Kazakhstan | Freedom House

Nations in Transit

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

Nations in Transit 2006

2006 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.39

National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.75

Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.50

Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.75

Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.75

Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.25

Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.25

Corruption
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6.50
Executive Summary: 

President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has held office since 1989 under Soviet rule and procured another seven-year term in 2005, has built a strong and personalized presidential regime by allowing an inner circle of close family, friends, and business associates to exert formal and informal influence over vital economic resources and political positions. A relatively vibrant phase of media freedom, civic, and democratic activism begun in the early 1990s has dissipated since 1995, when Nazarbaev adopted a new Constitution giving unchecked powers to the presidency.

Since 1999, Nazarbaev has skillfully used Kazakhstan's spiraling economic growth and rising prosperity (Kazakhstan expects to be among the top five oil exporters within a decade) to further consolidate his authoritarian rule, arguing that a strong economy and social stability constitute vital preconditions for establishing democracy. He has embraced a purely formal democratization agenda by holding regular elections (none has been recognized as "free and fair" or meeting international standards) and erecting a multiparty system composed of loyal, pro-regime parties. The political system is open to the participation of prominent financial and business interests loyal to the president but closed to independent financial and political interests or social groups that propose alternative ideologies.

National Democratic Governance. The government has emphasized economic prosperity and social "stability" at the expense of developing transparent and democratically accountable institutions. Powerful financial groups and members of the presidential family fully control the Parliament and top political offices and continue to intimidate, buy off, co-opt, and even accuse as criminals their business and political opponents, critics, and independent media. While Kazakhstan has established a stable and effective governance structure, the Nazarbaev regime continues to block political participation of groups that advocate reforms and exaggerates the potential threat posed by political, ethnic, or religious extremists. The 91 percent vote obtained by Nazarbaev in the December 2005 elections--an implausible figure for an aspiring or established democracy--attests to a further strengthening of the personalistic, patronage-based system under his leadership. Kazakhstan's rating in national democratic governance has worsened from 6.50 to 6.75 because the prospects for democratization have diminished with Nazarbaev securing another seven-year term through an implausible 91 percent vote.

Electoral Process. Pro-regime financial interests and political parties (Otan, the Civil Party, and Asar together with nominally independent pro-regime deputies) fully control the Parliament, which does not have a single opposition or independent deputy. Of the two major opposition parties, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan has been banned since January 2005 and Ak Zhol has split into two factions, the dominant one adopting a more moderate stance. Though two opposition candidates were allowed to run in the elections, there was widespread use of administrative and information resources to drum up support for the incumbent. Amendments to laws on election, right to public assembly, and controlling "extremism" have imposed severe limits on the ability of nonregime candidates or parties to campaign. The December 2005 presidential election did not meet Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other international standards for democratic elections despite improvements in election administration. Kazakhstan's rating for electoral process remains at 6.50 because despite several technical and procedural improvements in the organization and conduct of elections, the legislative base has not improved.

Civil Society. The Nazarbaev regime has invigorated efforts to shape the civil sector through financial aid and support to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in social and infrastructure development, as well as to those loyal to the government. The increase in financial support to NGOs is a mixed blessing, as Nazarbaev has warned that the government will "closely watch" NGOs, particularly those obtaining foreign funding. Groups engaged in advocacy campaigns, championing civil liberties, political reforms, and democratization have encountered the greatest governmental resistance and remain dependent on international funding. Though the Constitutional Court struck down the widely criticized amendments passed by the Parliament that imposed numerous restrictions on the financial and organizational capacity of NGOs, it did so only on technical grounds without raising the substantive issue of ongoing government regulation of civil society. Many other laws, such as the new Law on Extremism, amendments to the national security legislation, and new restrictions on the right to public assembly, undermine civil freedoms. Kazakhstan's rating for civil society worsens from 5.50 to 5.75 owing to the tightening of governmental control over civil society through laws, formal and informal pressure, and increased funding by the state or agencies controlled by the state.

