The Evolution of Kazakhstan’s Constitution

The main law of the country has been amended five times since its adoption 25 years ago

The constitution of independent Kazakhstan was adopted at a nationwide referendum on August 30, 1995. However, all its amendments were introduced not by the people through a direct vote, but by the country’s parliament.

Over the past 25 years, the Constitution has been amended five times: in 1998, 2007, 2011, 2017 and 2019. Three pulls of amendments were specifically significant for the political system and citizens’ rights.

Amendments of 1998

Changes and additions were made to 19 articles of the main law. The upper age threshold of 65 years for the president was removed and his term of office was increased from five to seven years. Also, the age limit of 60 years was removed for civil servants. The procedure for the transfer of power in the event of the president’s release or removal had also been changed: the chairman of the Mazhilis (lower chamber of Kazakhstan’s parliament) had been added in the presidential line of succession as the second rank after the chairman of the Senate and before the prime minister. However, the Mazhilis had lost its exclusive right to call early presidential elections.

According to Akif Suleymanov, doctor of law, the most important change was the introduction of new election procedure. Thus, parliamentary elections became possible only through party-list proportional representation. 

«Prior to this, the lower chamber of parliament consisted of 67 deputies who were elected in single-member constituencies and that system was a guarantee that each region of the country would be represented. After the amendments of 1998, citizens can vote only for those who represent a specific party (the institution of self-nomination was liquidated),» Suleymanov said.

Later, in 2018, the parliament adopted new amendments that diminished the right for private citizens to be elected even in Maslikhat (local representative body), which can again only be done through party-lists.

«In fact, the constitutional right of a citizen to be elected both to Mazhilis and Maslikhats is limited because such a candidate should be a member of a certain political party. There is no right to self-nominate one’s candidacy,» said Mereke Gabdualiyev, legal scientist.

Amendments of 2007

About 30 amendments to the main law of the country reduced the presidential term from seven to five years and introduced the “First President” concept.  In addition, a proportional representation system was established in Kazakhstan, which, as declared, was aimed to increase political competition and political diversity. The year of 2007 should be the year of the first primaries, but it wasn’t, Mereke Gabdualiev noted.

The Mazhilis began to consist of 107 deputies; 98 of them have been elected by party lists and the rest are the members of the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan (consisting of ethnic minorities), which received the right to nominate its representatives to the parliament by quotas.

Amendments of 2017

As a result of these amendments, the powers and authority of the parliament were changed, whichaffected its constitutional and political status. At the same time, according to MerekeGabdualiev, the task of the 2017 reform was to create a mechanism when key decisions could no longer be made by one government institution on its own.

«Firstly, the important functions of issuing legislative decrees as well as laws in cases stipulated by the Constitution were excluded from the powers of the president. This rule excludes the possibility of abuse of this right by the president in the event of a possible confrontation with the parliament,» Gabdualiev said.

Secondly, the president is no longer empowered to raise objections to decisions of the Constitutional Council that interprets the Constitution, gives conclusions on election results and guarantees that laws do obey the Constitution.

«Thirdly, the reform was more than just a transfer of the president’s functions. There was a ‘dispersion’ of the powers among the maximum number of political institutions, a kind of ‘collective succession.’ This was done to ensure political decision-making by the president would take into account the interests of the maximum number of political forces in the country,» the expert added.

At the top of it, these amendments also became a legal base to establishing a special financial regime within Nur-Sultan (then Astana).

As for the amendments in 2011 and 2019, they were about the early presidential elections and the renaming of the capital, respectively.

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