MANAGING DISSENT, LIMITING RISK AND CONSOLIDATING POWER: THE PROCESSES AND RESULTS OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN KAZAKHSTAN

Rico ISAACS


Rico Isaacs, Ph.D. candidate, associate lecturer at Oxford Brookes University (Oxford, United Kingdom)


The transition in much of the former Soviet Union has not led to democracy but instead to varying degrees of authoritarianism and dictatorship. Yet some states driven by endogenous and exogenous factors are pursuing a process of constitutional reform for the purpose of democratizing political processes. In the cases of Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, among other factors, the process has been driven by the emergence of a counter elite that has provided an effective challenge to the incumbent power. The constitutional reform process in both Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan has been characterized by elite conflict, civic protest and the paralysis of government in both the executive and legislative branches. In Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev believes his country is pursuing a unique model of constitutional and political reform that is defined by a moderate step-by-step process. Unlike the crises that have enveloped the process in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, the Kazakh model places economic stability before political reform and posits gradual democratization over radical change. Whereas in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan a counter elite emerged, Nazarbaev has been able to define the political rules of the game on his own terms by disabling the ability of competing elite and opposition groups to compete for power. However, the Kazakh specific model of political modernization does not exist in a vacuum as internal and external factors are driving the process. Externally, approval from the international community has been a driving factor; in particular, the bid for chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009 has added a sense of urgency to complete the process. Internally, the emergence of an economic counter elite, the nontransparent electoral process and conflicts between competing elite groups, were all factors contributing toward the initiation and continuation of the reform process.

On 16 May, 2007, the president announced to a joint session of parliament changes to the constitution that were to signal, in particular to the West, that Kazakhstan is finally moving to..


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