Nations in Transit 2005

Executive Summary: 

President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has held office since 1989 under the Soviet period, has continued to strengthen his hold on the country through an enormous concentration of power in the presidency. That has allowed an inner circle of family members, friends, and business associates to exert formal and informal influence over vital economic resources and political positions. Since 1991, the rapid outmigration of Slavs (who formed almost half the population before independence) has not only eroded the prospect that Kazakhstan would develop a pluralist and democratic framework to accommodate its ethnic diversity, but instead it has allowed the regime to claim credit for the "stability" that has ensued as a result of its own tight political and ethnic control. A relatively vibrant phase of media freedom and civic and democratic activism in the early 1990s has dissipated since 1995, when Nazarbaev spearheaded the adoption of a new Constitution that vested the presidency with unchecked powers. Since then, Nazarbaev has used Kazakhstan's accelerating economic growth and rising prosperity (it has the second highest per capita gross domestic product after Russia) to further consolidate his authoritarian rule. At the same time, he has embraced a purely formal democratization agenda by holding regular elections (none have been recognized as "free and fair") and erecting a multiparty system comprising loyal, pro-regime parties.

The 2004 elections to the Majilis, the lower house of Parliament, affirmed a growing consolidation of the authoritarian regime under Nazarbaev's patronage. Beneath the overt indicators of socioeconomic and political stability that the Nazarbaev regime boasts of providing, discord is growing, along with a mounting power struggle among figures and groups within the establishment. The last parliamentary elections were primarily a contest among pro-regime groups, which now control every seat in the Majilis (there is not a single opposition or genuinely independent deputy). A number of influential figures, including reformers, have left the regime, with some joining the opposition and others criticizing the regime as independent figures. Despite having obtained total control over the Parliament through elections and placed almost all media channels under the control of pro-regime parties or business groups, the government has failed to fully bring the opposition, media, or civil society into compliance.

National Democratic Governance. Nazarbaev has typically argued that the creation of a strong economy and the preservation of social stability constitute the vital preconditions for undertaking political reforms and democratization. Economic prosperity, which has primarily benefited the upper stratum, and overall stability, however, have come at the expense of developing institutions of transparency or democratic accountability. Members of the presidential family and powerful financial groups who fully control the Parliament and top political offices have continued to coerce, buy off, co-opt, and even criminalize their business rivals, political opponents, and critics, as well as independent media outlets. While Kazakhstan has established a stable and effective governance structure, the Nazarbaev regime continues to block the political participation of groups that advocate reforms and exaggerates the potential of threat posed by ethnic or religious extremism. Kazakhstan's rating in national democratic governance is set at 6.50 because despite favorable economic growth and social stability, the regime has failed to take any substantive steps toward democratization or transparent governance.

Electoral Process. The 2004 parliamentary elections, criticized by all major international organizations as falling short of international standards, were an exercise in the management of support to the regime by disbursing spoils among the leading pro-government parties and sidelining other interests from the contest. The three major pro-regime parties, Otan, the Civil Party, and Asar, grabbed 59 of 77 seats; "self-nominated," nominally independent, pro-regime candidates obtained 18; and the opposition Ak Zhol won only 1 seat but refused to accept it. The ex-Speaker of the Parliament and an Otan party co-chairman condemned the elections as being a "farce" and joined the opposition. Kazakhstan's rating for electoral process remains 6.50 because improved electoral legislation and more freedom granted to the opposition to campaign did not prevent the entire electoral contest from being stage-managed from above to ensure that no genuinely independent or opposition members were elected. Unlike the previous Parliament, which had three opposition deputies, the current Parliament has none.

Civil Society. The regime has tried to shape civil sector development through financial incentives and pressure on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to cooperate more closely with the government. Informal bodies have even been set up to promote a top-down, government-monitored "democratization and growth of civil society." Nonetheless, several established NGOs have maintained their autonomy and resisted the pressures to be co-opted. NGOs engaged in advocacy campaigns and election monitoring have been particularly effective, together with those focusing on women's rights, health issues, children, and the elderly. Civic activists championing civil liberties and minority rights have encountered the greatest governmental resistance. Most NGOs remain dependent on international funding. Since no noticeable improvement took place in the civil sector in 2004, Kazakhstan's rating for civil society remains unchanged at 5.50.

Independent Media. Some marginal improvements occurred in 2004, such as the president's veto of the much criticized Law on the Media and greater freedom to cover political issues during the preelection phase. Nonetheless, a systematic media bias in favor of pro-regime parties, together with a negative portrayal of the opposition, financial harassment, physical assaults, and the criminalization of independent journalists, denotes that no substantive improvement has taken place. The regime has become more sophisticated in using control and coercion as competition among pro-regime outlets has increased. The government has spent enormous budgetary resources on ads praising Kazakhstan's economic and democratic achievements in international media as a public relations exercise. Despite isolated improvements, the continuing buy-off of independent media by pro-regime groups means that Kazakhstan's independent media rating remains at 6.50.

Local Democratic Governance. Kazakhstan has maintained a unitary and centralized administration in which the president fully controls the appointment of akims (administrative heads) of oblast (regions) and raions (districts), despite sustained demands for introducing direct elections. These akims, who are nominated by the president and are accountable to him, are rotated continuously to prevent them from building independent support bases. In August 2005, Kazakhstan will introduce direct elections of akims in all villages and also in selected regions as an experiment. But the Central Election Commission, which exerts top-down control, is vested with total authority to choose the districts and conduct test polls. Given the extremely limited authority granted to local and regional election commissions, the rating for local democratic governance is set at 6.25.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The concentration of powers in the presidency, the capture of the Parliament by powerful, regime-connected financial interests, and the prevalence of personal patronage over formal rules have contributed to the continuing subordination of the judiciary to political interests. Kazakhstan's judicial system has lost much of its credibility by acting in full compliance with the regime's interests rather than stepping in to protect civil liberties. The local courts have been accused of many procedural and politically motivated charges. Though Kazakhstan revoked the death penalty, it has not passed an amended Law on Life Sentences. The Supreme Court has refused to review the case against a prominent opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhakiyanov, who remains in jail since April 2003 on politically motivated charges of corruption, despite serious allegations of torture. The failure of the judiciary to issue a single independent verdict that protects individuals against government abuse means that Kazakhstan's rating remains 6.25.

Corruption. Although corruption is rampant at all levels of society, it has reached staggering proportions at the top of the hierarchy and is a direct result of the lack of transparency and public accountability in the extraction and management of the country's rich oil and metallurgical resources. There is no independent body investigating corruption allegations or conducting inquiries. The top figures within the government enjoy a virtual immunity from investigation, unless they engage in political or economic activities that challenge the president. The "Kazakhgate" trial (in which top government officials, including Nazarbaev, are alleged to have received bribes from an American oil broker) resumed in a U.S. court early in 2004 and could shed further light on top-level corruption. Kazakhstan's corruption rating remains 6.50.

Outlook for 2005. The uppermost concern of Nazarbaev in the current year is to secure another presidential term. Presidential elections are expected to be held in January 2006. Recent "revolutions" in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan have revitalized the opposition and civil society, stirring up deep anxieties within the regime. Notwithstanding his total control of the Parliament and Kazakhstan's growing economic success, Nazarbaev will face innumerable anticipated and unanticipated challenges in the presidential elections.

