Kazakhstan’s Akims Elections: An Expert Opinion

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Dr Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Ultimately, democracy has prevailed and common people’s greater understanding, national responsibility and maturity of politics having positivity, productivity and participatory orientations have ousted baseless propaganda of the West about so called political fragility and democratic immaturity of Kazakhstan. Simply democracy has won in the most recently held elections of “Akims” in Kazakhstan. It is a giant step towards greater liberal democracy and securing of greater civil liberties. 

On July 25 2021, direct elections of Akims, the head of local executive bodies were held throughout Kazakhstan which vividly reflected Kazakhstan’s government strong commitment towards further politicization and democratization. Akim governs villages, townships and rural districts in Kazakhstan thus constitutes important government functionary in the country. It was indeed a huge step towards further strengthening of democratic norms and traditions at the grassroots level in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh President H.E. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed an initiative to hold elections for the rural akims on September 1, 2020. It was a key initiative as part of the presidential commitment of political and democratic reforms in the country. It seems that direct elections of rural akims has completely transformed the political orientation, utility, importance and of course composition of the rural politics. It has actually introduced new stage of political modernization in the country.

Being visionary leader of Kazakhstan believing in political equality, fair play, democratic transformation and staunch supporter of protection of human rights President Tokayev signed legislative acts providing amendments to the legislation on the introduction of direct elections of akims on May 25. On June 5, new norms of electoral legislation were implemented.

In this connection, certain befitting, positive, productive and participatory amendments have been announced to make local elections in the country more relevant, attractive and comprehensive.   The Kazakh President also signed the amendments to the decree “On approval of the Model regulations of the maslikhat (local executive body)” on June 25th

Certain checks and balances and separation of power mechanism were decreed and according to these amendments, the local executive bodies can consider a vote of no confidence on akims based on: a double non-approval of the reports submitted by the governors to the maslikhats and an initiation of the local community regarding dismissal of the governor of a town, a village, or a rural district. 

On July 25 2021 the direct elections of more than 700 rural akims (governors) were held nationwide throughout Kazakhstan. It was completely fair, free and transparent and up to any international standard. The turn-over was more than 78 percent which showed people’s commitments towards further politicization and democratization in the country.  

In this context, the registration of candidates for rural akims, “heads of local administrations” was completed on July 14 with 2,297 registered candidates in total, out of which 1,419 (61.8 percent) are self-nominated individuals which showed people’s keen interest in the political and democratic structural reforms of its government.

Majority of the candidates were independent which was mitigated Western baseless propaganda about engineered political loyalty or rule of one political party in the country.   

Direct elections of akims have created additional opportunities for active citizens to realize their own potential. It shows that the presidential political reforms have generated a lot of interest in society.

According to Kazakhstan’s election commission reports (July 26, 2021) 878 candidates (38.2 percent) were representing different political parties of the country, including the six largest parties. It showed wide political spectrum and diversified democratic acceptability in Kazakhstan’s society which has backbone of its vibrant national political system.  

Each region of Kazakhstan has a different number of registered candidates due to its size and quantity of villages and rural districts. Almaty region has 71 rural districts with 242 registered candidates. Akmola region has 303 candidates for the position of rural akims.

Karaganda region has 268 registered candidates with 226 (84 percent) of the candidates are men and 42 (16 percent) are women. All individuals have higher education with predominant expertise in law and economics. The average age is a little over 40.

North Kazakhstan, Zhambyl and Kostanay regions have 71, 122 and 147 candidates respectively. Kostanay region also boasts the statistics of every fifth candidate for rural akims being a woman, while Mangystau region has one of the youngest candidates who is 25 years old.

The new electoral system was aimed at “boosting” the political participation of the 40 percent of the total Kazakh population living in rural areas, facilitating a transparent decision-making process and fostering more rigorous competition among the political parties.

Interestingly, before the amendments, rural akims were appointed by akims of a higher level. Thus direct election of akims is a “paradigm shift” in the “political canvas” of Kazakhstan which has “multiplier” socio-economic benefits.  

