Since independence, the government of Kazakhstan has acted decisively to promote the cohesion and stability of the unique, multi-ethnic society by implementing progressive citizenship and language laws, and by guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and rights. With over 100 nationalities and an ethnic balance strikingly different from other former Soviet states, where the national ethnic group always had a clear majority, Kazakhstan has avoided major ethnic strife, It has achieved this stability in large part because of its progressive policies and record.
Inclusive Citizenship Laws
Kazakhstan has one of the most liberal citizenship laws, on residency, not birth or ethnicity.
Progressive Language Law
The Constitution does not discriminate against the use of any language, including Russian, which has the status of official means of communication.
Kazakhstan is a secular state in which Islam, Orthodoxy, Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and other faiths are all practiced openly and freely. The Government has reiterated its commitment to the current law on religion, which has liberal principles and guarantees of religious pluralism.
As part of Kazakhstan's ongoing commitment to ethnic stability the Assembly of Peoples, representing over 100 nationalities and ethnic groups, functions in the Republic. It has the right to give recommendations with regard to the interests of social and ethnic groups to the Head of the State, members of the Parliament and the Government.
The Government established a Presidential Commission on Human Rights to receive and investigate complaints on human rights abuses. In addition, Kazakhstan is a part to15 major international conventions and instruments to protect its citizens'rights.
Freedom of the Press
In 1999 Parliament enacted a new Law on Mass Media to provide comprehensive guarantees to the press, including guarantees to access government information. Over 70% of media is independent.
Open Political Process
All citizens over 18 years of age are eligible to vote.
Kazakhstan has one of the region's most progressive records in promoting and protecting the rights of women. Kazakhstan has created a strong commission on women and established a fund to support women-owned businesses. Twenty percent of ministers, vice-ministers and heads of independent agencies are women. International NGOs have been hosting a monthly roundtable on gender issues. Kazakhstan has also recently introduced stiffer penalties for crimes against women and created new specialized police units to protect women.
Active NGO Community
Kazakhstan is home to an engaged civil society with over 2,000 NGOs, the most in Central Asia. With input from domestic and international NGOs, the Government is in the process of adopting new legislation on public associations and on charities to make it easier for NGOs to attract and receive financial support. Nevada-Semipalatinsk, a movement which protested nuclear testing during the Cold War, set an important precedent for Kazakhstan's tradition of civic activism.
In October 1999 Parliamentary elections made a landmark contribution to Kazakhstan's democratiwtion program by introducing Western-style proportional representation for the first time in Central Asia, Nine political parties competed for 10 new seats added to the Majilis, the lower house of Parliament.
This election demonstrated a dramatic turnover rate of elected officials: 60% of incumbents were defeated.
The election set other precedents for Kazakhstan and the region, including:
Offering the largest number of candidates per district seat
Broadcasting the first multi-party national television debate
Utilizing the largest number of domestic observers to participate in an election
Political Party Vote
The Agrarian Party, the Alash Party, the Azamat Party, the Civil Party, the Communist Party, the People's Congress Party, the Party of Labor, the Otan Party, and the Renaissance Party contested 10 at-large seats, introduced for the first time in these elections. Of the nine parties competing, four met the threshold of 7% to gain at-large seats, and no single party dominated the vote.
The ten at-large seats were divided as follows:
the Otan Party, 4 seats; Civil Party, 2 seats; the Agrarian Party, 2 seats; the Communist Party, 2 seats.
Single Mandate Districts
A total of 547 candidates contested 67 single-mandate district seats, an average of eight
candidates per district. The enormous choice of candidates meant that in 70% of the races no one candidate received more than 50% of the vote, thus requiring run-offs between the top two candidates. Candidates nominated by political parties, women's organizations, NGOs, trade unions, or through self-nomination received public financing which helped to reduce campaign finance violations and the influence of wealth.
Diagram: How Majilis Candidates Were Nominated
In the first round of voting, 62% of Kazakhstanis cast ballots for up to four separate races, and 23,000 domestic observers monitored balloting, vote count, and tabulation procedures. In 14 oblasts (regions) citizens completed ballots for local maslikhats races, oblast maslikhats races, single-mandate district Majilis deputy, and political parties. In two cities (Astana and Almaty) citizens voted for city maslikhats, single-mandate district Majilis deputies, and political parties.
As part of the Government's commitment to ensure that voters received information about the platforms of Majilis candidates, all single-mandate district candidates were guaranteed state media access free of charge:
Guarantee Number of Candidates Utilizing
1 Fifteen Minute TV Appearance 350
1 Ten Minute Radio Appearance 205
2 Newspapers Articles 349
To educate the electorate about the political parties, the Central Election Commission arranged two newspaper "debate pages" and one 2'/2-hour live television debate on Khabar (the state television channel) where representatives of political parties explained their platforms, responded to questions from each other, the studio audience and telephone callers around the country.
The Central Election Commission created two temporary sub-commissions: one to review and investigate violations of electoral rules on campaign finance and the second to investigate allegations of interference with press activity in order to ensure that all mass media could report on the campaign unimpeded.
For more detailed information on the election, please visit the web site of Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission, www.election.kz.