Speculation is rife on the various levels of discord within the regime: between Nazarbaev and the Asar party of his daughter Dariga Nazarbaeva and her ambitious husband, Rakhat Aliev, between Otan and the Civil Party, and between the two powerful sons-in-law of Nazarbaev. These growing signs of competition and discord among pro-regime groups as well as within the presidential family, possible defections of some regime associates to the opposition, the verdict on the Kazakhgate case expected in mid-2005, and the final outcome of the uprising in Kyrgyzstan could boost efforts by the opposition to coalesce and nominate a common candidate for the next presidential elections. The regime will find it extremely challenging to disqualify the potential candidacy of influential figures such as Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, and Altynbek Sarsenbaev and is likely to intensify efforts to fragment the opposition. Nazarbaev may call for early presidential elections or seek to extend his term by other means. In any event, the current year brings forth new challenges to the consolidation of authoritarian rule in Kazakhstan.

National Democratic Governance: 

Although Kazakhstan's Nations in Transit ratings differ only marginally from those of other Central Asian states, its spiraling economic growth, spurred by rising oil exports, sets it apart from the rest of the region. As the emerging economic powerhouse of Central Asia, Kazakhstan has maintained an 8-10 percent annual economic growth rate since 1999, boasting the second highest annual per capita income among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) states, after Russia. It also has the most dynamic financial and banking sector after Russia and has been recognized by the European Union (EU) and the United States as having "market economy status." Kazakhstan expects to at least triple its current oil production of about 1.0 million barrels per day to 180 million tons by 2015, which will amount to 5 percent of total world output and make it among the top 10 oil exporters.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has used this oil-dictated economic success and projections of rapid prosperity to legitimate his prolonged incumbency and to garner further domestic and international support for the "stability" provided by his regime. He has cultivated an image of Kazakhstan as a multiethnic Eurasian state, based on a resilient Muslim heritage, an "oasis" of stability in the region, with the president as the key guarantor of order and economic success. This model of stability has found resonance and support not only among the neighboring Central Asia states and Russia, but also in the West, particularly since Western companies have invested over US$25 billion, mainly in the oil sector. Taking advantage of its geopolitical location, Kazakhstan has elbowed in to establish a close partnership with the United States in the "war on terror" by polishing its image as an antiterrorist state committed to security. Its military and security services have intensified hunts for "terrorists," confiscated literature distributed by militant groups, and claimed to have uprooted a network of al-Qaeda terrorist operatives in Kazakhstan, according to the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor. It is impossible to ascertain the scale of the "terrorist threat," given the absence of conclusive evidence and fair trials and a lack of mechanisms fostering civic accountability on the part of the security services. The military and the national security services remain firmly under the control of the president, who nominates the latter's members. The lack of transparency at the very top remains the key obstacle to introducing proper democratic governance at national and local levels.

Paradoxically, the economic upsurge since 1999 has coincided with a steady downward trend in the indicators of democratization, freedom of the media, and civil society. Kazakhstan's new prosperity, driven almost entirely by rising oil exports rather than an overall increase in productivity in other sectors, has led to a further clampdown on autonomous political competition or societal debate, eroding some transparency that prevailed in the political process earlier.

The rapid development of the oil sector, together with a speedy and nontransparent privatization of its strategic industries, has enabled the former Communist nomenklatura--particularly the presidential family, its friends, leading regime associates, and clients--to acquire firm control over the country's rich oil and mineral resources. Soon after calling the first session of the newly elected Parliament in November 2004, Nazarbaev deplored the fact that "10 megaholdings [financial groups] in the country control almost 80 percent of its gross domestic product [GDP]" and that such "nontransparent oligarchic structures hinder the development of small- and medium-size businesses." What the statement did not reveal was that the president and his family, particularly his two daughters and two sons-in-law, other top figures within the regime, and leaders of the major pro-presidential parties, constitute these megaholdings, which not only control key economic assets, but also own all major media outlets and exert influence over the Parliament through the political parties they patronize. Nazarbaev's statement was an ominous signal to the budding group of reform-oriented entrepreneurs and businessmen, many of whom are either members or supporters of the opposition Ak Zhol (Bright Path).

The president appoints the prime minister, his cabinet, and virtually all top officials and can dismiss them at any time. The government, headed by the prime minister, bears responsibility for enacting and implementing all policies, though it enjoys very little independent power to initiate legislation. Since the ousting of Akezhan Kazhegeldin as premier in 1998 (he held that position for five years), none of his successors have been able to stay in office for more than three and a half years. The current premier, Daniyal Akhmetov, was appointed in June 2003.

Nazarbaev has yet to hold an election, either presidential or parliamentary, that qualifies as free and fair according to the standards set by international election observation missions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The only presidential election, which was held in January 1999, barred Kazhegeldin, the most serious challenger, from contesting and was boycotted by the OSCE/ODIHR and all major international monitoring teams. Nazarbaev had earlier renewed his presidential mandate through a Soviet-style referendum in April 1995 after dissolving the Parliament on spurious grounds. He then went on to adopt a new Constitution in September 1995, again through a hastily organized referendum, which conferred unlimited power upon the president and makes the legislature and judiciary completely subordinate to the executive. Subsequent amendments to the Constitution have further enhanced executive power, inserting a clause granting immunity to the "First President," together with a mandate to appoint his successor and continue to act in the capacity of "adviser."

Electoral Process: 

The current Parliament elected in 2004 is the fourth popularly elected one since 1991. The latest elections to the Majilis (lower house of the Parliament) of September-October 2004 were faulted by the international election observation mission of the OSCE/ODIHR for "serious shortcomings," thus falling short of "international standards for democratic elections." The preceding parliamentary elections of 1995 and 1999 were also noted for similar shortcomings.

In December 1993, Nazarbaev engineered the dissolution of the Soviet-era Parliament to acquire a more loyal legislature through elections in March 1994. The first elected postindependence Parliament was dissolved again on a specious technicality in March 1995, as it was not as pliant as expected. Subsequent constitutional amendments and political practice have further eroded the authority of the parliaments elected in December 1995, October 1999, and September 2004.

Kazakhstan's two-chambered Parliament consists of the Senate (upper house) and the Majilis. The 77 members of the Majilis are elected for five-year terms. Since 1999, 10 seats have been filled by proportional representation from party lists in which parties are required to cross a 7 percent barrier. The remaining 67 seats are contested in single-member constituencies, in which the winning candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the first-round vote. If no candidate attains the required number of votes, the two candidates receiving the greatest number compete in a second round to determine the ultimate victor. The Senate has 39 members who serve six-year terms. Thirty-two are chosen indirectly, through a joint session of the maslihats (local councils) from each oblast and from the new capital, Astana, and the former capital, Almaty. The president nominates the remaining 7 members.

According to the Constitution, the president is above party politics but has the right to ban any political party. Nazarbaev maintains close though informal connections with the array of pro-presidential parties and is the de facto patron and benefactor of Otan (Fatherland), formed in 1999, which won a majority of seats in the parliaments elected in 1999 and 2004.

