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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Kazakhstan Takes a Step Toward Democracy

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President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev casts his referendum poll in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, June 5.



Photo:

AMAN/Associated Press

Kazakhstan is an exception: a post-Soviet Central Asian state embarking on a path of democratization and liberalization in a area dominated by authoritarian neighbors.

On Sunday the nation held a referendum—its first in 27 years—on potential amendments to the structure. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stated the modifications, that are projected to cross, based on exit polls, would convey an finish to the “super presidential” system and finally usher in a “Second Republic.” His predecessor,

Nursultan Nazarbayev,

held workplace for nearly 30 years.

Given right now’s international authoritarian renaissance, the U.S. ought to welcome and encourage this trajectory. Kazakhstan’s potential transformation is in step with Western values. It is also according to American strategic pursuits in coping with Russia and China. Western assist of Mr. Tokayev’s reform efforts would improve Kazakhstan’s stability and promote American pursuits in a area of strategic significance.

If the referendum passes, it is going to alter 33 articles that make up greater than a 3rd of the nationwide structure. Changes embrace decreasing the powers of the presidency and eradicating the mechanisms Mr. Nazarbayev used to train energy unilaterally. He took workplace earlier than the Soviet breakup and didn’t relinquish it till 2019. The president will now not be a member of any political get together and can now not have the authority to overrule the acts of native or regional leaders. The president’s speedy relations can be barred from holding political posts. A constitutional courtroom can be established to safeguard the structure and verify the powers of the presidency. These reforms are solely preliminary steps, Mr. Tokayev stated. In an period of world-wide democratic backsliding, when even superior industrial democracies are grappling with authoritarian tendencies, Kazakh efforts ought to be appreciated.

The referendum comes inside months of a serious disaster. In January the nation’s political elite skilled an inside battle whereas it was coping with fashionable unrest and violent protests over rising costs and falling requirements of dwelling. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of post-Soviet states, despatched a Russia-led activity pressure of two,500 troops to safe key amenities for 5 days whereas Kazakh forces quelled the violence. (Russia invaded Ukraine the next month.)

The CSTO activity pressure left Kazakhstan inside per week and didn’t have interaction Kazakh protesters or rioters. Kazakhstan’s leaders seem to have sought Russian help to ship a message to the previous guard that Moscow wouldn’t settle for their riot and they need to again off from the violence.

Mr. Tokayev’s administration understands that the nation can now not afford a glacial tempo of change. Kazakhstan’s prosperity, thanks partly to grease and uranium, can’t be sustained with out higher public participation within the political views. The solely approach ahead is thru reforms that profit common residents.

The path from a closed to open political system should be fastidiously managed. The most harmful time in any political system happens throughout transitions, and at such occasions younger democracies are most in danger. Changes require calibration, planning at house whereas navigating a dangerous strategic setting. Kazakhstan borders Russia on the north and China on the east. Not far to the south are the re-Talibanized Afghanistan, threatening to destabilize Central Asia by means of terrorist motion and refugee flows, and Iran, whose international oil flows and frequent conflicts with the West make it a magnet for geopolitical strife.

The U.S. and Europe should do all they’ll to make sure that this transition to democratization, which is able to proceed past the referendum, succeeds. If it doesn’t, then the center of Eurasia, which suffered a physique blow with the Taliban’s victory, can be additional in jeopardy.

If Kazakhstan delivers on its reforms, it could possibly grow to be an American accomplice able to guaranteeing that Eurasia can climate the various storms threatening it.

Mr. Bokhari is director of analytical growth on the Washington-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and a national-security and foreign-policy specialist on the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews navy analyst Seth Jones. Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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