Friday, December 19, 2008

Reform in Kazakhstan?

Several post-Soviet countries have recently adopted proportional representation (PR) electoral systems for their national legislatures. While PR is traditionally associated with multiparty politics, results in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia have produced one-party dominant parliaments. In addition to national closed-list PR, all three countries feature high thresholds, registration challenges for opposition parties, and unbalanced media coverage favoring dominant politicians and their allied parties.

Kazakhstan's last election results were the most egregiously one-sided: only Nur-Otan gained seats in parliament. These results created a problem of perception, as Kazakhstan aspired to have a term chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the time of the election. Despite concerns about its democratic credentials, Kazakhstan was granted the position in 2010. However, the OSCE expected Kazakhstan's government to make institutional reforms. Eurasianet reports that several election rule changes are being discussed, including a modified threshold (retaining 7%, but admitting a second party if only one wins), and lowering the signature requirement for parties (currently, Kazakhstan has the most restrictive registration rules in the region, requiring 50,000 signatures for parties - roughly 1 out of every 306 Kazakh citizens).

The Eurasianet article notes that the proposed changes have been criticized by major opposition parties. Indeed, the proposed changes are minor, and would likely produce ersatz pluralism. Previous elections have generated multiparty parliaments, but parliamentary support of the president has not been in question since 1995.

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