Despite being made fully subordinate to the executive bodies, the previous parliaments still had a handful of independent or opposition deputies who defied their rubber-stamp roles. The 2004 Parliament, in contrast, is packed entirely with members of pro-regime parties. Although 12 political parties, including 2 electoral blocs (alliances), participated in the elections, all except Ak Zhol, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK) were pro-regime parties. Altogether, 623 candidates contested 77 seats, meaning an average of about 8 candidates for each seat. Fifty-nine out of 77 seats went to the major pro-regime parties: Otan, the electoral bloc AIST (the Agrarian and Industrial Union of Workers, composed of the Civil Party and the Agrarian Party), and Asar (All Together). Otan and AIST secured the largest electoral gains, winning 42 and 11 seats, respectively. The moderate opposition Ak Zhol was able to win only a single seat on the party list. "Self-nominated" candidates, who are nominally independent of any party affiliation but are closely connected with the regime, gained 18 parliamentary seats (one of the victors subsequently joined Otan). A typical "independent" candidate was Kulyash Agatayeva, sister-in-law of Almaty's mayor, Viktor Khrapunov, who defeated the prominent leader of Ak Zhol, Uraz Zhandosov. The OSCE report on the 1999 parliamentary elections noted that almost two thirds of such independent deputies were closely allied with Otan or with the executive branch of the local governments.

Since the elections, Ak Zhol has taken a more radical position and renounced the single seat it won on the party list. The radical opposition bloc of the DVK-CPK, which cooperated informally with Ak Zhol, did not win any seats. Asar, founded in October 2003 by the president's eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva, garnered only four seats, contrary to its projections that it would run neck and neck with Otan. Nazarbaeva's bid to position herself as the successor to her father has met with stern resistance from Otan and AIST and also suggests a lack of support from the president himself for the political ambitions harbored by her (and her husband, Rakhat Aliev). Although Nazarbaeva is the public face of Asar, several top figures within the party, drawn from the customs and security services, are associates of her husband, who is the de facto leader of the party. Aliev has previously held key positions in the taxation department and national security services and has been Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria and the OSCE since 2002, soon after his removal as head of Almaty's National Security Committee in response to criticism from leading members of the regime.


Table 1. September 2004 Parliamentary Elections

Party Single-Mandate Districts: 1st Round Single-Mandate Districts: 2nd Round Single-Mandate Districts: Total Party List Total
Otan 26 9 35 7 42
AIST* 9 1 10 1 11
Asar 2 1 3 1 4
Ak Zhol 0 0 0 1 1
Democratic Party of Kazakhstan 0 1 1 0 1
DVK-CPK 0 0 0 0 0
Self-Nominated 8 10 18 -- 18
Total 45 22 67 10 77

*Agrarian and Industrial Union of Workers


Kazakhstan's laws regulating political parties and elections, combined with restrictive provisions on media and on political assembly, have ensured that no powerful opponents of the regime enter the electoral contest or even get public attention. The Law on Political Parties, which was adopted in June 2002 despite criticism from the opposition and the OSCE, required all existing parties to reregister with the Ministry of Justice by producing a minimum of 50,000 signatures (the previous requirement was 3,000) and proving that they have at least 300 representatives in each of the country's 14 oblasts and its 2 major cities (the capital, Astana, and the former capital, Almaty). A party may be abolished if it fails to register within two months of its formation, does not participate in two consecutive elections, or polls less than 3 percent of the vote. By hailing the law as pivotal in giving rise to a "multiparty system" that combines majoritarian voting with proportional representation, Kazakhstan has expediently co-opted some formal features of multiparty competition (as recommended by the OSCE) while resisting political participation from below and defying any substantive democratization. This law has achieved the intended objectives of disbursing and legalizing power through major pro-regime parties and keeping the opposition out of the fray.

Kazakhstan's Law on Elections, which was amended in 2004 upon sustained recommendations from the OSCE, brought minor improvements such as the introduction of electronic voting and a reduction in the registration fee (from 100 to 50 times the minimum monthly wage for presidential candidates and from 25 to 15 times the minimum monthly wage for parliamentary candidates). However, the most serious limitations pertain to the lack of transparency in the composition and functioning of the Central Election Commission (CEC), which exerts top-down control over regional and local election commissions. The isolated improvements in the Law on Elections are essentially nullified when this law is assessed in conjunction with other restrictive legislation such as the Law on Political Parties and the Law on the Media.

Innumerable legal and informal restrictions prevail on the right to assembly. Prior permission from law-and-order authorities is needed to organize any public rally. Members of the opposition parties DVK and CPK were detained for holding an "unauthorized" rally when they organized a public protest claiming violations of the campaign spending limit by Asar. On the other hand, pro-regime parties have used administrative resources, political influence, and control over public opinion to secure a large membership on paper, to organize meetings and campaigns, and to induce various strata in the electorate to vote for them.

Otan claims a membership base of over 300,000, which includes numerous state employees pressured to take party membership in order to keep their jobs. Asar, founded only in October 2003, acquired 170,000 members within six months, an incredible feat in a country where political apathy is pervasive and civic participation is extremely low. The Civil Party, formed before the 1999 parliamentary elections, is the political platform of the Eurasia Group of businessmen Alexander Mashkevich, Ibragim Shodiev, and Azat Peruashev (who was elected as a parliamentary deputy on the Civil Party list in the 2004 elections), which controls major metallurgical enterprises. Its membership of 160,000 includes almost all employees of affiliated companies, together with their families. These parties serve primarily as vehicles for disbursing patronage and apportioning political gains.

The regime's inexorable efforts to weaken its opponents and critics through legal and ad hoc restrictions, arrests, sentences for politically motivated "corruption" charges, negative publicity, and surveillance over their personal lives and professional activities make it very difficult for opposition parties to establish credibility before the electorate. Rakhat Aliev, the president's first son-in-law, headed the Almaty National Security Committee in 2000-2001 and monitored and intimidated opposition as well as independent media. After Mukhtar Ablyazov, then minister of industries, and Ghalymzhan Zhakiyanov, then akim (administrative head) of Pavlodar, and a number of other young reformist leaders within the regime succeeded in founding the DVK in November 2001, Nazarbaev was pressured to remove Aliev from the National Security Committee. Allegations of financial fraud and misuse of office against both Ablyazov and Zhakiyanov and their ensuing trials in early 2003 led to long jail sentences. Ablyazov received a presidential pardon in April 2003 following the takeover of his business assets by pro-regime groups and has since left Kazakhstan. Zhakiyanov is unlikely to be released before the next presidential elections.

These reprisals and growing pressure on other DVK members led to the decision of other prominent members, such as Alikhan Baimenov, Uraz Zhandosov, and Altynbek Sarsenbaev, who had held positions within the government and enjoyed reputations as reformers ("Young Turks"), to split off from the DVK and form a new, more moderate party, Ak Zhol, in 2002. From its inception, Ak Zhol was a constant target for co-optation into the regime by being molded to serve as a "constructive" and "authorized" opposition. When the party complied by engaging in a "constructive" partnership with the government all through 2003, it won official approval through the appointment of Sarsenbaev as minister of information in June 2004. (He stepped down temporarily in August to participate in the elections, and the ministry was subsequently abolished in October after he resigned in protest against the election results.) Ak Zhol had projected winning about 40 percent of the seats and was competing directly against Dariga Nazarbaeva's Asar, which also predicted it would win a similar percentage. However, the deeply entrenched financial interests represented by Otan and the Civil Party competed fiercely to secure a sizable portion of the seats, and as a result, both Asar and Ak Zhol lost out. Claiming that the extent of violations and falsifications exceeded its most negative expectations, Ak Zhol shunned its role of "constructive" opposition and renounced its parliamentary seat.

