The background to the January 15 Kazakhstan’s parliamentary elections has been most unfavorable. The image of stability that Kazakhstan’s government had carefully cultivated over the years has been tarnished with the outbreak of violence in an oil town of Zhanaozen. In neighboring Russia, on which Kazakhstan depends both culturally and politically, dozens of thousands of people protested in December against falsifications in the Russian Duma elections held on December 4. These combined events generated warning signs that the Kazakh authorities should brace themselves for a stormy political season. However, the elections went as planned with a high turn-out (lower than in the 2011 Presidential elections but still solid 75 %) and very few instances of protest or boycott; the expected rendering of the elections as undemocratic by the OSCE and the usual accusations by the losing parties managed to gather only about a couple of hundred protesters in the center of Almaty on January 17. The charges leveled by the OSCE were that the elections “though well administered, did not meet key democratic principles.” As the OSCE statement said, “the authorities did not provide the necessary conditions for the conduct of genuinely pluralistic elections.” The accusations of not facilitating a “genuine pluralism” and not allowing all aspiring candidates and parties to enter free competition for the parliament seats comes as no surprise. After all, in a widely-held view, the authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan has been faking democratic processes for quite a while. So, now, on top of the previous simulations, it began to fake a multi-party parliament with 83 seats in the lower chamber given to the ruling Nur Otan party, 8 seats to the “Ak Zhol” (translated as “bright path”), 7 seats to the KNPK (communist) party, and 9 seats reserved for the representatives of ethnic minorities through the Assembly of the People.
The obvious question is: why go to the trouble of faking a multi-party system if the parliament is overshadowed by the President anyway, and the most important policy decisions are made in the government and in the corridors of the Presidential Apparatus which are then just rubber-stamped in parliament? As several Kazakhstani analysts, such as Daniyar Ashimbayev and Dosym Satpayev, have noted, after many years of consolidating power in the institute of presidency, the President himself and the ruling elite now want to transform the system from the presidential to the parliamentary-presidential. Having the almost omnipotent first President in the figure of Nazarbayev is seen as an exceptional situation of the first decades of independence and it is presumed and hoped that the next President, whoever he/she is, should have far less power than President Nazarbayev had. In line with this vision for the future, the parliament has already started flexing its powers through the vote of confidence for the newly appointed “old” government of Karim Masimov. All presidential appointees have to be approved by parliament and it is possible theoretically and legally (although it is difficult to imagine now) that the parliament might not always agree with the President.