The Fear of Reforms Takes Molehills for Mountains

At the general session of Majlis of parliament of RK of June 20th 2018, deputies agreed to the amendments of the Senate to the projects of constitutional law of RK «On inclusion of changes and addendums to some of the constitutional laws of RK» and the RK law «On inclusion of changes and addendums to some legislative acts of RK elections». Among others they agreed to exclude the norm on introducing popular vote for lower-level akims, i.e. akims of regional-significance cities.

Thus, this governmental initiative was rejected. Though, we must admit, we had no doubts that the Senate will approve legislations, prepared by the ministry of justice of RK, after which president would sign it.

It looks like Akorda has reconsidered its initial decision under the pressure of those, who could be dubbed as conservatives. And this is despite the fact that the experiment on stimulating of positive activity of civilians using popular vote system for election of lower-level akims, in no way threatened stability.

The reasons why Akorda has changed its decision, can most likely be explained by its fears that during the direct elections of lower-level akims, local clans will start resorting to, standard for democratic states, but unacceptable for Kazakhstan methods of fighting for votes, and that in turn will start mobilizing protest constituencies for new demands. But this is just our point of view.

But is that the situation, in reality? Why did the Senate reconsider the decision of allowing popular vote for akims? What were they afraid of? We asked Kazakhstani political experts Andrey Chebotarev and Tolgonai Umetalieva to give their take on the decision of MPs.

The elites don’t want to share the power and resources

Head of the Kazakhstani center for current research Alternativa, Andrey Chebotarev in his commentary noted that, «inclusion of the condition on introduction of direct elections of akims of that level to the list of adendums to electoral legislation was a sort of a compensation to society for the impending cancelation of procedure of self-nomination to positions of deputy of maslikhats of the country».

«If the authorities really wanted to introduce election of akims of rural communities and cities of regional significance, this would have been announced by the president in his message or in separate speech. Thus, no one was planning to do that. Since the examined addendums to the electoral legislation didn’t cause any serious public reaction and didn’t lead to showing of mass protest, the authorities calmly passed only those laws that related to maslikhats and other issues».

In his words, «the ruling elite doesn’t want to share with the public its powers of authority and resources that it can control, thanks to those powers. And in the rural areas such key resource is land».

At the same time, according to Chebotarev, central authorities have somewhat lost control over their lower-level branches: «It still more-or-less controls the activity over regional akims. But when local akims, their subordinates, deputies of maslikhats and the police do whatever they want, and it is Astana that has to deal with the situation in the end, this enhances processes of disfunction and disorganization of the system of governmental power and administration. The notorious story about a raped boy from the former South Kazakhstani region is a prime example of that».

«In these conditions, introduction of electivity of rural and urban akims is fraught with risk of destruction of the system. Considering the high level of regionalism and tribal relations among the native population and local elites, such fears in Akorda are quite justified».

In the political expert’s opinion, in the conditions of preparation for the transit of higher power with the launch of this process in 2020, centralization and control over the system will only strengthen. The transit of the process of electivity of MPs of maslikhats of all level to a proportional basis is actually going in line with this, Chebotarev is sure.

Fight for dominance, status and weight

The head director of Central-Asian fund of development of democracy, candidate of political science Tolgonai Umbetalieva has a slightly different point of view. She thinks that rejection by the Senate of amendments to the legislation of RK «On inclusion of changes and addendums to some constitutional laws» is the evidence of existence of two contrary positions within Kazakhstani elite.

«First one is aimed at real reforms, whereas the other one is conservative. Its proponents are trying via different methods to preserve those principles of work that are understandable and clear to them» — political expert assumes. Moreover, «seeing that the offer received support in Majlis and even reached upper chamber, forces of two groups are practically even».

«There is a fight going on for domination, for status and weight within the system, and traditionally, for an opportunity to influence the president. One group blocks initiatives of the other one. But more beneficial, in my opinion, would be a position of building dialogue and cooperating».

The fight, in her opinion, also goes on for positions in the post-transit period. «Each of the groups, that participate in this competition, is trying to receive as many perks and tools for strengthening of their position as possible». But that is if you look at the situation through the prism of relations between elite groups. If you look through the point of view of «ruling elite and opposition» then the picture is different.

«On one hand, electivity of lower-level akims would allow central authorities to unburden themselves with solving problems on a local level, on the other — there is a risk that these instruments would be used by the opponents of power. Not only those who are within the country, but also those who are outside of its borders. Thus there, are various backups. One is that only representatives of registered political parties can participate in the local level elections. But, seemingly there are fears that even these safeguards won’t assure predictability of election results».

Also, in political expert’s opinion, one of the reasons, explaining what happened is the absence of experience of working with democratic instruments and a lack of work experience with unpredictable results and force majeure events. «For now there are more fears, than desire for reforms», — Umbetalieva summaried.


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