The strongest and most unexpected assault on the credibility of the elections came from Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, Speaker of the outgoing Parliament and a deputy chairman of Otan. In an interview with the newspaper Vremya, he called the entire electoral process a "farce" and expressed his profound sense of "shame as a citizen of Kazakhstan," resigning his party membership in October 2004. He has joined the Coordination Council of Democratic Forces, formed by Ak Zhol, DVK, and CPK, and is one of the strongest opposition candidates likely to challenge Nazarbaev in the presidential elections scheduled in early 2006.

Earlier in April, Zamanbek Nurkadilov, a former regime strongman who had served as mayor of Almaty and governor of the oblast, quit his governmental post as emergency situations agency chairman and launched a personal attack on Nazarbaev, accusing him of corruption and calling for his resignation. Grigory Marchenko, former chairman of the National Bank of Kazakhstan and main architect of the country's economic success, tendered his resignation as the president's economic adviser in October. The leading reformers as well as potential challengers to Nazarbaev in the upcoming presidential elections have now either joined the opposition or clearly disassociated themselves from the regime.

The CEC, whose members are appointed by the president in consultation with the government, is completely loyal to the regime and impervious to any legal, societal, or international pressures. It played a vital role in aiding the regime to "manage" the electoral contest and systematically disadvantage the opposition. The OSCE monitoring team noted that the CEC functioned in an "arbitrary, selective, and nontransparent manner" during the 2004 parliamentary elections. While the CIS election observation team headed by Vladimir Rushailo, chairman of the CIS executive committee, pronounced the elections to be "legitimate, free, and transparent," a dissenting opinion came from Andrei Mogila, a Ukrainian nominee of an independent nonprofit organization. Mogila called the elections "dishonest and nontransparent." The Republican Network of Independent Observers of Kazakhstan, together with other local election-monitoring nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), reported widespread and systemic violations in the work of electoral commissions and in the introduction of e-voting, as well as administrative interference in the electoral process.

Women won only 6 out of 67 single-mandate seats and 3 out of 10 seats from the party list. That is a slight improvement over the 1999 Parliament, which had 8 female deputies. About 17.6 percent of the candidates contesting the elections were women, with DVK fielding the highest percentage (46 percent). Among the candidates for the 2004 elections, ethnic Russians constituted 16 percent, Ukrainians 2 percent, and other minorities 1 percent, even though non-Kazakhs form 43 percent of the total population and their share in the voting age population is even higher. The share of minorities among the winning candidates was even smaller (precise figures are not available), suggesting that minorities, similarly to women, remain grossly under-represented in the electoral process and in the power structures. The OSCE report on the 2004 elections recommends proportional representation and gender quotas but did not suggest any ways to rectify the inadequate representation of minorities in the Parliament. The election results also reveal the imbalance between the percentage of the popular vote and the seats won by political parties. Otan obtained 42 seats (60.61 percent of vote), AIST 11 seats (7.07 percent), Asar 4 seats (11.38 percent), and Ak Zhol 1 seat (12.04 percent). The CPK-DVK alliance failed to win any seat but garnered 3.44 percent of the vote.

As the titular nationality, Kazakhs enjoy the status of "first among equals," whereas Russians and other non-Kazakh groups have undergone a steady demotion of status. According to the 1999 census, ethnic Kazakhs formed 53.4 percent of the population, up from 39.7 percent in 1989, and their current share is estimated to be 58 percent. The Russian share has continued to decline, down to 29.9 percent from 37.7 percent in 1989. Among other ethnic groups, Uzbeks form 2.5 percent, Ukrainians 3.6 percent, Tatars 1.7 percent, and Germans 2.4 percent. Thus Muslim groups, mainly Kazakhs, form 64 percent of the population, and their share is growing, whereas "Europeans" constitute about 36 percent of the population, with a declining share. Kazakh is the sole state language, enjoying state protection and privileges, though Russian is granted official language status.

The Constitution authorizes ethnic groups to form "national" centers to preserve their cultural heritage but prohibits the formation of public associations or political parties that have ethnic, religious, or nationalist agendas. A law requiring registration for the national centers with the Ministry of Justice serves as an important screening mechanism. These national centers are expected to refrain from any "political" activities and focus on "ethnographic" or "folkloric" issues. They are encouraged, and expected, to solicit support from their purported "parent" states for the cultural and material advancement of their respective groups. The German and Korean centers have received material support from their kin states, but most other ethnic communities lack rich or willing patrons in their "parent" states and rely on modest state support.

Nazarbaev has used his personal patronage to erect symbolic and nonpolitical institutions of ethnic representation, such as the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, established in 1995, purportedly in compliance with the recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. Its members are nominated by the officially recognized national centers and by the president, who is also the assembly's chairman. Lacking juridical power or a representative base, the assembly serves as an instrument for co-opting leading minority figures into the existing political system. Minorities as a whole have found themselves steadily disempowered in the Kazakh-dominated state order.

The recent intensification of Kazakhstan's efforts to combat the "extremist threat" has exacerbated a sense of insecurity among its various Muslim minorities. In October, National Security Committee deputy chairman Vladimir Bozhko maintained that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Uighur militants in Xinjiang, Kurdish separatist groups operating in Turkey, and Chechens from the Russian Federation posed major terrorist threats to Kazakhstan. Such statements validate the growing tendency to typecast members of these ethnic minorities as "terrorists." Kazakhstan has also banned groups such as the Kurdish National Congress and East Turkestan Islamic Party by similarly branding them as "terrorists." Alimzhan Hamraev, who heads the Legal Aid Center for Ethnic Minorities, argues that not only is there no evidence that these are "terrorist" groups, but also that these groups have long been defunct. A ban on a defunct organization, however, allows the government to exaggerate the "terrorist threat" the country faces, enhancing Kazakhstan's geopolitical salience and attracting further assistance from the West, suggests the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Reporting Central Asia.

Civil Society: 

Civil society in Kazakhstan, as elsewhere in Central Asia, is an exogenous concept whose potential for organic development is constrained by the weakness of a rule-of- law-based system, an absence of transparency in the political process, and persistent encroachments by the state. While the regime has pledged support to the development of NGOs and civil society by cooperating with international actors, such support has become yet another means of attempting to co-opt nonstate organizations into official structures. The state competes, both informally and covertly, with international actors by erecting a structure of government-supported NGOs and pressuring the existing, independent NGOs to "collaborate" more closely with the government.

One recent unabashed attempt to co-opt independent civic and political activists and organizations is Nazarbaev's creation in June 2004 of a permanent National Commission on Democracy and Civil Society. The commission's purported objective is to help develop measures to "reform the political system" and promote "further democratization of civil society." Urging the opposition parties "to cooperate" in its proceedings, the commission invited to its meetings representatives of various pro-regime political parties, NGOs that are closely connected with the government, and other independent activists in order to confer further legitimacy upon them. Ak Zhol has refused to participate, whereas the DVK-CPK and many prominent civil society activists have not been invited to the "consultative body." Not only are the government-appointed members (a total of 15 so far) of the national commission not civil society activists, but they lack a track record or reputation of commitment to civil society. Bulat Utemuratov, the chairman, has previously served as adviser on foreign trade and secretary of the National Security Committee (NSC) The presence of members of the NSC at the meetings has aroused the distrust of legitimate civil society activists.

