Kazakhstan

Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
6
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 5.95 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.36 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
5 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2022

  • Local Democratic Governance rating improved from 1.50 to 1.75 due to the introduction of direct election of village akims nationwide, thereby institutionalizing a change in the structure of representation at the local level.

header2 As a result, Kazakhstan’s Democracy Score improved from 1.32 to 1.36.

The year 2021 in Kazakhstan was marked not only by the second full year of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s presidency but also Nursultan Nazarbayev’s rule from behind the curtain as Elbasy, Leader of the Nation. After the parliamentary elections at the beginning of the year, Nazarbayev oversaw key appointments in the executive and legislative branches of power. Although President Tokayev retains the constitutional authority to nominate the prime minister, it was former president Nazarbayev who publicly introduced the incumbent Askar Mamin as his choice for prime minister after the elections. Following Nazarbayev’s announcement, Tokayev asked the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) to vote on Mamin’s candidacy. Additionally, Nazarbayev nominated Nurlan Nigmatulin as Mazhilis Speaker, two Deputy Speakers, and five chairs of the Mazhilis committees. Thus, Nazarbayev’s postelection activities suggested that he is unwilling to take a back seat.

In addition to his status as the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan–Elbasy, Nazarbayev holds influential titles such as Chairman of the Security Council and Chairman of the Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund Council, which controls about 40 percent of the nation’s GDP. He is also a lifetime member of the Senate (upper house of parliament) and the Constitutional Council. In his June address to the parliament, Constitutional Council Chairman Kairat Mami commented that, since March 2019 (the official resignation of former president Nazarbayev), the collaboration between the institutions of Elbasy and President had proved effective1 .

Tokayev’s second full year as president was characterized by the elections to the Mazhilis and maslikhats (local representative bodies), which were conducted without genuine opposition; a failed vaccination campaign due to authorities’ ineffective handling of the pandemic and the continuing erosion of trust in government; numerous superficial promises to promote and protect human rights that ignored existing political repression; new monuments depicting Nazarbayev; the first direct elections of village akims dominated by the ruling Nur Otan party; traditional crackdown on peaceful protests; and increased pressure on civil society organizations (CSOs), the media, and activists.

The January 10 elections to the Mazhilis and maslikhats were the first held during Tokayev’s presidency. Despite his vow to conduct transparent and fair parliamentary elections, no real opposition parties were permitted to run, several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were pressured on the eve of the elections, COVID-19 restrictions were weaponized against independent observers and journalists, and nonpartisan organizations were barred from conducting exit polls. On election day, hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested across the country. Consequently, after the elections, Nur Otan retained the lion’s share of seats in the Mazhilis (78 percent) and maslikhats (82.4 percent). Dariga Nazarbayeva, daughter of the former president who was removed as Senate Speaker by Tokayev in May 2020, became a deputy in the Mazhilis. Nurlan Nigmatullin, the Mazhilis Speaker, retained his post. According to the Central Election Commission, besides Nur Otan, two progovernment parties that were already represented in the Mazhilis—Ak Zhol and the People’s Party of Kazakhstan (QHP)—passed the 7-percent electoral threshold.

In February, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution harshly criticizing the human rights situation in Kazakhstan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the resolution was “initiated by unfriendly politicians” and “fueled by falsified information,”2 suggesting that the document raised some eyebrows in Nur-Sultan. The chain of events following the EP resolution suggests that authorities have become more inclined to take a proactive stance on discussing human rights in Kazakhstan and beyond. Throughout the year, President Tokayev himself and members of his administration held meetings with United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) representatives on the country’s human rights situation. During the meetings, Kazakh officials not only discussed human rights but also tried to educate international guests on ongoing so-called political reforms initiated by the president, which independent experts describe as cosmetic changes to existing laws.

