Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan has worked to develop international connectivity and the growth of deep regional trade ties over the 21 years since its independence. A bulwark of stability in a less-than-stable region, Kazakhstan has worked its way onto the world stage through membership in a variety of worldwide organizations, such as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the UN, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The country’s positive approach to security issues and issues concerning nuclear non-proliferation has provided it recognition as a friendly nation with the intention of attracting FDI and boosting regional trade bonds. Recently, Kazakhstan has turned its attention toward issues of nuclear safety through the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and its offer to host a nuclear fuel bank, as well as fulfilling regional water supply demands, and encouraging dialogue between people of different faiths and backgrounds through the fourth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.
The ninth-largest country in the world, Kazakhstan has made its geographic location work to its advantage, revitalizing its role on the traditional Silk Route through the development of the Western Europe-Western China highway. As the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, evolves into the Eurasian Economic Union, Kazakhstan’s status as a leading nation in the CIS needs to be matched by diversification in its economy akin to that of its multi-vector foreign policy.
Elected by popular vote for a five-year term, the president is the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief. The president also holds the power to appoint the prime minister, deputy prime minister, and the council of ministers. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has held the position since the country gained independence in 1991, last winning re-election in April 2011.
The legislative branch of the country is the Parliament, or Majilis, composed of an upper and a lower house. The Senate, acting as the upper house, contains 47 members, most of whom are elected for terms of six years. In addition to the cities of Astana and Almaty, each of the country’s 14 provinces are represented by two senators, which are selected by local assemblies. Since 2007, the law requires that 15 senators be appointed directly by the president. The responsibilities of the Senate include the appointment and removal from office of heads of state organs, including the president of the Supreme Court, governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, the attorney general, and the chairman of the National Security Committee. The Senate can also act as the lower house should the Majilis be dismissed prematurely.
The Majilis consists of 107 deputies, with 98 elected by popular vote through a secret ballot. The Assembly of the People elects the remaining nine deputies, who serve terms of five years. Majilis elections are held no later than two months before the expiration of the incumbent parliament. The last parliamentary elections were held in 2007, with deputies made up of members of the ruling Fatherland Party and independents. The powers allocated to the Majilis include approving the presidential appointment of the prime minister and taking into consideration legislative proposals.
The judicial branch of the government is made up of 44 judges who preside over the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan and collaborate with the seven members of the Constitutional Council.
During the 2007 presidential elections, approximately 64.6% of the population cast votes. The biggest winners were the Fatherland Party (88%), the Nationwide Social Democratic Party (4.6%), the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan Bright Path (3.3%), and the Village Social Democratic Party (1.6%), among others, according to the Embassy of Kazakhstan in the UK.
In terms of local government, Kazakhstan is divided into 16 administrative units, or 14 provinces and two cities; Almaty and Astana. The president appoints the heads of councils that are directly elected for four-year terms and are responsible for the administration of the units. The councils also apply national policies on a local level, and coordinate these policies with the individual needs of each region. The president is empowered to cancel or suspend the acts of the councils—a system that makes local government directly subordinate to the president.
Notable international organizations in which Kazakhstan has played a key role include the OIC, the CBTBO, and the OSCE. Tibor Tóth, Executive Secretary of the CBTBO, lauded the country’s dedication to worldwide cooperation, telling TBY that, “Kazakhstan has consistently made political, technical, and financial investments in the treaty and its verification regime, even in difficult political and economic times.” Membership in the CBTBO and past chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 demonstrate the government’s commitment to global security. The OIC has also credited Kazakhstan for playing the role of an inter-faith mediator, facilitating communication between East and West as leader of the group since June 2011. Furthermore, Kazakhstan is fostering regional economic and social integration through the framework of the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Association, the Central Asian Economic Association, and the SCO, an intergovernmental mutual-security organization founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and later joined by Uzbekistan.
Located between the trading powerhouses of China and Europe, Kazakhstan’s “multi-vector” foreign policy has characterized both diplomacy and trade. According to President Nazarbayev, “Kazakhstan’s foreign policy is predetermined by… features unique to the geographic position of our country. Therefore, our country is following a multi-level and multi-dimensional foreign policy. We will continue with our balanced foreign policy.” The administration’s approach to every border of the country has allowed it to blossom as a connector from East to West. In achieving this goal, the country has hosted international events such as the fourth Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which is a significant platform for international inter-religious dialogue in Astana in May 2012, and the Secretariat of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), which is “considered a unique inter-governmental platform for dialogue and consultation, decision-making, and action by consensus on security issues in Asia,” said President Nazarbayev in an interview with TBY.
In terms of trade, Kazakhstan is playing well in a variety of fields. Membership in the recently formed Customs Union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, which has been in effect since January 1, 2010, has boosted the potential for the country to become a regional exporter and lifted the restrictions on various imported goods. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has raised the bar for its Central Asian neighbors, which look to the country as a model for development and a potential partner for further economic cooperation. It is expected that the Customs Union will evolve into a greater Eurasian Economic Union in the near future, and Kazakhstan aims to pioneer this path to trade integration while paying close attention to the development of other CIS nations. Kazakhstan is also chairing the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 2012, through which the country will promote peace and stability, as well as cooperation in the region.
Constantly seeking balance between integration and development, Kazakhstan has won recognition from the international community as an enthusiastic country. Optimism runs high as the country becomes a regional trade and security leader in Eurasia.
© The Business Year