According to official estimates, there are about 4,000 registered NGOs involving about 350,000 permanent employees, 50,000 temporary employees, and over 40,000 volunteers. However, most of these NGOs are believed to be either dormant or quasi-governmental, with only about 1,000 functioning actively, and only about 200 to 300 NGOs have succeeded in making a positive impact, according to a report by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Just under one half of all NGOs are concentrated in the Almaty oblast, and a large proportion are in Almaty itself, though their number in the new capital, Astana, continues to grow. The more remote and needy regions, particularly in central and northeastern Kazakhstan, have few NGOs, as these groups must battle the ignorance and apathy of both local administrations and the local citizenry.

By law, NGOs are required to refrain from "political activities." Kazakhstan's Law on NGOs does not yet contain an acceptable definition of an NGO or of what constitutes "political activity." A draft law proposed in early 2003 contained several negative features, such as an ambiguous definition of NGOs, prohibition of their involvement in political matters, division of NGOs into "socially useful and non-useful," and discrimination against international and foreign NGOs. An active campaign against the proposed law by the Confederation of Nongovernmental Organizations, aided by international organizations such as USAID, forced the government to withdraw the draft law later in the year. Nonetheless, several existing ambiguities and loopholes in the legislation allow the government to interfere in NGO activities, to conflate "advocacy" campaigns with "political activities," and to pressure NGOs to establish close partnerships with the government.

Sustained lobbying by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law led the government to adopt a fairly progressive NGO tax regimen in 2001. Though NGOs receiving grant money from international organizations or individual donors are exempted from value-added tax and income tax, tax officials audit them constantly to find loopholes and force them to pay taxes or fines. USAID has been working to establish a cadre of local lawyers to provide legal assistance to NGOs in dealing with arbitrary interpretations of the law by the government and tax officials.

Several international companies doing business in Kazakhstan have become closely involved in providing grants to NGOs, as part of their wish to demonstrate corporate responsibility and social accountability. However, they often find themselves instructed to fund government-favored NGOs to implement social programs and to refrain from aiding any advocacy campaigns. Thriving local businesses and entrepreneurs are similarly expected and pressured to contribute to government-supported NGOs and threatened with reprisals for aiding "political activities" unless they go through government channels.

State-sponsored "independent" organizations receive favorable treatment in obtaining registration, funds, and international aid. Bobek, the children's health and charity fund headed by the president's wife, Sara Nazarbaeva, serves as an umbrella organization, sponsoring smaller NGOs and funneling international aid to them. A number of women's NGOs were co-opted through such grants to support the party Asar before the elections. Advocacy and human rights groups in particular find it hard to receive support from businesses. Although strengthening the legal status of NGOs can significantly improve the climate for civic activism, it is not sufficient to prevent their informal co-optation by the government.

The year 2004 saw some thriving civic activism among independent organizations and groups that monitor elections. The Confederation of Nongovernmental Organizations, the Movement for a Rule-of-Law-Based Kazakhstan, the Youth Congress of Kazakhstan, the Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan (YISK), and other groups have set up a Public Committee for Election Monitoring to educate voters and candidates about election legislation and their rights as citizens in time for the next presidential elections. They are also intensifying the training of monitors. During the parliamentary elections, Kazakhstan's Republican Network of Independent Observers sent 1,790 observers to 1,700 polling stations in 11 oblasts and 3 cities. YISK, supported by the National Democratic Institute, played an active role in drawing attention to the intimidation of young people by pro-regime parties during the elections and has lobbied to fight corruption within universities.

A new coalition of NGOs, Oil Revenues Under Public Oversight, advocating transparency and participation in the distribution of oil revenues, emerged in June 2004. It includes over 10 civic groups, including Kazakhstan Revenue Watch, an NGO supported by Soros Foundation Kazakhstan, and Demos, based in the oil-rich region of Atyrau. The coalition is coordinating efforts to promote the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Many NGOs promoting gender awareness, women's rights, and knowledge building about the effects of nuclear testing on the health of women and children have been very effective. The Kazakhstan Women's Information Network, consisting of eight NGOs, among them the Women's Network of Almaty, the Feminist League, Women's Election Initiatives, and the Kazakhstan Businesswomen's Association, are campaigning to enhance women's representation in the Parliament, within government, and at local levels. The Association of Single Mothers, the Feminist League, and local NGOs in Semipalatinsk that help women suffering from the effects of nuclear test radiation have proven especially successful, measured by the overall scale and efficacy of their activities.

Among the most active NGOs are those focused on children's welfare and health (16.6 percent), environmental issues (15 percent), and women's rights (13.3 percent). Only about 8 percent of NGOs are dedicated to civil liberties and ethnic issues; these groups have been subject to the most stringent governmental controls. The more successful NGOs, particularly in the health and education sectors, are slowly altering both official and popular perception of their roles. But local municipal officials complain that the lack of corresponding legal provisions often prevents them from helping or collaborating with NGOs.

The overall decline in civic activism since 2000 has adversely affected the expansion of major NGOs. A survey by two prominent NGO activists, Igor Tupitsyn and Maria Stefurak, shows that if in 2000 some 20.4 percent of respondents participated in some action or community program, the proportion in 2003 was only 11.6 percent and is expected to have lowered further in 2004. The survey estimates that less than 4 percent of the population are members of NGOs. About 92 percent of respondents said that NGO activities had never had any impact on their lives, but those who had been influenced in some way relayed a positive assessment.

Kazakhstan's embryonic civil sector is heavily dependent on funding from the West. USAID, together with the Counterpart Consortium, the Eurasia Foundation, the Soros Foundation, and the Tacis program of the EU, has actively trained NGOs in Kazakhstan to advocate their causes. USAID has focused in particular on public health and electoral reforms, providing training through NGOs to local election observers. With backing from Counterpart and USAID, a number of leading NGOs, including Civil Society Support Centers, the Coalition of Women's Organizations, Eco-Forum, and the network of Youth Information Centers, have formed a coalition to lobby for their participation in drafting suitable legislation on NGOs. Of the overall US$74.2 million allocated by USAID in 2004, democratization programs received $10.6 million, whereas security and law enforcement programs received US$39.4 million. While political and financial pressures understandably push NGOs to obtain international aid and protection, the sustainability of these organizations is a particularly serious issue as current international aid declines with a shifting focus on Iraq and other hot spots.

Kazakhstan has developed an influential network of trade unions, particularly since the early 1990s in the industrial northeastern regions, operating independently of government control. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions has effectively challenged the control of the state-sponsored Association of Trade Unions. It has set up local organizations representing miners and oil workers across the country, with the support of Kazakhstan's International Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Confederation of Nongovernmental Organizations, and numerous other nonprofit organizations. It is the first Soviet-era union to gain membership in the World Labor Confederation.

Though the education system is largely free of political propaganda or control, and an expensive private network of schools and colleges is growing, public funding for education dropped from 6.5 percent of the budget in 1991 to 3.3 percent in 2000 and is estimated to have fallen further in the last four years. Despite Kazakhstan's impressive economic growth, state expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP has thus remained low. Minister of Education Zhaksybek Kulekeev imposed a retroactive increase in the payments for student loans received between 1999 and 2003, which sparked widespread student protests that culminated in his resignation and the withdrawal of the proposed increase in December 2004.

