and its multi-vector foreign policy.
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 “Озвучены итоги референдума в Казахстане”, Zakon KZ, https://www.zakon.kz/6016456-tskr-za-popravki-v-konstitutsiiu-progolosovalo-7718-kazakhstantsev.html, (Date of Accession: 07.06.2022).