From Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 6, 2022, p. 5. Condensed text:
President Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev congratulated Kazakhstanis on the republic’s referendum, which had a turnout of more than 60%. . . .
According to Tokayev, authorized bodies are carrying out a thorough and detailed investigation of January’s events, and the Prosecutor General’s Office is publishing all findings. “There are no secrets in our society. We do everything openly, transparently and at a high professional level, so there is no need to invite international experts,” the head of state said at an impromptu briefing for journalists after he voted at a polling station on June 5.
Readers are reminded that [in January,] mass protests that began in the west of the republic spread to all the country’s major cities within a few days. The president announced that a coup attempt [was taking place] and asked the Collective Security Treaty Organization for help. After putting things in order, he proposed a program for the comprehensive modernization of Kazakhstan’s political system – in particular, the transition from a superpresidential form of government to a presidential republic with a strong parliament. . . .
Only a month was allocated for a nationwide discussion of the novel reforms. But, as Tokayev said, “there was no coercion.” People actively went to the polls starting in the early morning, and by noon turnout was almost 60%. Thus, the referendum, “organized at a high level,” was recognized as valid. Kazakh political analyst Talgat Kaliyev believes that, if the amendments are adopted, the political process in the country has a chance to take on a new form, and the people will regain their political agency and sole right to hold power as provided for in the Constitution.
Professor Aleksandr Kobrinsky, doctor of science in history and director of the Ethnonational Strategies Agency, said that the Constitution mainly lays out the rules of the game for the political elite; it has very little effect on the life of the average person. “Tokayev is building himself a political system – and, accordingly, rules of political life – that fit his own vision. These [rules] had been largely personalized under the previous president,” Kobrinsky told NG. According to him, this is a change in the entire political system. Assuming high turnout and high support in the referendum, this will overcome the split in society and the negative trends that appeared in January.
As for the emergence of political forces, the expert believes that the Constitution allows for the creation of new political parties. The only question is how the law will be applied in practice. However, those who believe that the law has been violated have the opportunity to appeal a decision to the Constitutional Court. Another thing worth noting is that these new political parties are unlikely to receive public support. “To what extent will it work? We know that the 1936 Soviet Constitution was the most democratic in the whole world and, despite this, the most terrible repressions were carried out in the country. It’s not about the constitution; it’s about the legal application and interpretation of the norms of the Basic Law,” Kobrinsky believes. This can be assessed quite soon, he says. For example, Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev made a statement that he would not use the Constitution to extend his terms of office – i.e., to zero out presidential terms.
First president of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev also voted in the referendum. This was announced by his press secretary, Aidos Ukibai. Yesterday, in an interview with political analyst Daniyar Ashimbayev, Nazarbayev said that he fully supports Tokayev’s proposed amendments to the Basic Law, of which virtually the most prominent would deprive him [Nazarbayev] of virtually all powers and only affirm his role as the creator of modern Kazakhstan. However, many in Kazakhstan perceive voting in the referendum as depriving Nursultan Nazarbayev of all his privileges. According to political analyst Arkady Dubnov, Nazarbayev’s statement looks like an arrangement proposed by the current government: I surrender to you part of my inner circle, including the “family,” and perhaps even a share of the vast financial and material resources under its control, and you guarantee me a place in history.
Dosym Satpayev, director of the Risk Assessment Group, told NG that articles [of the new constitutional amendments] related to the usurpation of authority and the ban on relatives of the head of state from holding official positions are popular and are being well publicized. As for the other amendments, they are more like a maze. The wording of many of them is rather complex and more technical in nature. The expert believes that, with the adoption of the new version of the Constitution, presidential powers will not suffer at all.
According to Kazakh economist Pyotr Svoik, the referendum could have included [only] three main issues, and the remaining 30 could have been submitted to parliament. Nevertheless, he believes that the referendum is a summary of the past period in the country. Readers are reminded that the first referendum in Kazakhstan took place in 1995. In subsequent years, all amendments to the Basic Law were passed by parliament. “With the renewal of the Constitution, the real power of second president Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev begins,” Svoik believes.