Independent Media. The entire spectrum of privately owned but pro-government media worked actively to promote Nazarbaev's presidential candidacy by touting his numerous achievements. A widespread disinformation campaign against the opposition, financial harassment, confiscation of print runs, physical assaults, and criminalization of independent and pro-opposition journalists continued throughout the presidential election campaign. Opposition media were routinely penalized through court actions, specifically libel suits for violating "the honor and dignity of the president." The regime has become more sophisticated in curbing the modicum of independent media, particularly using administrative and technical tools to close down opposition Web sites or deny access to them. Amendments to the Law on Mass Media give courts far greater latitude to close down media outlets for "violating Kazakhstan's integrity," condoning "extremism," and "undermining state security." Given the closure of almost all opposition newspapers, pervasive control over print media and the Internet, the widespread disinformation campaign against opposition, and the frequent clampdown on the few independent newspapers, Kazakhstan's independent media rating has worsened from 6.50 to 6.75.

Local Democratic Governance. Kazakhstan has maintained a unitary and centralized administration in which the president fully controls the appointment of akims (heads) of oblasts (regions) and raions (districts). These akims, who are nominated by the president and are accountable to him, are rotated continuously to prevent them from building an independent support base. The introduction of long-promised elections of akims in selected regions "on an experimental basis" in August 2005 heralds no improvement. The Central Election Commission, which exerts a top-down control, is vested with total authority to choose the districts and conduct test polls. Despite having created a veneer of local participation, the authority granted to local and regional election commissions is extremely limited, and there is no effective legislation providing for local civic participation or spelling out powers of local councils. Therefore, the rating for local democratic governance remains at 6.25.

Judicial Framework and Independence. Under the country's strong executive system based on presidential patronage, the judiciary--like the legislative branch--has remained loyal to the regime. It has served to protect the interests of the state and its functionaries rather than those of individuals, minorities, and the weaker strata of society. Kazakhstan has taken various steps to raise the professionalism and salaries of its judges. While the level of general public trust in the judiciary seems to have increased somewhat owing to the courts' improved performance in handling civil and criminal cases, the judiciary continues to have a very poor record in handling cases related to civil liberties, media freedom, and human rights. Though Kazakhstan has maintained a moratorium on the death penalty, it has not revoked it. The Parliament has passed a law introducing jury trials, but questions remain about ongoing government influence and the participation of presiding judges in jury hearings. Despite notable improvement in wages and professional training for judges, the failure of the judiciary to issue a single independent verdict protecting individuals against state officials leaves Kazakhstan's rating unchanged at 6.25.

Corruption. Since the use of public office for personal gain is particularly endemic in an oil-rich, patronage-based personalistic regime such as Kazakhstan, it is hard to document the extent of corruption in the absence of independent media and access to credible information. No independent body or inquiry into corruption exists, and top figures within the government enjoy a virtual immunity from such inquiries unless they engage in political or economic activities that challenge the president. Since the "Kazakhgate" trial has repeatedly been put off, corruption charges against Nazarbaev and his close associates remain unsubstantiated. Yet the government has invested some effort in developing civic awareness about corruption. Improved governance and economic conditions may have helped to control corruption at lower and middle levels of bureaucracy, but the virtual absence of an independent judiciary and media mean that it is impossible to bring to light corruption at the top echelons of the ruling elite. Therefore, Kazakhstan's corruption rating remains at 6.50.

Outlook for 2006. Capitalizing on Kazakhstan's rising prosperity and social stability, the Nazarbaev regime appears unassailable after securing another seven-year term. Having procured 91 percent of the vote in the 2005 presidential election, Nazarbaev stated that he will work to improve the conditions of those who did not vote for him and obtain their endorsement in the next election. This is an ominous message that suggests the regime will use its oil-based economic prosperity to foreclose any meaningful political debate. This creates an even more inhospitable legal and political environment for civil society groups, opposition, and ordinary citizens advocating democratization and political reforms.

It is unlikely that Kazakhstan can sufficiently strengthen its credentials to obtain the rotating OSCE chair for 2009 (to be decided in the first half of 2006), though the government will intensify international PR campaigns and seek to win influential friends abroad by extolling its dynamic economic growth. Nazarbaev has already indicated that he will run for the presidency yet again, suggesting that significant amendments to the Constitution may be in the offing to lift the two-term and age limits set for the president.

