26 September 2013

Kazakhstan Inaugurates Local Elections

For the first time in its post-Soviet history, Kazakhstan held elections for akims (mayors) of cities, towns and villages during the week of August 5-9, 2013. Traditionally, the government has appointed these 2,400+ akims, but the recent adoption of Kazakhstan’s 2050 Strategy called for local elections as an important step in Kazakhstan’s democratization process.
Kazakhstan Inaugurates Local Elections
President Nursultan Nazarbayev first announced the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy in December 2012. Although the strategy promotes a wide range of political, economic and social reforms, it specifically emphasizes measures designed to decentralize the political power structure in Kazakhstan in order to strengthen the authority of local officials.

This initial push toward self-governance led to the June 14 signing of the law entitled “Introduction of Revisions and Additions in Legal Acts in the Republic of Kazakhstan Regarding the Demarcation of Authority Between Bodies of State Governance,” which allowed for the elections of akims by maslikhats, or local councils. The law also detailed a two-phase process (2013-2015, 2015-2020) in which Kazakhstan would strengthen and expand the development of the new electoral system at the local level.

Election Results

In last month’s election, 6,738 people ran for 2,457 available political positions. Of those positions, 47 represent akims of major cities, 119 – akims of towns, 190 – akims of villages, and 2,101 – akims of rural areas, according to the Central Election Committee.
Area/Size Number of Elected Akims 
Cities 47
Towns 119
Villages 190
Rural Areas 2,101
Total: 2,457

In total, the 2,457 positions account for approximately 90% of all akim posts throughout the country. The Kazakhstani government appoints the remaining 10%, who are typically located in major cities and oblasts (regions).

Candidates in the akim elections had to meet several criteria: they had to be at least 25 years of age, live in the area they wished to represent, have active electoral rights, and meet the requirements of the Kazakhstani law “On Civil Service”. The candidates were also required to have some amount of higher education (though unspecified), and to have no criminal record.

According to a government press release, a solid majority of the elected akims falls into the 25-55 age range, with an average age of 47. By profession, 617 (25.1%) of the elected akims are teachers, 501 (20.3%) – agricultural specialists, 417 (17%) – engineers, 357 (14.5%) – economists, and 281 (11.5%) are lawyers, while the remaining 271 (11%) represent various other backgrounds. 
Profession Number of Akims Percentage of Total
Teachers 617 25.1%
Agricultural Specialists 501 20.3%
Engineers 417 17%
Economists 357 14.5%
Lawyers 281 11.5%
Other 271 11%

The number of women also increased by 32, representing 280 total posts (11.4%). In addition, 23 different ethnic groups are featured among the 2,457 local officials.

​The akims were not elected directly by local citizens, but rather on an indirect basis by deputies serving on local councils (“maslikhats”). These members of maslikhats are elected by the local populace and are generally considered to be more accountable to the public. In this recent election, 2,602 deputies in 188 maslikhats participated in the electoral process.

Indirect elections are also the mechanism for electing 32 of the 47 members of the Kazakhstani Senate, with the balance of 15 appointed by the president. In contrast, 98 of the 107 members of the lower house (Mazhilis) are elected directly by the public; the remaining 9 are appointed by the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan.

While these local elections represent an important social and political marker in Kazakhstan’s development, their impact has less to do with whether the indirect model is truly democratic than the resulting empowerment of local governments and officials. The Astana Times illustrates this distinction by claiming that the akim elections “mark a significant rise in the autonomy of the regions” to create “location specific solutions to problems faced by millions of citizens.” President Nazarbayev has also argued that local elections will “increase the management quality at the rural level and expand citizens’ participation in local-scale issues.”

In other words, at this stage of Kazakhstan’s political development, decentralization can be an important step toward democratization over the longer run in a country dominated by one party (Nur Otan) with a 71% incumbency rate, and observers will be watching the 2016 presidential election to further assess this evolution.