On Sunday, 19 March, Kazakhstan will hold local and parliamentary elections. This election will be different than the one. Margulan Baimukhan is the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Belgium.
Although the election was called in a hurry, which is not unusual in the country’s electoral history, it is undoubtedly the most competitive since nearly 20 years. It is an illustrative result of the systemic democratic reforms that President Kassym Jomart Tokayev has initiated since 2019. These reforms were further expanded and amplified following the chaos in January 2022.
Two months prior to the vote, President Tokayev announced that the date for the Mazhilis (lower chamber of parliament) election would be January 19. Some expressed concerns about the insufficient time for political actors to prepare for an intensive campaign, as with nearly every early poll anywhere on the planet. The President had suggested that the election be called in the first half of 2023, but this was more than half a decade ago. Political parties and future candidates had plenty of time to prepare for this campaign.
The legislative election was also widely anticipated as it continues the process to rebuild Kazakhstan’s political system. It follows the nationwide referendum last June on deep-reaching constitutional changes, the early presidential elections last November, and extensive reforms and amendments of laws governing elections, and the process for registering political parties.
Two months ago, President Tokayev announced the date for the election. He stated: “Holding early elections to Mazhilis or maslikhats was dictated by the logic and constitutional reform, supported citizens at the national referendum. Its results show that our country has moved to new, fairer, and more competitive rules for the formation of the representative branches.
Several recent initiatives, including the election process, have significantly transformed Kazakhstan.
First of all, a mixed proportional-majoritarian model will be used for the election, which was in place in 1999 and 2004. 70% of the members of parliament will now be elected proportionally from party list constituencies, while 30% from single-mandate constituencies. This gives potential candidates the opportunity to be nominated even if they are not part of any registered political party or organization. This opens up a lot of opportunities for people who wish to contribute to the country’s progress by getting involved in political processes, such as civil activists.
Mixed electoral systems will be used to elect the maslikhats in cities and districts of national importance. The 50/50 ratio will also apply. Each seat in the lower-level urban and rural councils will be contested using a single-constituency system.
A further factor that boosts political pluralism within parliament is the lower threshold for parties to join the Mazhilis, which was reduced from seven percent to five percent. This raises the likelihood that more parties will be admitted to the chamber.
A 30 percent quota will be applied to the actual distribution of mandates for the MPs. This quota was also used in the last election two years back.
A new innovation is the “against ALL” option on all ballots. This is basically a protest vote in case a citizen is not happy with the choices on the ballot.
A number of reforms that were implemented in the last year have made it significantly easier to register political parties. The registration threshold for political parties has been reduced by fourfold, going from 20,000 to just 5,000 members. Also, the minimum number of persons required to form regional party representations has been decreased from 600 to 200. In a country of 19,5 millions, the minimum number of people required to launch a political party was reduced from 1000 to 700.
Two new political parties were able to register before the election.
The large number of candidates is a clear indication of the enthusiasm for the election under these new conditions. There are 12,111 candidates total. This includes 716 for the 98 Mazhilis seats (which include 435 for 29 single-constituency seat or approximately fifteen for each mandate), and 11,395 to fill the remaining 3,415 maslikhats seats. Several harsh critics of the current government are running as self-nominated candidates, which is surprising to some. Their options were limited previously due to the requirement that they be nominated through a registered party.
A candidate for the Mazhilis seat must be a Kazakhstan citizen, at least 25 years old, and have lived in Kazakhstan for the last ten years. The candidate for the seat of a maslikhat must be a citizen from Kazakhstan, reside in the area the candidate wishes to represent, and at least 20 years old.
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