National Democratic Governance: 

Kazakhstan prides itself in having developed a strong and effective government, a stable society, and the most dynamic economy in the whole of Central Asia. It is the financial and banking hub of the region, with a booming market economy that has sustained annual growth of over 8 percent since 1999, mainly from increased oil exports. It registered an economic growth of 9.3 percent in 2004 (9.1 percent in 2003). Its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of about US$3,620 is the highest, after Russia, of all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Kazakhstan is expected to become one of the top 10 oil exporters by the year 2012 and among the top 5 by 2020. Oil revenues constituted 57 percent of the country's budgetary revenues in 2004-2005.

Kazakhstan has carefully cultivated its image as an "oasis of stability" in the region under the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has held office since 1989 and secured another seven-year term in the December 4, 2005, election by obtaining 91 percent of the vote. Ethnic Kazakhs form 55 percent of the population, though their share continues to rise as the share of Slavs and other Russian-speaking groups, currently about 36 percent, declines. There is no visible tension along ethnic or religious lines, though Kazakhs enjoy numerous informal preferences and fully dominate governmental, administrative, and economic structures.

Western investments amounting to over US$25 billion, mainly in the nation's oil sector, are a testament to Kazakhstan's "stability" and growing partnership with the West. While Nazarbaev's popularity, hinging on Kazakhstan's economic success, social stability, and ethnic peace, is unquestioned, the control of his regime over the media and the use of state and administrative resources to sustain an effective PR campaign both nationally and internationally have significantly boosted the image of his indispensability and the lack of any credible alternative. Nazarbaev has offered a modicum of space for the opposition to operate but has imposed innumerable legal, administrative, organizational, and informal obstacles on it. Continuous disinformation and negative propaganda convey the message that the opposition will simply squander the nation's hard-earned socioeconomic stability and work to enrich itself instead.

The regime-sponsored political discourse hammers the point that democracy can develop only in the backdrop of economic well-being. By calling for the consolidation of the present system to achieve a vision of prosperity, the regime has excluded issues pertaining to democratization, civil liberties, and wealth redistribution. The 91 percent vote obtained by Nazarbaev in December 2005 elections--implausible in an established or aspiring democracy--attests to a further strengthening of the personalistic, patronage-based system under his leadership. This casts doubts on the potential development of democratic institutions under the present political framework and leadership.

Kazakhstan's rich resource base and speedy, nontransparent privatization of key industries in the 1990s have created powerful financial groups, interests, and "clients" of the regime, while also enriching and empowering close kin and associates of the president, who wield control over crucial economic resources and political positions. These financial interests have amassed enormous political power by creating or sponsoring political parties that control the Parliament, while capturing the country's media market and pushing out independent media channels.
The Majilis--the 67-member lower house of the Parliament--is fully controlled by pro-regime parties and independent deputies who are not formally affiliated to any political party but are loyal to the regime. The September 2004 Majilis elections failed to elect a single genuinely independent or opposition figure.

The Senate is composed of 39 deputies, 7 appointed by the president and 32 selected through indirect elections by the 14 oblast or regional assemblies; the capital, Astana;  and the former capital, Almaty. Senators serve six-year terms, with half of the elected senators facing elections every three years. Of the 16 deputies elected in August 2005, 10 seats went to Otan and 1 each to the pro-presidential parties Aul, Asar, and the Civil Party. The remaining 3 went to candidates unaffiliated with any parties but loyal to the regime.

The president appoints the prime minister, his cabinet, and virtually all top political and administrative figures. Daniyal Akhmetov, the current premier, was appointed in June 2003. The government headed by the prime minister bears responsibility for enacting and implementing all policies but has little independent power to formulate policies or initiate legislation. No prime minister since 1998 has held the position for more than three and a half years.

