How Kazakhstan is changing

On February 17, Nur-Sultan hosted an important virtual meeting attended by, among others, the Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and the country’s Prosecutor General office, who met to discuss the progress of the reforms and the major results achieved in the spheres of democratisation and justice from last year to date.

The democratisation agenda

On February 17, an important virtual meeting took place between the presidential team and the Prosecutor General office, during which the goals achieved in recent months of non-stop reformism were discussed. The meeting was led by the Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who took advantage of the opportunity to take stock of the situation on democratisation, advancement of rights and justice system enhancement.

Tokayev wanted to illustrate to the participants the tangibility of the results obtained in the field of democratization, focusing on the new legislation that regulates the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Entered into force last May, the new laws “introduced a notification system to organise rallies instead of the permissions that were required previously” and thanks to which “peaceful assemblies, including protests, can now be held in central parts of major cities”.

The new legislation, described by the Kazakh president as a “very serious step towards the democratisation of the society”, was formulated and introduced as part of a season of multilevel reformism that began shortly after the Father of the Nation, Nursultan Nazarbayev, passed the scepter to Tokayev. By the way, this epoch-making reformist movement is to be seen in the broader context of Nazarbayev’s “Kazakhstan 2030” vision; a vision of geopolitical grandeur, economic diversification, strategic autonomy and socio-political modernization.

During the meeting with the Prosecutor General, Tokayev stated, id est guaranteed, that “no one is depriving citizens of their freedom of expression and voicing criticism towards the government”, adding that he “should explain this policy [the new legislation] not only within our society, but also abroad”.

The last sentence is the most eloquent and explanatory part of the whole passage: by means of it, indeed, Tokayev indirectly reiterated and recalled that the socio-political modernization agenda is being concretized (also) because the post-Nazarbayev Kazakhstan’s eyes are firmly fixed on a horizon in which space has been carved out for greater collaboration with the West. Verily, the strengthening of civil and political rights, from the freedom of assembly to the legitimation of the protest vote, and the recent abolition of the death penalty are framed and must be read within this plan.

A truly efficient justice system

A substantial part of the meeting focused on the work of the Prosecutor General office during the pandemic and on the related reformist agenda. There can be no real democratization without justice – a reality Tokayev is aware of –, therefore, reforms and new bureaucratic and investigative procedures are being progressively introduced to “increase the trust of the population in the system”.

Tokayev’s plan for the construction of an effective and efficient judicial system contemplates a greater role of the Prosecutor General in the management of the major procedures, the optimization of the current criminal code, the strengthening of cooperation between law enforcement agencies and government bodies and the resort to tools useful to prevent the law from becoming an oppressive burden, especially towards entrepreneurs.

Among the most relevant measures that have been implemented with the goal of creating a justice system tailored to honest citizens, it must be mentioned a noteworthy moratorium on inspections of small businesses, which in 2020 alone reduced inspections by five times compared to the previous year. The moratorium, which came into effect in January last year and which is expected to last until January 2023, was designed to combat the practice of arbitrary labor inspections and to help entrepreneurs oppressed by those controllers who, instead of merely supervising, give rise to an anti-economic surveillance climate. The moratorium, which is effectively serving its purpose, will soon be accompanied and strengthened by a specific law on illegal inspections.

Preventing crime

During the video-meeting, some crime statistics related to the year 2020 were exposed: the crime rate recorded a 30% decrease, but Tokayev invited the participants not to let their guard down because “the negative economic and social effects stemming from the pandemic may provoke an increase in crime and delinquency”. The authorities, Tokayev continued, “must be prepared for this [scenario] and any attempts of criminals to take advantage of the difficult situation in the country must be immediately addressed”.

The Kazakh president’s vision of justice is truly pragmatic. According to him, justice, in order to be really effective and efficient, must be fair, equitable and impartial in the eyes of the honest, but it must also have a certain amount of foreknowledge, namely it must take precautions towards the future and equip itself with means helpful to face crime in a two-dimensional way: fighting it and preventing it.

For this reason, Tokayev explained that “factors that could spur social conflicts, including delays in salaries, illegal job cuts, should be detected in time and prevented”, recalling that, in this regard, “29,000 workers received their salary debts amounting to 2.7 billion tenge (6.4 million dollars)”.

The same reasoning should also be applied to the treatment of crime, by developing offense-detecting systems capable of preventing criminals from carrying out their opera, such as pyramid schemes. Fighting crime by preventing it, a scenario that will remind most people of Minority Report; with the difference that Kazakhstan, accustomed to achieving any set goal, could really turn science fiction into reality.