A few days after reports surfaced online of filthy conditions in a hospital in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, the mayor showed up at the facility demanding answers.
It was an attention-grabbing stunt that hinted at a new type of governance in a country more used to aloof, Soviet-style rule by diktat. And as 2016 approaches, Mayor Baurzhan Baybek is pledging to continue in that interactive spirit.
The idea of the boss of a city like Almaty shaping policy in response to public concerns does not at first glance seem revolutionary. But in Kazakhstan’s political system, where all key decisions are made by long-ruling, 75-year-old President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the implications of top officials consulting transparently with the population cannot be underestimated.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.