Kazakhstan's military and national security services remain firmly under the control of the president, who nominates the latter's members. The country's economic success has allowed the national security services to begin developing a professional and career civil service. A new Eurasian Civil Service Training Center was established in the capital, Astana, with funding from the European Commission's TACIS program in cooperation with Kazakhstan's Agency for Civil Service Affairs. It will serve as a modern training center in Central Asia, offering courses for civil servants at various levels on key public administration topics.  The government has pledged to rationalize grades to compensate for regional differences, introduce a bonus system, and align public sector wages with those in the private sector. Wages for civil servants were increased by a third in May, albeit with an eye toward the presidential election and motivated by the desire to avoid any replication of the Kyrgyz events of May 2005.

Electoral Process: 

Though Kazakhstan has cultivated several elements of a pluralistic and open political framework, such as a multiparty system, electoral competition, and diversity of privately owned media channels, these channels are composed of groups with entrenched pro-regime interests and do not engender open political participation. Political power is vested in three major pro-regime political parties--Otan (led by Nazarbaev), Asar (led by his eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva), the Civil Party (led by the industrial conglomerate Eurasia Group)--as well as clients and supporters of the regime who may or may not have a particular party affiliation. Numerous other minor parties loyal to the regime (for example, Aul, the Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, the Agrarian Party, Rukhaniyet, and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan) serve to create a Potemkin village-like structure of pluralism.

The major opposition parties, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK) and Ak Zhol, have been in disarray owing to an administrative and legal clampdown on their activities and finances and a negative public image cultivated by the state-controlled media. DCK was banned in January 2005 on charges of inciting "extremism." Kazakhstan's Constitution bans the formation of parties on ethnic, racial, or religious grounds. DCK's attempt to seek registration under a new banner, Alga Kazakhstan! (Forward Kazakhstan!), was blocked because the amended Law on Political Parties prevents a new party from acting as the legal inheritor of a banned organization. Political parties need 50,000 signatures to register with the Ministry of Justice, a tall order in a country where civic apathy is rampant and the government regulates political participation by pushing it through "authorized" (pro-regime) party channels.

The government has skillfully exploited differences and rivalries among opposition leaders and factions by urging them to play a "constructive" role. Ak Zhol has remained a target of government pressure for co-optation since its inception. Its present leaders founded Ak Zhol as a more "moderate" political party by separating from the more critical DCK when its founding leaders--Mukhtar Ablyazov, ex-minister of industries, and Ghalymzhan Zhakiyanov, former akim of Pavlodar--were arrested in 2002 on politically motivated charges of abuse of office. Ablyazov and Zhakiyanov were sentenced to six- and seven-year prison terms, respectively, in 2003. Zhakiyanov became eligible for parole in early December, but with an eye on the presidential elections, the government delayed his release until early January 2006. Contesting the 2004 parliamentary elections as a moderate opposition, Ak Zhol won 12 percent of the vote but only one seat, which it renounced by complaining of widespread electoral fraud. Since then, Ak Zhol has intensified cooperation with the rump DCK and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK).
Ak Zhol split in April 2005 when Alikhan Baimenov, one of its prominent leaders who later became a presidential candidate, advocated a "constructive dialogue" with the regime by rallying support from a majority of its members. He accused the other leaders of the party (Altynbek Sarsenbaev, Bulat Abilov, and Oraz Zhandosov) of violating party rules that bar collaboration with other political parties. The majority of Ak Zhol members remained with the Baimenov group, while the Sarsenbaev-Abilov-Zhandosov group renamed itself Naghyz Ak Zhol (the Real Ak Zhol). Two weeks after the end of the presidential election, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier refusal to register Naghyz Ak Zhol as a political party. Together with DCK, CPK, and other individual opposition members, Naghyz Ak Zhol formed a movement called Za Spravedlivyi Kazakhstan (For a Just Kazakhstan; ZSK), nominating Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, a former co-chairman of Otan and Speaker of the lower house of Parliament, as their common presidential candidate. Tuyakbai had left Otan and the government in October 2004 after criticizing the fraudulent conduct of the 2004 parliamentary election.

In contrast with the 1999 presidential election, the December 2005 election allowed opposition contenders to run. The five officially registered candidates were incumbent president Nazarbaev, Zharmakhan Tuyakbai (opposition bloc ZSK), Alikhan Baimenov (Ak Zhol), Erasyl Abilkasymov (Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan), and Mels Eleusizov (independent head of the environmental movement Tabigat).