Although the Tokayev administration has paid more attention to human rights issues over the past two years, it has excluded political repression from the reformist agenda. In July, in response to a journalist’s question related to a Human Rights Watch report on political repression in Kazakhstan, Deputy Justice Minister Akerke Akhmetova claimed that the nation had no political prisoners. In 2021, some activists who had been on the list of political prisoners were released. However, on October 11, the Almaly district court found 13 political activists guilty of allegedly participating in activities of the banned Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) movement, led by fugitive oligarch and government critic Mukhtar Ablyazov, thus signaling that authorities would not tolerate political dissent. Still, one day later, on October 12, Kazakhstan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the second time, which authorities characterized as “recognition” 3 of their efforts to promote and protect human rights and freedoms.

Kazakhstan announced a mass vaccination campaign in February, with the expectation that 10 million people (roughly 50 percent of the population) would be fully vaccinated by September4 . However, the government failed to reach its goal due to ineffective measures by the central government and local akimats, also indicative of increasing public distrust in the authorities and in vaccines. By year’s end, around 8.5 million Kazakhstanis had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In 2021, in order to maintain strict control over the media, the authorities exploited COVID-19 restrictions and attempted to instrumentalize Article 274, Part 3, of the criminal code (which prohibits “disseminating knowingly false information”) against journalists and social media users. From April 2020 until October 2021, reporters lacked access to government buildings due to coronavirus restrictions, including those periods when the epidemiological situation in the country had improved. The Village, an Almaty-based internet news outlet, faced pressure from authorities after publishing about a child rape case in Turkistan from 2018. In October, after being blocked for 10 days, the website Hola News removed an article about the Pandora Papers investigation on offshore deals describing the involvement of a woman referred to as Nazarbayev’s “unofficial wife.” The outlet’s founders and editor-in-chief left the project. Furthermore, Nur Otan deputies Aidos Sarym and Dinara Zakieva proposed an amendment requiring foreign social media networks to register in Kazakhstan. While the deputies argued that their amendment was designed to fight cyberbullying, CSOs described the move as an attempt to limit freedom of expression of Kazakh citizens on social media.

In July, Kazakhstan held the first direct elections of village akims, which had been promoted by President Tokayev and his team as a significant step toward decentralization of political power. Kazakhstanis living in 14 regions elected 730 akims. Although members of all six parties participated in the elections, 86 percent of winners represent Nur Otan.

During the year, Nursultan Nazarbayev demonstrated his determination to continue playing a key role in the country’s politics, and this stance is likely to continue so long as the former president’s health and Kazakhstan’s socioeconomic and political conditions allow him to exercise political power as Elbasy. By not identifying genuine democratization as one of his top priorities in his 2021 State of the Nation Address, President Tokayev implied that in 2022 his administration would continue to give lip service to the promotion and protection of human rights (while ignoring political repression at home) since Kazakhstan will serve on the UNHRC in 2022–24. Looking ahead, activists demanding genuine political reforms may be joined in the streets by vulnerable groups of citizens left behind by the government’s pandemic response. Nur-Sultan’s reaction to peaceful protests after the 2021 January elections showed that Tokayev inherited not only the presidential reins but also a playbook of repressions against political opposition that he could update with new tactics. Such political developments will likely determine whether Tokayev runs for a second term in 2024.

