Having a one-party parliament in Kazakhstan creates a "wonderful opportunity" to foster pluralism and prosperity in the energy-rich Central Asian nation, according to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The new lower house of parliament, the Mazhilis, convened September 2. Its first order of business was the endorsement of Prime Minister Karim Masimov's cabinet, a move that seemingly waived the legislative prerogative of confirming government members. The parliament is dominated by the pro-presidential Nur Otan Party.
Speaking at a joint-legislative session September 3, Nazarbayev insisted that the special August election that handed Nur Otan a dominating majority was free and fair. "On 18 August, we became witnesses to honest, competitive and fair elections. The Nur Otan party won a legitimate and deserved victory in them," Nazarbayev told deputies in the expanded 107-seat Mazhilis, elected for the first time by proportional representation. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Official election figures showed that Nur Otan won 88 percent of the vote. Monitors from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said the election failed to meet international standards. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Nazarbayev called on the party to represent the whole nation. Domination is "not an aim in itself, but a wonderful opportunity to adopt all the laws needed to speed up our country's economic and political modernization," he told deputies. Nur Otan's campaign platform and the Nazarbayev administration's political program are virtually identical: They aim to increase GDP, diversify the economy and improve the healthcare and educational sectors.
The special parliamentary vote was part of a constitutional overhaul, which the Nazarbayev administration has portrayed as the catalyst for an accelerated modernization drive. Even though one of the constitutional changes opens the way for Nazarbayev to become president-for-life, if he so chooses, he has continued to characterize the reforms as aimed at boosting parliamentary authority and fostering party politics.
If that is the case, critics now ask, why did Nur Otan MPs not assert themselves more in the question of the government's composition? Nur Otan representatives did not make themselves available for comment.
Developments appear to undermine the credibility of the administration's assertions concerning the new balance of power in Kazakhstan, suggested Rico Isaacs, a political scientist from Oxford Brookes University. "It demonstrates in all likelihood that the amendments were aimed at only strengthening Nur Otan's role, and not the role of political parties in general," Isaacs told EurasiaNet. "The changes affecting political parties' ability to have a greater say are minimal and inconsequential in relation to the executive powers of the president."
An election campaign plagued by controversy, a vote count criticized by the OSCE/ODIHR as flawed and the resulting one-party parliament "suggest that the intention of the reforms was to close the political system to pluralism," Isaacs added.
The election result -- which saw all other parties excluded from representation after failing to overcome the 7-percent barrier to win seats -- stifles debate, argues Dr. Ustina Markus, Associate Professor of Political Science at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research (KIMEP). "With this parliament it is clear there will be less debate," she told EurasiaNet. "It's a
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asian affairs.