There were some notable improvements in the organization and conduct of the 2005 elections, the implementation of existing regulation, and abidance with electoral procedures. The state TV channel Khabar broadcast a live four-round debate in which all presidential candidates except Nazarbaev participated. The efficacy of the debate was marred by the nonparticipation of Nazarbaev, purportedly owing to his prior obligations. Preliminary assessments show that the four leading TV channels devoted 49 to 77 percent of preelection coverage to the president. Tuyakbai came in second with about 12 percent.

Yet the contest for the presidency was highly unequal. As Audrey Glover, head of the long-term election-monitoring mission OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), pointed out, "The Kazakh authorities did not provide a level playing field for a democratic election." The entire administrative and information machinery mobilized in favor of the incumbent, while the two leading opposition candidates encountered enormous obstacles organizing public meetings and getting media coverage.

While Nazarbaev did not officially campaign, saying that his achievements speak for themselves, posters with "Nursultan Nazarbaev-Our Leader!" and portraits of Nazarbaev with the message "For Kazakhstan" were widely displayed, including on public transport, in schools and universities, and on state buildings. Railway and air passengers received tickets in envelopes with the message "Nazarbaev-Our Leader!" in yellow, red, and blue.   Dariga Nazarbaeva spearheaded an energetic campaign supported by all pro-presidential political parties and business interests as well as a number of government-sponsored "independent" groups and agencies. Numerous concerts, forums, and conferences were organized throughout the country praising the president's achievements and directing people toward the "right" choice. Around 80 percent of billboards and advertisements belonged to the president, with local newspapers and national media channels carrying appeals by various public organizations supporting the president.

Nazarbaev won 91.01 percent of the vote. Among the remaining four candidates, Tuyakbai got 6.64 percent, Baimenov 1.65 percent, Abilkasymov 0.38 percent, and Eleusizov 0.32 percent. The preliminary statement by OSCE/ODIHR on December 5, 2005, based on monitoring by its 465 observers, noted that "despite some improvements in the election administration," the presidential election in Kazakhstan "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections." None of the previous elections held by Kazakhstan has been recognized by the OSCE as consistent with international standards. These factors dampen the prospect of Kazakhstan obtaining the rotating OSCE chair for 2009--a status that the Kazakh leadership has been angling for over the past years.
The OSCE preliminary report gave negative assessments in 27 percent of stations monitored, noting violations such as unauthorized persons interfering in polling stations, cases of multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and tampering with result protocols. The supporters of Tuyakbai have filed more than 1,000 lawsuits alleging election violations.

The Kazakh government invited large delegations of election monitors from countries such as Russia and China, who were expected to give a positive assessment of the elections. The CIS election-monitoring group headed by Vladimir Rushailo hailed the elections as "free, open, and legitimate." The Ministry of Foreign Affairs revoked the accreditation of the CIS Election Monitoring Organization, represented by a Russian nongovernmental group separate from the official CIS monitors, when it produced a critical interim report on the elections.

Kazakhstan's Law on Elections remains a major legal impediment to open and fair electoral contest. Kazakhstan has not adopted any of the substantive recommendations made by the OSCE, particularly in its final report on the 2004 parliamentary elections concerning improvements to the Law on Elections and legislative base for elections. Kazakhstan's Constitution, the Law on Elections, the code of administrative violations, and the criminal code contain various provisions on the protection of "the honor and dignity of the president" that significantly curtail public debate on vital political issues and impose limitations on election campaigns.

Amendments to the Law on Elections passed in April 2005 prohibited voters and political parties from organizing any public meetings from the end of the election campaign until the official publication of the results--a period that could take up to 12 days after voting is completed. Such a measure was designed to prevent mass demonstrations such as those that took place following the flawed elections in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005).

In addition to these changes, the new Law on Extremism, amendments to the Law on Mass Media, and new legislation pertaining to national security placed restrictions on all forms of campaigning. Advertising and rallies by the opposition candidates were frequently disrupted. Campaign literature was regularly seized and destroyed, and opposition parties were repeatedly denied permission to hold events in central locations at the times requested. 