header3 At-A-Glance

Despite President Tokayev’s pledge to carry out political reforms when he assumed the office two and a half years ago, national governance in Kazakhstan has remained autocratic. Elections are conducted under strict control of the executive branch, which deprives the electorate of choices by barring genuine opposition candidates from running for office. Although civil society representatives attempt to make their voices heard in public life, law enforcement authorities closely monitor activities of independent activists and organizations, weaponize laws against them, and instrumentalize various tools to restrict their fundamental rights. State-owned media enjoy the regime’s support and receive funding from government agencies, while the very few independent media outlets in the country face significant challenges to press freedom and adequate funding. In spite of the introduction of direct election of village akims (mayors), local governance politically and financially depends on the central level. According to Kazakhstan’s constitution, the judicial branch is independent, but courts have yet to prove their independence in cases involving high-profile officials, political activists, and independent NGOs. President Tokayev identified fighting corruption as one of his top priorities when taking office in June 2019, yet the nation has yet to see any notable anticorruption policy changes.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.251 7.007
  • Nursultan Nazarbayev, who officially resigned as president in March 2019 after ruling for nearly 30 years, has maintained a tight grip on power. He continues to play a key role in the country’s politics as the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan–Elbasy, Chairman of the Security Council, and leader of the ruling Nur Otan party. After the January 2021 parliamentary elections, the nomination of incumbent Askar Mamin for prime minister1 was made by Nazarbayev rather than by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who is constitutionally tasked with presenting candidates for prime minister to the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) for a vote.2 Tokayev nevertheless fully supported his predecessor’s choice. In addition, Nazarbayev recommended to reelect Nurlan Nigmatulin as Mazhilis Speaker. Subsequently, Nur Otan deputies unanimously voted for both of Nazarbayev’s choices.3 In late November, Nazarbayev transferred leadership of his Nur Otan party to President Tokayev.4
  • The post-election cabinet reshuffle brought little change. Two new ministers joined the government: Asset Irgaliyev was appointed Minister of National Economy, and Serik Shapkenov became Minister of Labor and Social Protection of the Population. Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Foreign Affairs Minister, received the additional title of Deputy Prime Minister. The vast majority of ministers and governors previously appointed by former president Nazarbayev retained their posts.5
  • In 2021, President Tokayev carried out a minor government reshuffle. On February 25, he appointed his longtime ally Murat Nurtileu as Deputy Chief of Staff.6 On April 5, the former ambassador to the United States, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, was appointed Special Representative of the President7 and began actively discussing the administration’s agenda for political reforms and human rights issues with representatives of international organizations. In August, following explosions at a military facility in the Zhambyl region that resulted in 16 deaths,8 Defense Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev resigned and was replaced by Murat Bektenov.9
  • The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kazakhstan will be remembered for the false start of a mass vaccination program announced in February. By April, President Tokayev held an extended meeting of the government and threatened to sack the cabinet if it failed to step up the pace of vaccination.10 Despite this bold statement, the government never reached its goal to get 10 million (or about half the population) vaccinated by September; meanwhile, the officials responsible for the vaccination program retained their posts. By year’s end, about 8.5 million people had received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.11
  • In April, Nazarbayev gave up his post as Chairman of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan to his successor Tokayev.12 In June, Prime Minister Mamin signed a decree recognizing Nazarbayev as lifetime chairman of the assembly and the document was sent to Tokayev for his signature.13
  • On July 3, President Tokayev took part in the opening ceremony of Nazarbayev’s new monument in the capital Nur-Sultan; in his ceremonial speech, he called Nazarbayev “the symbol of Kazakhstan’s independence.”14
  • In order to keep his declared reformist agenda relevant during the year, President Tokayev resorted to older statements. In his State of the Nation address, for example, he said that a 30-percent quota for women and young people on party lists “was not properly reflected in the final composition of deputies,” thereby it was necessary to make a norm in the election law requiring parties to allocate mandates according to the quota. In addition, the president proposed expanding the quota list by including people with disabilities.15