Independent Media: 

Though there is intense competition among a multitude of media channels and newspapers, financial interests and parties affiliated with the regime own or control almost all of them. Kazakhstan's rating in independent media has continued to decline steadily since 1999. Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press survey rated Kazakhstan "Partly Free" in 1992 and 1993 and has rated the country "Not Free" since 1994. According to the annual Index of Press Freedom in 167 countries surveyed by Reporters Without Borders, Kazakhstan ranked 131st, behind Kyrgyzstan (107th) and Tajikistan (95th), though above Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The rise of powerful financial and political interests allied with the regime has made media freedom the single largest casualty of privatization. In 1996, as head of the privatized but state-controlled news agency Khabar, Dariga Nazarbaeva (together with her husband, Rakhat Aliev) bought a majority share in the agency, as well as in numerous so-called independent newspapers and television channels through auxiliary companies and gradually in many so-called independent newspapers and TV channels through auxiliary companies in subsequent years. The major television channels Khabar, KTK, and Rakhat TV are under direct control of Nazarbaeva and Aliev, who also exert significant influence over the newspapers Karavan, Novoe Pokolenie, Argumenty iFakty, and Komsomolskaya Gazeta, as well as the TV channel 31st Kanal and the radio station Russkoe Radio. Three other major newspapers, Express K, Delovaya Gazeta, and the Kazakhstani edition of Moskovskie Novosti, belong to the Eurasia Group, headed by Alexander Mashkevich.

Two prominent newspapers, Panorama and Vremya, are owned by business groups affiliated with Nazarbaev's second son-in-law, Timur Kulibaev. Panorama is a respected economic weekly that also receives funding from the Kazkommertsbank group, comprising a vibrant banking elite who have been under pressure to maintain a pro-regime stance but are seen as sympathetic to Ak Zhol. The Russian-language Kazakhstanskaya Pravda and the Kazakh-language Egemen Kazakstan are the main state-supported newspapers and loyal to the regime. Both Panorama and Vremya, together with the Ak Zhol, funded Epokha, have managed to keep a more neutral profile, though they also practice self-censorship and refrain from any criticism of the president and his family in order to survive.

In December 2003, both houses of the Parliament passed the new Law on the Media despite widespread criticism from domestic and international media and civil society activists. They condemned the legislation for giving unrestrained powers to the government to oversee journalists' works, dismiss reporters, suspend media outlets for unspecified violations, and restrict the rights of journalists to obtain information. In what was clearly a staged public relations stunt, Nazarbaev vetoed the bill in April 2004, arguing that it undermined the freedom of the media, thus presenting himself as the guardian of a free press. Timed to coincide with the high-profile annual Eurasian Media Forum (EAMF), the announcement, made before a large gathering of international participants and diplomats, was a well-targeted attempt to score political points at home and abroad. Nazarbaeva has been organizing the EAMF since 2002, essentially an international public relations exercise for raising Kazakhstan's profile and her own while steering clear of any political themes or burning issues that afflict the domestic media.

The 1999 Law on Confidential State Affairs put "disclosure or publication of information about the president and his family and their economic interests or investments into the realm of state secrets punishable by severe sanctions." Other draconian features are contained in the criminal code under Article 318, which penalizes a person who "insults the honor and dignity of the president." These laws are a carryover from Soviet rule and have been routinely invoked against regional and national newspapers engaging in any form of investigative journalism.

In a typical illustration of how powerful, regime-supported groups use their clout to wage lawsuits on technicalities and demand massive compensation from their opponents, in 2004 Khabar demanded an apology and damages of US$7.5 million from former information minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev. The politician, from the Ak Zhol opposition party, had described Khabar as part of a media holding company that was monopolizing the Kazakh media market. Khabar's lawyers argued that while it owns and operates a number of media outlets, Khabar is not part of any larger holding company. Earlier in April, the government turned down the proposal of the state oil and gas firm KazMunaiGaz, controlled by Kulibaev, to set up a media holding company that would include newspapers, a news agency, and a company to rebroadcast programs from Russia's NTV channel. The main reason for the government's rejection was that such a company would have competed financially and politically with the media empire of Dariga Nazarbaeva and, most important, act as a rival to government-supportive Khabar.

The OSCE monitoring team noted a heavy media bias in favor of pro-regime parties, particularly Otan and Asar, during the 2004 election campaigns. Asar received the most coverage and widely predicted through the media that it would win about 40 percent of the seats. In the end, the party won only four, a setback to Nazarbaeva's political ambitions and also representative of the challenges by other pro-regime parties to her hold over the national media. In October, the Eurasia Group (the patron of the Civil Party, which won 11 seats) bought NTK, a major channel owned by Nazarbaeva-Aliev, and the question of Nazarbaeva's control over Khabar is shrouded in uncertainty.

A few independent and pro-opposition newspapers (Respublika, Soz) have managed to continue sporadic publication with small circulations. Respublika defied a previous government ban by renaming itself Respublika-Assandi Times. The opposition newspaper SolDat, which ceased publication in August 2003 after numerous legal battles with the authorities, managed to register under a new name, Data Nedelya, when Sarsenbaev was the information minister. But the newspaper has not resumed regular publication since the court prohibited its editor in chief, Ermurat Bapi, from working as a publisher for five years, which is why the newspaper appeared sporadically but is practically defunct now. Opposition newspapers have also been guilty of bias, lack of professionalism, failure to offer facts or evidence for the various accusations against the regime, and a reluctance to publish views that clash with their particular political slant.

The major Internet service providers Kazaktelecom, Nursat, and Ducat block access to Web sites sympathetic to the opposition, such as Navigator, Eurasia, Kub, and Polyton, and to the Web site of the newspaper Assandi Times. These opposition Web sites, which can be accessed only through proxy servers, offer Russian-language translations of articles critical of the regime, compiled from Russian and Western newspapers and magazines, as well as articles by independent local journalists and analysts employing pseudonyms. The government has maintained a near complete silence on the "Kazakhgate" trial, which is to resume hearings in January 2005 in the United States. Independent journalists also contribute periodically (under pseudonyms) to the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the New York-based Web site. According to the CIA World Factbook, there were 250,000 Internet users (about 1.7 percent) in 2002 (no newer data are available), up from 70,000 in 2000. A Kazakhstani source estimates about 1 million (6.5 percent) as occasional users and 300,000 (2 percent) as regular users.

Sergei Duvanov, the independent and highly reputed journalist, was released after serving 18 months in jail and placed under parole, which allowed him to travel to and from work. International pressure and sustained efforts by Kazakhstan's International Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law played a crucial role in securing his release. He was sentenced to a three-and-a-half-year jail term in January 2003 on a politically motivated charge of raping a minor after he had published numerous articles in 2002 accusing Nazarbaev of involvement in the Kazakhgate scandal.