Tuyakbai was personally attacked by assailants on at least three occasions during the election campaigns in eastern and south Kazakhstan. Though he avoided injury, his supporters and aide were not so lucky. Law-and-order authorities characterized these attacks as spontaneous and issued light sentences to the suspects. Opposition leaders claim to have submitted video footage that suggests both attacks were planned provocations organized by forces within the government.

Though 75 percent of the registered electorate cast their vote in the presidential election, political apathy is rampant in the country. The government is fixated on "stability" and sees any form of active ethnic discourse, civic engagement, or political mobilization of the citizenry as destabilizing and insidious. While it is true that Nazarbaev has enjoyed the consistent support of the Slavic minority, about a third of the country's population, Slavic participation in the political process has declined rapidly. The Slav share in Parliament is 19 out of 115 deputies (16.52 percent). Moreover, Slavic parliamentary deputies do not represent their ethnic constituencies. Rather, they are plugged into the patronage system controlled by the three major pro-regime parties.

A few weeks before the elections, reports were circulated in state-controlled media and government circles that the opposition was gearing up to organize large-scale protests and civic disturbances in Almaty, alluding that "foreign elements" had a vested interest in financing such uprisings. Central Election Commission chairman Onalsyn Zhumabekov, supposedly a neutral figure, accused the opposition of having prepared reports in advance that claimed spurious breaches of procedure on election day. Such reports, including rumors of imminent unrest, were part of the official strategy to disorient, intimidate, and misinform voters, who were constantly alerted to the subversive specter of revolution and warned that any change would cause destabilization.

Civil Society: 

Kazakhstan's solid economic achievements have strengthened the state's financial and legal mechanisms of control over society and the civil sector. The government provided US$3.4 million to NGOs in 2004. Nazarbaev promised to increase state funding for NGOs to US$7.5 million per annum over the next five years. That figure may not yet match funding by key foreign donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) (public health and electoral reforms in particular), Counterpart Consortium (a range of social issues),  and the Eurasia Foundation and the Soros Foundation (educational and civil rights issues), but it shows that the state and private businesses loyal to it are increasingly competing with foreign donors. In September 2005, Nazarbaev called for cooperation between the state and NGOs in social and infrastructure projects, warning that the government will "closely watch" NGOs. The lack of a proper legal base and judicial framework for NGOs makes an equitable partnership between the government and nonstate sector problematic and leaves the latter vulnerable to co-optation by the state.

Kazakhstan's existing laws require NGOs and other nonprofit organizations to refrain from "political activities." Local courts and law-and-order officials typically determine what constitutes "political activity" in the absence of an acceptable definition. In April 2005, the Parliament passed a number of controversial amendments to the legislation pertaining to NGOs despite widespread objections by the Confederation of Nongovernmental Organizations of Kazakhstan and other domestic and international civil rights groups. Particularly controversial were two laws--officially named "On the Activities of Branches and Representative Offices of International or Foreign Noncommercial Organizations" and "On the Introduction of Amendments and Additions into Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Matters Related to Nonprofit Organizations"--curtailing the activities of local NGOs working on civil and political rights. These measures sought to tighten government regulation of financial interaction between local NGOs and international entities by prohibiting local NGOs from working with political parties or supporting any electoral candidates and requiring all budgets to have the tacit approval of tax authorities as well as city and provincial officials.
Nazarbaev referred the amendments to the Constitutional Court for review in August 2005. Although the Court deemed the amendments unconstitutional  and rejected the bill on technical grounds, it neglected to address the larger issue of ongoing efforts to regulate NGO activities through politically motivated legislation. The scrapping of these laws resembles the abrogation of the proposed Law on Mass Media in 2004. Nazarbaev vetoed the latter, announcing the decision at the annual Eurasian Media Forum organized by his eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva, to score political points at home and abroad. Even without the draconian amendments, existing legislation already contained highly restrictive clauses on the freedom of media. Similarly, the Parliament's passage of amendments pertaining to the laws on NGOs was palpably illegal, and the restrictions were too unreasonable to be legally imposed.