  • In September, PM Mamin stated that the economy of Kazakhstan had reached the pre-pandemic level,16 while during the year the government received an additional transfer of 850 billion tenge from the National Fund to correct its budget deficit.17 Inflation hit a five-year high,18 food prices rose twice as fast as the previous year,19 and the government will receive 6.6 trillion tenge from the National Fund in 2022–24.20
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 1.251 7.007
  • On January 10, 2021, Kazakhstan held elections to the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) and maslikhats (local representative bodies). Although President Tokayev vowed to hold free and fair elections, the first conducted under his presidency in many ways were identical to the previous eight Mazhilis elections during the Nazarbayev era. The ruling Nur Otan and four progovernment parties were on the ballot; meanwhile, independent observers1 and journalists faced various administrative barriers on election day,2 police cracked down on protesters,3 and only state-sanctioned organizations were allowed to conduct exit polls.4
  • The Nur Otan list consisted of 126 candidates, including 77 winners of primaries.5 Ak Zhol participated with 38 candidates.6 Adal (formerly Birlik) recruited media and sport celebrities, with 20 names on its party list.7 Similarly, the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (QKHP), which had the second-largest list of 113 candidates, rebranded itself as the People’s Party of Kazakhstan (QHP) on the eve of elections.8 Auyl had an electoral list of 19 candidates.9
  • Outlawed and unregistered opposition groups tried to execute two different strategies: “Umnoe Golosovanie” (an attempt to replicate Alexei Navalny’s “Smart Voting” strategy in Russia) and boycotting the elections. The fugitive oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov urged his followers to use smart voting to cast their ballots for the nominal opposition All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), which later announced it would boycott the elections. Then Ablyazov called on his supporters to vote for Ak Zhol, which temporarily froze the acceptance of new members.10 The second strategy—boycotting the elections—was executed by the movement Oyan, Qazaqstan (Wake up, Kazakhstan) and the unregistered Democratic party of Kazakhstan (DPK), who jointly organized rallies in Almaty on January 10.11
  • According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), voter turnout was 63 percent.12 The same political parties that have been represented in the 107-seat Mazhilis since 2012 again passed the 7-percent threshold: Nur Otan took 76 seats, Ak Zhol took 12 seats, and QHP took 10 seats.13 The remaining 9 seats were distributed among representatives of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan.
  • Observers from the group Taza Sailau (Fair Election) revealed around 500 “minor election irregularities” mainly related to “organizational issues and sanitary safety rules,”14 while organizations such as Erkindik Kanaty (Wings of Freedom), MISK, and HAQ stated that some of their members were barred from observing the elections.15
  • Although observers from members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) did not register serious voting irregularities,16 OSCE representatives concluded that the elections “lacked genuine competition” and “the legal framework is not yet conducive to holding elections in line with the OSCE commitments as long-standing systemic shortcomings remain.”17
  • On September 10, President Tokayev reappointed Nazarbayev’s longtime ally Berik Imashev as CEC chairman.18 Imashev, whose daughter Aida is married to Dariga Nazarbayeva’s eldest son, Nurali Aliyev, was first appointed CEC chairman in 2016 by former president Nazarbayev.19
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 1.502 7.007
  • Although the Kazakh government has repeatedly declared its intention to promote and protect human rights, throughout 2021 citizens, workers, and activists faced considerable challenges, including criminal and administrative charges, while attempting to exercise their constitutional rights.
  • In advance of the parliamentary elections, authorities relied on so-called tax attacks to interfere with the activities of human rights and civil society NGOs prepared to independently observe and cover the elections. As a result, Echo, International Legal Initiative, and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) were fined and their activities were suspended for three months. Erkindik Kanaty was fined without suspension of its activities.1 On February 4, Marat Sultangaziev, Chairman of the State Revenue Committee of the Ministry of Finance, stated that tax authorities may not fine NGOs for formal and technical errors in their reports. Later that day, the Almaty revenue authorities canceled their decision to fine and suspend the activities of the Legal Media Center, Echo, and KIBHR.2 Furthermore, on the same day, administrative proceedings against MediaNet, an Almaty-based NGO promoting free press in Kazakhstan, were dropped.3 In April, KIBHR and Echo won a court case against the district offices of the Almaty State Revenue Department, which had imposed administrative penalties on the NGOs on the eve of the parliamentary elections.4