However, Duvanov's release is an isolated incident, as conditions for independent journalists have deteriorated further. They have steadily been bought out by regime-affiliated business groups. Those offering resistance have been physically assaulted, jailed, exiled, or ruined financially. Investigative journalists have increasingly become targets of attacks, both personal and on their properties. Askhat Sharipzhanov, a prominent journalist of the Internet newspaper Navi, was killed in a road accident in July soon after he had interviewed Zamanbek Nurkadilov, an ex-associate turned critic of Nazarbaev, and (then) Information Minister Sarsenbaev. The tapes and transcripts of the interview were never found, and the government has refused to conduct any further inquiry. Earlier in November 2002, the well-known journalist Nuri Muftakh was killed in a similar accident. He had served as editor of an independent newspaper, Altyn Ghasyr, in south Kazakhstan and worked for the opposition paper Respublika 2000. In neither of these two cases was an independent inquiry conducted or persons responsible for the accidents apprehended. That has led to the suspicion that law-and-order officials are either acting in collusion with vested interests or simply unable and unwilling to defend the media.

Edil Soz, supported by USAID, and the Association of Independent Electronic Mass Media in Central Asia, funded by several international agencies, are the major local NGOs advocating the rights of independent media. The government has repeatedly accused Edil Soz of producing unconstructive criticism and failing to invite state officials to the organization's meetings. The regime's frequent insistence that media engage in a "partnership" with the government and offer "constructive criticism" is reminiscent of Soviet-style directives. It has also undermined the efficacy of Edil Soz, which is pressured to tread a very cautious line.

Powerful financial groups who control pro-regime political parties have sought to extend their influence to international media by hiring top Russian and Western political consultants and public relations firms to portray the elections as a further step toward democracy and bolster Kazakhstan's bid for the 2009 OSCE chair. Several advertisements hailing Kazakhstan's "spectacular" economic success and impressive record in promoting democracy appeared in major Western newspapers, notably on the eve of elections in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. A full-length insert in the International Herald Tribune (IHT) praised the "Kazakhstani miracle" and claimed that "a multiparty system and political pluralism have become objective realities" in Kazakhstan. The newspaper Vremya reported allegations by independent observers and opposition leaders that the Kazakhstani Senate secretly apportioned at least US$2 million as payments for these advertisements. Similar inserts had appeared earlier, such as in the IHT in April 2002, coinciding with the Nazarbaeva-organized Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty. Copies of the paper were distributed among all participants.

Local Democratic Governance: 

Kazakhstan has maintained a unitary and centralized administration by restructuring the boundaries of its oblasts. The number of oblasts was reduced from 19 to 14 in 1997-1998, intended mainly to enhance the Kazakh majority in the reconstituted regions in the northeast. In addition to the 14 oblasts, the 2 major cities, Astana (the capital since 1997) and Almaty (the former capital and now the commercial capital), have a separate administrative status. The subdivisions within oblasts are called raions, or districts. Nazarbaev has defied domestic and international pressures to introduce direct elections of regional, district, and local akims. The president appoints the akims of the 14 oblasts and major cities such as Astana and Almaty, and they in turn appoint local district administrators. Oblast akims are accountable solely to the president and deterred from developing independent support bases in their regions. A high turnover in regional leadership means that the average tenure of an akim is typically less than one and a half years.

The opposition parties DVK and Ak Zhol have advocated that administrators at all levels from the akims of oblasts, Astana, and Almaty down to the heads of districts be popularly elected for a limited term and held accountable for their actions. The CEC denied Ak Zhol's proposal for a nationwide referendum on issues such as direct elections of akims and the right of the people to recall deputies, together with the annulment of the results of the parliamentary elections. The official argument against electing akims is that many regions are neither financially prepared to hold elections nor ready for the responsibility. In reality, the regime is fearful that these bodies, especially in the resource-rich oblasts, may then be emboldened to rally popular support and exercise power in defiance of the central government. Together with the CEC, the current akims, who serve as clients of the regime, play a vital role in ensuring that candidates loyal to pro-regime parties get elected. In December 2004, Nazarbaev signed a decree stating that direct elections of district akims will take place from August 2005 to the end of 2007. Another decree stated that some regions will also hold elections on an experimental basis, but the CEC, which exerts strong, hierarchical control over regional and district election commissions, must still work out the details.

The central government determines taxation rates and budget regulations. Regional heads do not have the formal authority to generate their own revenue from local taxation. Since the akims lack control over their budgets or resources, it is unclear how direct elections can empower them. In practice, however, some akims have managed to exert a level of influence over these matters. Akims in the regions that have attracted the most foreign investment, such as west Kazakhstan, have exercised considerable control over budgetary matters and have even extracted significant contributions from foreign investors to various "social and welfare projects."

Although the regional councils, or maslihats, have virtually no political power and are used to rubber-stamp laws introduced by the local heads, each oblast maslihat nominates two members to the Senate. In the 2003 maslihat elections, 1,696 of the 2,852 victors were party affiliated and the remaining were elected as independents, though many in fact had party affiliations. Otan led the field with 1,477 of its candidates elected, followed by the Agrarian Party (109), Azamat (87), Aul (18), and Ak Zhol (5). Out of 250 Ak Zhol members who ran as independents to minimize interference from local officials, 140 won.

The Republican Network of Independent Observers of Kazakhstan, an independent NGO, brought to light many instances when local electoral commissions denied access to observers and the executive branch engaged in informal interference in the activities of independent observers. It noted that several members of the election commission in over half of the electoral districts had little knowledge of the country's electoral laws and did not follow a transparent voting procedure.

Under Kazakhstan's Law on Elections, political parties, public associations, and higher-level election commissions nominate candidates to serve on seven-member local election commissions, which are then formalized when local assemblies make their choices from among the nominated candidates. Previously, the local administration had formed election commissions. Such top-down regulation of local election commissions, in the context of an overall lack of transparency, has made them more vulnerable to control by the pro-regime political parties.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

With the emergence of a unitary and centralized political system based on strong presidential patronage, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches have been subordinated to presidential authority. Kazakhstan's Constitution mentions the independence of the judiciary but provides no detailed mechanisms for safeguarding it. The judiciary thus serves primarily to protect the interests of the state and its functionaries rather than those of individuals, minorities, and the weaker strata of society.

The prospects of Kazakhstan's judicial system gaining some credibility have eroded further since its complicity in sentencing major opponents and critics of the regime without convincing evidence or proper procedures. These instances include the trial in absentia of ex-premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin in 2000 (he has been living in the West since 1998); the trials of ex-minister of industries Mukhtar Ablyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhakiyanov, the former akim of Pavlodar, in March 2002; and the trial of journalist Sergei Duvanov in January 2003. All these individuals were charged and sentenced after they began autonomous political activism or (in the case of Duvanov) wrote critical articles on corruption at the very highest levels of power. Human rights activists in Kazakhstan and abroad have unanimously condemned all these cases as unjust and labeled the charges as politically motivated.

The Constitution spells out an elaborate procedure for the appointment of judges in which the president plays a decisive role. The president proposes nominees for the Supreme Court who are to be approved by the Senate. These nominees are recommended by the Supreme Judicial Council, which comprises the chair of the Constitutional Council, the chair of the Supreme Court, the prosecutor-general, the minister of justice, senators, judges, and other people appointed by the president. The president may remove judges, except members of the Supreme Court, on the recommendation of the minister of justice.