There are about 4,000 registered NGOs in the country, but a vast number are either inactive, existing only on paper, or quasi-governmental, propped up to compete with independent NGOs in obtaining grants. Only about 800 are active, and fewer than 150 are able to make a positive impact. The NGO sustainability index for Eurasia published by USAID in 2004 showed a slight decline in the overall environment for NGOs in Kazakhstan with a score of 4.1 (on a scale of 1 to 10, a higher score representing lower sustainability). It noted that the increase in the number of registered NGOs has led to an overall decrease in their organizational capacity, as a large number of NGOs are quasi-governmental.
Almost half of all NGOs are concentrated in Almaty, though their number in the capital, Astana, and major towns Atyrau, Aktau, and Shymkent is increasing. Of the 300 registered NGOs in Astana, about 80 are functional and only a dozen are functioning in an effective manner. The sparsely populated rural regions in central and northeastern Kazakhstan have little NGO presence. A USAID-funded public opinion poll in October 2004 found that only 31 percent of people are aware of NGOs, and only 2.1 percent are members.

Almost one-third of active NGOs are engaged in social issues, particularly those advocating for the protection, health, and welfare of children, care of the disabled, poverty alleviation, and rural infrastructure development, as well as women's support. The most active groups also receive support and funding from the government. Some well-known children's NGOs, such as Zhan, a child protection organization; Astra, promoting learning among disabled children; Bobek, promoting health and welfare; and Sad, aiding orphans and children from broken families, have cooperated with the government.

Kazakhstan Women's Information Network, consisting of eight prominent NGOs, is campaigning to enhance women's representation in the Parliament, within government, and at local levels. Currently, only 10 out of 115 parliamentary deputies (9 percent) are women. Two women candidates for the presidential election were disqualified for failing the mandatory Kazakh language test. A number of women's organizations, such as Business Women's Association, Zharia (Women's Association on Development and Adaptation), and the Feminist League, have become co-opted within the official framework after developing close partnerships with pro-regime political parties, particularly Asar. In addition, a number of groups dedicated to environmental issues, prominently the Coalition of Environmental NGOs and Network for Anti-Nuclear Campaign, have been able to function effectively.

In the first instance of private corporate financing of NGOs, Zhalgas, an NGO managing part of a USAID civil society initiative, secured a corporate partnership worth US$1 million with Kazkommertsbank, the nation's largest private commercial bank.  The dependence of private businesses on government patronage deters them from openly financing NGOs. Private business is often subject to informal pressure by government officials to fund groups engaged in social issues and community development programs.

Less than 10 percent of NGOs are engaged in civil liberties, human rights, and minority protection issues; these organizations are subject to the most stringent government control and are targets of considerable popular and official prejudice. This ranges from difficulties in registration and acquiring office space and technical facilities, periodic tax and financial audits, and legal and monetary constraints.
Kazakhstan's Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law is among the most active of the NGOs advocating for civil rights and democratization. A Human Rights Watch report states that since March, at least 33 NGOs have been investigated by officials from the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the tax police on allegations that they passed Western aid money to political opposition parties.  Kazakhstan's ombudsman, Bolat Baikadamov, accused the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law of publishing biased information and distorting the situation in Kazakhstan in its reports on human rights developments.

The 2004 parliamentary elections saw thriving civic activism among independent organizations and groups monitoring elections. Civic mobilization events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have led the Kazakh government to tighten its laws and financing regulations pertaining to NGOs and civil rights groups and intensify vigilance over students and youth groups. Several youth organizations, such as the Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan, the Society of Young Professionals of Kazakhstan, and Kahar (Hero), have been subjected to raids and heightened vigilance for suspicion of attempting to enact a "Kyrgyz scenario" on the basis of foreign financing.  These groups were often prevented from sending independent observers to monitor the elections. A large number of government-supported "independent" observers, totaling about 16,000 nominated by various political parties supporting Nazarbaev, completely outnumbered and sidelined independent observers in the 2005 presidential election.