  • Although the 2020 amendments to the trade unions code took into account some recommendations from international organizations, authorities continue to pressure independent trade unions. On February 5, the Specialized Inter-district Economic Court in Shymkent suspended the independent Industrial Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Workers (ITUFEW) for six months for allegedly violating registration requirements of the law on trade unions.5
  • On June 9, President Tokayev signed a decree “On further measures in the field of human rights in Kazakhstan” instructing the government to prepare a plan to protect and promote human rights in the country.6 Progovernment experts praised the decree,”7 whereas human rights activists described the plan as a “vague” and “short” document.8
  • On July 7, Human Rights Watch stated, “Authorities in Kazakhstan have targeted at least 135 people across the country with criminal investigations and prosecutions for alleged participation in banned ‘extremist’ political opposition groups.”9 Two days later, Deputy Minister of Justice Akerke Akhmetova said that there were no political prisoners in Kazakhstan.10 Experts believe that the Kazakh authorities use statutes on extremism articles to pressure their political opponents.11
  • On October 11, the Almaly District Court of Almaty concluded the trial of 13 government critics who were accused of participating in the activities of the banned organizations Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) and Koshe (Street) Party. Abai Begimbetov, Askhat Zheksebaev, Kairat Klyshev, and Noyan Rakhimzhanov each received five years, while others received probationary sentences of up to two years. KIBHR called the trial “the culmination of a campaign of political persecution against supporters of the opposition.”12
  • In 2021, it was revealed that, in addition to a number of high-profile politicians, the prominent human rights activist Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, two French activists involved in Kazakhstan-related work,13 two journalists,14 and four members of the youth movement Oyan, Qazaqstan15 were allegedly targeted through their phones by authorities using Pegasus spyware.
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 1.251 7.007
  • In 2021, the Kazakh press freedom watchdog Adil Soz registered 27 criminal charges, 29 administrative charges, and 67 civil claims against media outlets and journalists.1
  • On May 15, in Almaty, police detained Temirlan Ensebek, author of the satirical Instagram account Qaznews24, and started a criminal investigation against him on charges of “disseminating knowingly false information.” Police also carried out a search of his home and confiscated a laptop and two mobile phones. He was released after several hours of questioning.2 In his interview with Informburo.kz, Ensebek said that his status as a “witness entitled to defense” had not changed and he was still free to travel, but that he must appear before the police on demand.3
  • In June, employees of the Aq Zhaiyq newspaper and its editor-in-chief Azamat Maitanov received death threats online. The nongovernmental Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Kazakh authorities to immediately investigate the case.4 The newspaper stated that the Atyrau regional police opened a pretrial investigation (Article 115, criminal code) on June 12 and were provided with an IP address for the threat, but there had been no updates on the status of the investigation.5
  • On August 24, one of the guards of the Akimat of the Alatau district of Almaty forcibly removed Akbope Tanirbergen, a Khabar 24 TV journalist seeking to interview the district mayor, from the administration building. Later, Aida Balayeva, Minister of Information and Social Development, condemned the incident and called on Almaty authorities to investigate the case.6 In September, after the incident, Almaty police revoked the license of a company that provided security services to the Alatau district akimat.7
  • On August 26, when a series of explosions rocked a military facility in the Zhambyl region, Islambek Dastan, an Orda.kz correspondent on the scene, immediately began filming the events. A few days later, Dastan and Daniyar Alimkul, a Channel 7 reporter, were summoned by police for questioning. The former had the status of a witness, while the latter was granted the status of witness entitled to defense. The journalists were interrogated for more than two hours and then asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement about the investigation. In September, experts of the Forensic Examinations Center in Zhambyl region concluded that there were no violations, either in words or actions, by Dastan.8
  • In October, Mazhilis deputy Nurlybek Ozhaev of Nur Otan proposed an amendment that would ban journalists from courtrooms. He argued that legislation is needed to protect Kazakhstan’s judicial system from social media pressure, while journalists described this move as another attempt to silence independent media.9 The next day, Ozhaev withdrew the amendment and promised to present a revised version. Two weeks later, Kanat Musin, Chairman of the Judicial Collegium for Administrative Cases of the Supreme Court, commented that withdrawing the amendment was “the right decision.”10 Ozhaev had proposed no new draft amendment by year’s end.
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.752 7.007