Kazakhstan has “pioneered” the concept of holding direct elections in rural areas which is “commendable”. It has further “amalgamated” concepts of modern democracy which is based on “devolution of powers” and “decentralization” of decisions making by “empowering” local people to choice their own political representatives. It is indeed the start of new political culture in the country wherein the Center and regions (rural areas, townships and districts) have new “social contract”, “political bindings” having unique “administrative arrangement” and equation with the 40 percent rural population in the country.   

Under Kazakhstan’s current political system, the president appoints the governors of the country’s 14 provinces. Provincial governors in turn name the mayors of major districts. Then, those mayors appoint the heads of smaller rural districts from candidates chosen by local representative bodies dominated by the ruling Nur-Otan party.

Under the new system introduced by Toqaev in September 2020, any citizen 25 or older can participate in the local elections for any political slot/position but those who have been convicted of corruption are not eligible.

Rural mayors are not allowed to hold office for more than two four-year terms. The mayors of 45 larger districts will also be chosen in a direct vote that is expected to take place by the end of the year.

I consider the akim elections held on July 2021, 25 as an important step to further strengthen the connection between the central and regions in Kazakhstan. I term it main democratic development in Kazakhstan and evaluate as an important initiative to build a new political system and people’s democratic culture in the country. It has started a new era in the country.

It shows the people’s desire to participate in the decision making process and has further strengthened the spirits of checks & balances, doctrines of separation of power and consequently has institutionalized concept of “listening state” in which no one is above the law and social justice is embodied right to everyone.

In this regard, active participation of people in rural areas has reaffirmed Kazakhstan’s historical roots and holy wisdom in the decision making process, especially in the elections since centuries. It verifies the Kazakh government’s confidence in itself, the people and its splendid history.

Kazakhstan’s national policy has been implemented to achieve optimal utility and trust between the state and its people. The successful elections of akims have now established unshakeable social peace and stability. Right from the beginning, President Tokayev has announced and implemented effective political structural reforms to improve the welfare of his people which have now created new jobs, social security networks, eradicate poverty and stabilize macro-economy.

Thus successful akim elections have now broadened the society’s management system in the country. It is holistic, harmonious and people’s centric system which resolves their problems at their doorsteps.

Hopefully, the introduction of direct elections of rural akims will facilitate further encourage the massive participation of common people living in remote areas and thus will enhance the accountability of local government bodies towards the needs and issues of the population.

It seems that Kazakhstan continues to make significant strides at the democratization and reform process on the 30th anniversary of its independence. In this regard, akim elections”, held on July 25, 2021 has emerged as an important step to strengthen center-periphery relations in Kazakhstan. 

It vividly reflects the superiority and sincerity of holistic policies and wisdom and experience of the Founding Head of State Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev and the President Mr. Kasım Cömert Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s future people’s friendly policies towards creditable processes of politicization and democratization.

To conclude I must uphold that direct akim elections has now opened new norms and traditions in Kazakhstan which are friendly in nature, competent in command, authorize in devolution of powers, centric to decentralization and last but not least having consolidation of rich history with harmonious political maturity and centuries old traditions with modernity. It has now revolutionized the concept of “Listening State” by written new Scheme of Arrangements” in terms of national politics, civil liberties, provision of basic human rights domain, economic self-reliance, formation of integrative mechanism of self-governance and last but not least, slowly but surely moving towards liberal democracy and fair-play in country’s politics.

It has manifold people’s political maturity and further strengthened validity, relevance, importance, utility and significance of its dynamic political system. It is the first time since independence that villagers making 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s population have been empowered to directly choose local leadership.

A direct election of akims held on July 25 2021 is a right step towards right direction on right time to stimulate sense of rights, duties and responsibilities among the general masses. Massive participation of women, young people and educated youth with 78.54 percent turn-out all speak holistic nature of Kazakhstan political system and blessings of indigenous democratic norms which always “prefer people over corporate propositions, values humanity over humidity of egos, development over discretions, prosperity over prosecutions, national dignity over degradation of power politics and last but not least, fair, free and transparency in elections over western biased dissemination of propaganda about its unique model of good governance which is based on “Listening State”.