Parliament in Kazakhstan has slapped a veto on the contentious land law that caused a surge of protests and one of the broadest shows of public discontent since independence.
The vote in parliament essentially formalizes a moratorium on the law imposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on May 2.
Senate’s hasty two-reading approval of the veto on June 23 seemed to take even some lawmakers by surprise.
“The (veto) law enters into force and now what does your ministry suggest should be next on the agenda, what are we to work on next?” Senate deputy Byrganym Aitimova asked plaintively of the deputy agriculture minister. “Since 1990, we have made six changes to the land code. In the land commission created on the orders of the president, of which you are a member, we are hearing absolutely contradictory proposals. What position does your department take and what direction should we be working in as concerns the proposed draft bill (on land reform).”
Deputy agriculture minister Yerlan Nysanbayev had to admit that no consensus had emerged and that he himself had no position on the issue.
The Senator’s haplessness provides a helpful insight into how the parliamentary system works in Kazakhstan, where deputies serve the function not of holding the government to its responsibilities, but of simply applying the legitimating veneer of a rubber stamp.
Amendments to the land law approved by the same Senate in November extended the period for which farming land could be rented to foreigners from 10 to 25 years. The law also set the terms for a series of land auctions that would have been open only to citizens of Kazakhstan.
Lawmakers on June 23 also vetoed rules allowing foreigners or companies with more than 50 percent stakes owned by foreigners to take out leases on land intended for farming purposes. Auction sales of land currently owned by the government to private persons or companies have also been put on hold by parliament.
Protests against the reforms stem in part from deep-seated fears that long-term leases to foreigners could translate in effect to ownership of land that many Kazakhs feel is their birthright. Some also worry that the process of land auctions and leasing farming land, regardless of the beneficiaries, would be open to corruption.
The freeze on the land reforms approved by the president and now parliament will expire on December 31, at which point it is assumed a new approach will have been agreed on how to implement land reforms.
In reaction to the unexpectedly strong public discontent to the land reforms, the government created a 75-member public consultation body that is now in the middle of discussing how the law could be amended, or if it should indeed be scrapped altogether. The commission is touring the country to canvas a broad view, Nysanbayev told the Senate.
The government has also created a telephone hotline for members of the public to call in with suggestions and complaints about the land law.
But Nysanbayev noted that out of the 10,000 calls received so far, only 5 percent were actually anything to do with the land law. Most calls were enquiries about another, unrelated and also doomed government initiative to allocate free land for residential purposes, he said.
Under legislation approved in 2003, every citizen of Kazakhstan building a house was theoretically eligible to receive a plot of free land.
That provision again suddenly became subject of feverish speculation recently when rumors began circulating that the stock of available land was on the verge of running out. The truth is, however, that there is nowhere near enough land near suitable infrastructure to meet all the demand.