  • Political power in Kazakhstan remains highly centralized. The president’s administration has firm control over akims at all levels. Maslikhats (local representative bodies) are heavily dependent on akims. According to the 2018 amendments to the law on elections, self-nominated candidates may not run for maslikhats.1 While Tokayev’s administration claims that the first direct elections of village akims, as well as the “Concept for the development of local self-governance in Kazakhstan until 2025,” are important steps in the ongoing local self-government reforms, experts believe that these initiatives are superficial and “aimed more at creating the appearance of democratic transformation than at genuine decentralization of power.”2
  • The January 10 elections to maslikhats, which were held for the first time by using a proportional representation system, were also conducted by the tightly controlled CEC and its regional offices. Five political parties participated, and a total of 840 party lists were presented to the CEC for the country’s 216 maslikhats. In particular, Nur Otan presented 216 lists; Adal, 216; Ak Zhol, 175; Auyl, 159; and QHP, 74.3 According to Nur Otan Deputy Chairman Bauyrzhan Baibek, the party nominated lists to all maslikhats in the country and received 2,701 out of 3,276 seats (82.4 percent).4 The remaining seats were divided among Ak Zhol, QHP, and Auyl.5
  • On July 25, the first direct elections of village akims were held in the country’s 14 regions at 1,847 polling stations. Kazakhstanis chose 730 akims out of 2,297 candidates, and 45 more akims were elected by year’s end.6 The government allocated 4.7 billion tenge to conduct the elections.7 Although President Tokayev had noted that the “upcoming elections will give a new impetus to political reforms and open up opportunities for citizens to be involved in governing the country and decision-making process,”8 the vast majority of winners were candidates from Nur Otan, civil servants, and incumbents.9 Representatives of all six parties registered in Kazakhstan participated in the elections. According to data from the territorial election commissions, 627 candidates from Nur Otan were elected as akims. In addition, 65 self-nominated winners were affiliated with the ruling party.10 Results by other parties were as follows: Auyl, 32 akims; Adal, 15; Ak Zhol, 11; QHP, 10; and All-National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), 1. Although 62 percent of the registered candidates were self-nominated, their share among the elected akims was minuscule.11 While progovernment experts described the direct election of village akims as “a new stage of political modernization,”12 an independent researcher called it “another example of cosmetic reform.”13
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.251 7.007
  • Since the adoption of a new constitution in 1995, Nursultan Nazarbayev and his inner circle have consolidated an authoritarian regime in which the executive branch heavily dominates the legislative and judicial branches.
  • In January 2021, in order to abolish the death penalty, President Tokayev signed a law making permanent the existing moratorium on capital punishment in place in Kazakhstan since 2003.1 Tokayev’s assistant Erlan Karin referred to the law as “part of political reforms.”2
  • On June 10, Tokayev signed a controversial bill on issues of advocacy and legal assistance.3 Before reaching the president’s desk, the law was sharply criticized by independent advocates and lawyers who argued that the proposed amendments threaten their independence. Specifically, they insisted that articles requiring them to subscribe to the unified electronic information system, e-Zan komegi (e-legal advice), and pay a monthly fee to the Republican Collegium of Advocates must be removed since the amendments were designed to control their activities by limiting their rights to freely form and join organizations. In February, Amangeldi Shormanbaev, director of the “International Law Initiative,” picketed the Almaty Department of Justice, claiming the proposed amendments were initiated by the authoritarian government to keep lawyers under its tight control.4
  • In March, the Senate returned the draft law with some changes to the Mazhilis, and the lower house partially approved it. In particular, they agreed on keeping the monthly membership fee (2,917 tenge) paid by lawyers and legal consultants for the general needs of the Republican Bar Association and the Republican Collegium of Advocates until 2026. At that point, the fee and payment procedure will be determined by members themselves. Deputies of the Senate and Mazhilis formed a “conciliation commission” to iron out differences in the legislation,5 which reached a consensus within less than a month on a controversial amendment considering the creation of the Republican Collegium of Advocates. Accordingly, the collegium will be recognized as a nonprofit organization based on voluntary membership of chambers of legal advisors and consultants representing at least two-thirds of the regions. A month later, President Tokayev requested that the Constitutional Council review the law. Although the council recognized the statute’s constitutionality, they pointed out “the lack of clarity of the language and inconsistency of some of its provisions with related norms, which may create conditions for their ambiguous interpretation and improper application.”6 Tokayev signed the law without taking into account the comments of the Constitutional Council or lawyers’ criticisms of the legislation.