Kazakhstan stands in notable contrast with its neighbors in allocating significant material resources to improving the work conditions of judges. However, these improvements are yet to have a visible impact on reducing the level of corruption and patronage that hampers judicial independence. The main obstacles remain political pressure, a lack of openness and transparency throughout the system, and the absence of effective legal safeguards.

A judicial institute to train judges was established in 2001 under the Supreme Court with help from the OSCE/ODIHR. Its purpose is to improve the Kazakhstani court system by developing judicial independence and professionalism. Beginning in 2004, all future judges reportedly will be required to attend the Judicial Academy. The American Bar Association (ABA) has estimated that the state employs 80 percent of Kazakhstan's lawyers, though the number of lawyers who are either self-employed or work with foreign companies is growing rapidly. Over the past two years, the ABA's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI), which has been aiding judicial reforms in Kazakhstan since 1993, has shifted its focus to providing training in judicial ethics and human rights. The two main associations of independent lawyers are the Association of Lawyers of Kazakhstan and the Legal Development of Kazakhstan.

The draft state program for reforming the judicial system, approved by the Supreme Judicial Council for 2004-2006, proposes the creation of a jury system, tax courts, improved witness protection, and increased judicial independence. After numerous promises to introduce jury trials, Nazarbaev has promised to do so in mid-2005. However, the national budget has yet to allocate resources to transform regional courts into jury courts.

The criminal code adopted in 1998 retained many of the features of the Soviet-era law on which it was based. As in Soviet times, prosecutors rather than judges retain the right to issue search-and-arrest warrants and to "protest" and suspend judicial decisions. Corruption is also believed to be widespread, among judges and prosecutors as well as advocates. The criminal code is subject to interpretation by the executive branch, particularly by officials in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. While the code prohibits authorities from detaining individuals for more than 72 hours without charge, with the approval of a prosecutor, a person may be held for up to 10 additional days. In practice, police routinely hold detainees for months without bringing charges. A bail system exists, but bail is rarely granted. An arrest means the presumption of guilt. Individuals generally remain in pretrial detention, which may be extended for an indefinite period. The very low acquittal rates in Kazakhstan, less than 1 percent, reflect the inefficacy, powerlessness, and poor work of the defense bar and the judges, relates an ABA/CEELI 2004 overview of judicial reform. Over the last two years, Kazakhstan has decriminalized many offenses, introducing probation and community service as alternative forms of punishment.

In December 2003, Kazakhstan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty, though it has yet to draft a bill on new regulations for life sentencing. The retention of the death penalty, lack of democratization, and absence of media freedom are the major obstacles to Kazakhstan's acceptance into the Council of Europe and its candidacy for the OSCE chairmanship in 2009.

The Law on Terrorism and Religion passed in 2002 is intended primarily to protect government offices and personnel. It makes any attempt on the life of a state official punishable by up to 20 years in prison and any attempt on the life of the president punishable by death. The involvement of some Kazakhstani citizens in recent bombings in Tashkent and the discovery of alleged cells and propaganda leaflets of Hizb ut-Tahrir in various parts of Kazakhstan have prompted the government to raise the specter of an "Islamic militant threat," leading to a surge in arrests of people identified as members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and other "militant" organizations. National Security Service officials claim to have nabbed dozens of suspected Islamic militants and found confiscated weapons, forged documents, propaganda materials, and evidence of the training of suicide bombers, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline. The number of leaflets, and even the number of arrests, in the absence of an independent court inquiry are not reliable indicators of the extent to which a "terrorist threat" is present. Confessions from suspects are often extracted under duress. Nazarbaev urged deputies to pass a law to counteract terrorism by mentioning that the Kazakhstani authorities had seized 11,000 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets in 2004, compared with 1,000 in 2003. The passage of a stringent Law on Antiterrorism, which perhaps observers believe would elicit acclamation from the U.S. government, appears inevitable.


Rich oil and mineral resources and the lack of democratic oversight have created a fertile environment for top-level corruption and kickbacks. Though it is widespread at all levels of the government, bureaucracy, and legal and educational systems, the highest scale of corruption is found in the rich extractive industry. In 2001, Kazakhstan created a national fund based on growing oil revenues, following the example of Norway; the fund has so far accrued US$2.3 billion. However, the absence of a mechanism ensuring public accountability and tight media controls make it very difficult to get information on how the funds are being used.

The ongoing Kazakhgate trial in a U.S. federal court has kept the spotlight on the issue of kickbacks at the highest echelons of power. The case refers to the trial of the American businessman James Giffen, who is accused of making at least US$78 million in illegal payments (in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) to Nazarbaev and former prime minister Nurlan Balgimbaev to secure lucrative oil contracts. The Kazakhstani government has dismissed the allegations, suppressing any discussion of the issue in the national media and treating the case as an "internal matter" of the U.S. government. However, between 2000 and 2003, Kazakhstani authorities made vigorous efforts to suppress the investigation and prevent the Swiss government from providing banking documents to U.S. officials. These actions prompted the U.S. Senate to pass a resolution in May 2003 urging the government of Kazakhstan to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

The global Corruption Perceptions Index published by Berlin-based Transparency International, a leading NGO combating corruption worldwide, ranked all 5 Central Asian states among the 30 most corrupt. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 equals most corrupt), Kazakhstan together with Kyrgyzstan scored 2.2 and ranked 122nd among the 146 countries surveyed in 2004. In 2003, together with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan scored 2.4 and ranked 100th (out of 133). It ranked 88th (out of 102) in 2002 and 71st (out of 91) in 2001.

Transparency Kazakhstan, a member of Transparency International, has noted that corruption has led to an enormous gap between the rich and the poor and exacerbated poverty. With the financial support of the European Commission, Transparency Kazakhstan has initiated work on a new project in 2004 called Combating Corruption Through Civic Education; this project seeks to improve youth awareness about corruption and develop a means of identifying and combating graft in state structures, public life, and business.

Corruption and fraud have become integral features of elections and remain beyond any judicial oversight. Although the amended Law on Elections prohibits cancellation of a candidate's registration two days before an election, 11 serious candidates for parliamentary seats in the September 2004 elections found their registrations annulled at the eleventh hour on grounds of inconsistencies in their financial disclosure statements. Their elimination ensured that a second round of voting would not take place for those seats. The CEC has dismissed persistent appeals by opposition parties to appoint a public commission to conduct inquiries into electoral irregularities.

Kazakhstan's 1998 Law on Anticorruption Efforts has been amended several times, but the extent of corruption is impossible to measure without independent and impartial agencies investigating corruption-related charges. A corrupt, patronage-based judicial system that is entirely loyal to the executive compounds the problem. The prosecutor-general, who is appointed by the president and is not accountable to the government, handles inquiries into official corruption, in conjunction with the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs.

Under the 2001-2005 State Program on Combating Corruption, the definition of corruption has been broadened to cover gifts, property received "indirectly," and an extensive list of actions pertaining to personal use of state resources. Though the government has punished some low-level political figures to demonstrate its commitment to check corruption, top regime associates and supporters are completely beyond the reach of inquiry. All investigations into alleged high-level corruption have proven to be politically motivated, as exemplified by the trials and sentencing of influential political figures such as Kazhegeldin, Ablyazov, and Zhakiyanov. These cases prove that individuals challenging or competing with the business and political interests of the Nazarbaev family will invariably find themselves accused of serious financial crimes and penalized heavily.

2005 Scores