A regular meeting of the national expert platform “KazISS GPS” was held on May 3, 2022 at the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies. The topic of the meeting was devoted to the political transformations in Kazakhstan – the national referendum.
The decision to hold a referendum reflects the essence of the constitutional reform as a national project. The provisions of the draft amendments consist of those proposals that were voiced, among others, on the platforms of the NSDS and other public councils. This means that the concept of a “hearing state” is effective. The constitutional reform includes norms on the limitation of the President’s authority in his influence on the local executive power, his membership in a political party and other issues. The mechanism of formation of the deputy corps of the Parliament is significantly changed, as well as the role of the Majilis is increased. A special attention in the constitutional reform is given to human rights institutions. The Constitutional Court will be established where citizens will be able to apply for protection of their constitutional rights and freedoms.
Opening the next meeting of the national expert platform “KazISS GPS”, the Director of KazISS Yerkin Tukumov reminded the pre-election platform of the Head of State, which stated that the issues of national importance will be resolved through a referendum. Participation in the referendum on the upcoming constitutional amendments will give the citizens of Kazakhstan the opportunity to exercise the right of expression of their will. Direct voting for the constitutional amendments will contribute to the direct participation of citizens in the construction of the New Kazakhstan.
“Referendum as a method of popular expression of will is a fairly common practice. Referendum is most often used in Switzerland, where a plebiscite has taken place more than 400 times. In other European countries, referendums have taken place 149 times in the last 200 years, in the Middle and Near East – 93 times, in Asian countries – 30 times. I think that the initiation of a referendum on constitutional amendments is logical and reasonable. Even in his election platform, the head of state stressed that all the most important issues for the country will be resolved through a referendum. This is probably the most legitimate way to make decisions on a national scale. Wide involvement of the entire population in determining the future political model will be a decisive factor in influencing the processes,” said Yerkin Tukumov.
It should be reminded that the last referendum was held in Kazakhstan in 1995, where the current Constitution was adopted. Then, more than 90% of voters with a turnout of 90.6% voted for the adoption of the Basic Law of the country. According to the law, the participation of 50% of voters is enough to consider the referendum valid, and the majority of votes to make the final decision.
The Chief researcher of the Institute of State History of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan Japsarbay Kuanyshev noted that the holding of the referendum in the current geopolitical situation is a bold step. “Today the country is undergoing large-scale reforms. After 27 years, the people have an opportunity to be involved in big changes. I would like to note that before holding a referendum the people should be allowed to speak out, to give an opportunity to share their vision of New Kazakhstan. It is necessary to establish the entire process on a legal and constitutional basis, a lot of attention should be paid to legal and technological issues,” the expert expressed his opinion.
Speaking about the importance of the upcoming referendum, Marat Bashimov, director of the Expert Institute of European Law and Human Rights, stressed that the Constitution does not accept any exclusivity. “Everyone is equal before the law and the courts. Everything that does not comply with the principles of equality and justice must leave the Constitution. Referendum is the supreme expression of the will of the people, the people are the source of power. Now they are waiting quickly for changes in the legal block, they are waiting quickly for changes on the election of Parliament, on political parties, i.e. we must create a legal framework. The situation in the country is not simple, but the President has a very large support of the people,” said Marat Bashimov.
Yermek Abdrassulov, Professor of Theory and History of State and Law, Constitutional Law of the L.N.Gumilyov ENU, noted that all the proposed amendments to the Constitution, which are put to referendum, do not contain contradictions and are aimed at expanding the powers of Parliament. “The experience of Russia is interesting, when the President submits his proposals for constitutional amendments to the Parliament and the legislative body adopts a law, which comes into force according to the results of the referendum,” shared the expert.
According to the Director of the Institute of State History Yerkin Abil, explanations of the amendments to the Constitution should be made in a language that is understandable to the population. It is very important now to start an information campaign, discussions and debates on the amendments. It is necessary to bring the meaning of all amendments to the population. Now there is a legal explanation, but this language is not clear to everyone,” – said Yerkin Abil..
Zhanar Tulindinova, advisor to the speaker of the Kazakhstan Senate, believes that the January events showed a vacuum of political institutions. “Different types of referendums in countries around the world show that there are key points that can be put to a vote. The main thing is that one amendment does not block all reform. There is a possibility of putting several issues to a referendum, as happened in Russia in the 1990s,” said Zhanar Tulindinova.
According to Rolan Dzhangarashev, the deputy director of the Institute of Legislation and Legal Information of the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan, the constitutional reforms should become a starting point in the formation of a political culture of citizens. “A very strong political will has been adopted – to go to a general referendum. A referendum is the most important tool of a democratic society, of any state governed by the rule of law, when people actively participate in the adoption of certain decisions important for the country, so that everyone bears responsibility. When people understand how important and necessary these amendments are, there will be no doubts. Society is ready to make decisions on its own,” said the expert.
Madina Yesirkepova, associate professor, PhD of the Higher School of Law, the chair of the Council of Young Scientists of the International University “Astana”, emphasized the importance of studying international experience. “To determine the weaknesses and strengths of the organization of the referendum itself it is necessary to study international experience. I would also like to note that a great responsibility lies on the citizens, who will decide on the constitutional amendments. Right now all the attention is focused on one high-profile amendment, but other changes concern equally important transformations in the country’s political system. Therefore, it is important to begin familiarizing ourselves with the amendments being introduced; it is necessary to interpret the new norms. And here it is important to pay attention to the conceptual apparatus. Today, all specialists, economists, political scientists, economists have different interpretations and understand these or other concepts of the introduced norms”, – shared Madina Yesirkepova.
Maksim Rozhin, a well-known journalist, vice president of “Khalykaralyk kazak tili kogamy”, a member of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, also noted the importance of high-quality information work. “Today the public is very much interested in the political life of the country. This was not the case before. The issue of quality information work is very relevant. People must be fully informed and aware and have a complete picture. It is important to think about and develop a mechanism before making new changes and additions. These changes should be special, they should be based on the interests of the people,” said Maxim Rozhin.
Director of the Republic State Institution “Kogamdyk kelisim” of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan Galymzhan Kusmangali emphasized that all the changes made must comply with the interests of the people. “Realization of qualitative explanatory work among the population has a place. Because at the moment there is a discussion between lawyers in social networks, but there is no exchange of opinions among the public, among ordinary people. This should not be the case. All innovations and changes must comply with the interests and demands of the population,” – the expert stressed.
Askar Nursha, Advisor to the Director of the KazISS under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in his turn, suggested looking at the Constitution not only as an important political legal document, but also as an instrument of social progress. “The current Constitution should not only fix the current situation, but should also work ahead of time and serve the interests of social progress. Because today social transformations in society are far ahead of political transformations. We must understand in which direction our society is developing; we must regulate this process in advance through the Constitution. We need a guarantee that there will not be a rollback”, – said Askar Nursha.