  • In February, President Tokayev held a meeting on the modernization of the country’s judicial system; in his speech, he identified corruption as one of the main factors undermining trust in the judiciary and cited that, over the past five years, more than a dozen judges had been brought to justice due to corruption. Tokayev mentioned a former Supreme Court judge who was detained a day before the meeting, calling it an “egregious case.”7 By the end of the year, the former Supreme Court judge, Meiram Zhanguttinov, and a judge of the Al-Farabi district court of Shymkent, Liza Turgunbaeva, had each been sentenced to five years in prison. According to the Baikonyr district court of Nur-Sultan, Zhanguttinov received $7,000 from Turgunbaeva to assist her with a transfer from Shymkent to a court in Nur-Sultan.8
  • On October 1, the Pavlodar regional court commuted the sentence of dissident poet Aron Atabek, sentenced to 18 years in prison for helping organize riots in the Shanyrak district of Almaty that killed a police officer.9 Earlier, public figures had published an open letter asking President Tokayev to release the ailing poet, who had already served 15 years.10 In February, the European Parliament included Aron Atabek on a list of political prisoners and demanded his immediate release.11 Atabek was diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID-19 and hospitalized soon after his release; on November 24, he died at age 68 of heart failure in an Almaty hospital.12
  • In October, former Deputy Energy Ministers Gani Sadibekov and Bakytzhan Dzhaksaliev were acquitted due to lack of evidence. In 2018, both were identified as suspects in a case of embezzlement of public funds allocated to clean up Lake Karasu near Nur-Sultan.13
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.251 7.007
  • Although President Tokayev identified the fight against corruption as one of his top priorities,1 Kazakhstan has seen no significant changes in the government’s anticorruption policy while omnipresent wrongdoing and a lack of transparency and accountability undermine the nation’s efforts to eradicate corruption.
  • In April, Tokayev appointed Deputy Prosecutor General Marat Akhmetzhanov as Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Agency.2 According to Akhmetzhanov, 1,576 corruption crimes were registered in 2021; and 1,280 individuals, including 159 executives at national and regional levels, were prosecuted for corruption.3
  • On June 23, President Tokayev stated, “If a civil servant makes a mistake without pursuing malicious intent to steal budget funds or illegally enrich himself through a bribe, he should not be prosecuted. Otherwise, we paralyze the state apparatus. The orbit of criminal prosecution should involve officials who deliberately committed corruption crimes.”4 The president’s ambiguous statement outraged the public, who vented their ire on social media. Tokayev’s assistant Erlan Karin attempted to clean up the situation with a Facebook post (later deleted) but was otherwise unavailable for comment.5
  • COVID-19 provided opportunities to abuse the epidemiological emergency, such as selling false PCR tests and vaccination passports.6 The former head of the nationalized SK-Pharmacy, Berik Sharip, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for abuse of power that led to the mass infection of doctors due to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).7
  • On September 20, former prime minister Serik Akhmetov, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with confiscation of properties and a ban on holding public office for 5 years, completed his probation period. In 2017, the Abay District Court of Karagandy Region granted Akhmetov’s request to replace the unserved portion of his sentence with restriction of freedom, and since then he had been on probation.8 Akhmetov was convicted in 2015 under Article 176 of the criminal code (misappropriation or embezzlement of entrusted property of others), Article 310 (illegal participation in entrepreneurial activity), Article 307 (abuse of office), and Article 310-1 (obstruction of legal entrepreneurial activity).9
  • In October, the Pandora Papers investigations revealed that Assel Kurmanbekova, unofficial third wife of Nursultan Nazarbayev, had received $30 million after two oligarchs close to the former president arranged the deal through offshore accounts.10 The administration’s Deputy Chief of Staff Dauren Abayev commented on the revelations, “At first glance, this is complete nonsense. There is nothing to say yet.”11 Earlier, journalists had asked Deputy Minister of Information and Public Development Bolat Tlepov about the exposé; he responded that he “had no idea” what they were talking about.12

Author: Shalkar Nurseitov is an Almaty-based political analyst and Director of the Center for Policy Solutions, a group of Kazakh researchers engaged in studying public and political as well as socio-economic issues in Kazakhstan and developing policy and governance recommendations. He holds a BA in Political Science from Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and an MA in Media and Strategic Communication from George Washington University.

On Kazakhstan

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

See More
  • Global Freedom Score

    23 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    33 100 not free