The Permanent National Commission on Democratization and Civil Society, appointed by Nazarbaev in June 2004 and chaired by Bulat Utemuratov (previously secretary of the National Security Committee [KNB]), holds periodic meetings with pro-regime parties and quasi-governmental NGOs, urging opposition parties and independent NGOs to engage in a "constructive cooperation" with the government and other (pro-regime) political parties. It effectively serves as a mechanism for co-opting independent civil society activists and opposition figures and delegitimizing those who refuse. While civil society groups-both domestic and international-condemned the amendments to laws on nonprofit organizations, participants in the National Commission endorsed the proposed legislation.

The Constitution bans the formation of any political party or association on ethnic, racial, or religious grounds. Citing the absence of any overt social conflict, Nazarbaev has taken pride in the prevalent ethnocultural harmony and religious tolerance in Kazakhstan. While groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir are frequently held responsible for distributing religious propaganda materials, there is little evidence of extremist networks--whether on religious, political, or other grounds--operating within Kazakhstan or enjoying visible support. Yet Kazakhstan has passed a spate of legislation to combat "extremism" and enhance "national security" by increasing surveillance and control over outside groups and foreign sponsors as well as innumerable domestic groups.

A controversial Law on Extremism passed in February 2005, and strict antiterror legislation, containing amendments to 11 existing national security laws, was adopted in May 2005 to impose heavy penalties for "extremist and terrorist activities," including "terrorist financing." This legislation introduced restrictions on NGOs, political parties, mass media outlets, and religious organizations, though similar measures in the proposed amendments to the NGO legislation were scrapped. These laws introduce more restrictions on the activities and formal registration of religious organizations and political parties and ban financing of political parties by foreign nationals. NGOs are subject to heavy fines if they partake in any unauthorized public demonstration or if an authorized demonstration turns "disorderly" in the eyes of law-and-order officials.
A ruling by the Astana City Court banned Hizb ut-Tahrir as an extremist organization, noting that despite officially eschewing violence, it aims to establish an Islamic caliphate throughout Central Asia by calling for anticonstitutional actions. Since Hizb ut-Tahrir has no formal organization or legal status, the ban confers more legal power on the government to take action against a person or a group accused of being affiliated with it.
The education system is largely free of political propaganda or control, though social science and humanities curriculums are injected with nationalist propaganda in state-supported schools and colleges. There are several restrictions on the use of textbooks printed abroad, including those printed in Russia. While state funding for education has increased, it remains low as a percentage of GDP. An expensive private network of schools and colleges with instruction in English is growing. Under the government-supported Bolashak (Future) program, about 100 students a year are awarded scholarships to Western universities.

The law provides for the right to freely organize and form unions, but this is restricted in many ways in practice. The Federation of Trade Unions, containing vestiges of formerly state-sponsored trade unions of the Soviet era, remains the largest trade union association. Two other associations, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan and the Trade Union Center of Kazakhstan, are beyond formal state control and represent a significant number of workers.

Independent Media: 

Kazakhstan's many privately owned media channels and newspapers are overwhelmingly tied to companies that are owned by or closely associated with government leaders or business interests loyal to the regime.

Though some degree of social and political criticism from the media is tolerated, any specific criticism targeted at the president, members of his family, and other prominent figures in the government is heavily penalized under the country's multifarious laws. Actions used against the few independent and critical media channels include denying or revoking registrations, exerting pressure on private presses to terminate existing printing contracts, suspending electricity, confiscating print runs, arson, and regular libel suits.

Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press survey has rated Kazakhstan's media "Not Free" since 1993. The decline in the independent media rating since the late 1990s has coincided with the nation's economic upturn. Despite the enormous difference in economic performance and market reforms, Kazakhstan's media ratings are only marginally better than those of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, or Belarus.

Dariga Nazarbaeva--the president's eldest daughter, leader of the Asar party, and a media tycoon--and her husband, Rakhat Aliev, currently the first deputy foreign minister, wield virtually unrivaled control and influence over the entire informational sphere. Having bought a majority share in the privatized but state-controlled news agency Khabar, which owns the TV channel of the same name, the couple has also acquired majority shares in numerous private media outlets. Nazarbaeva, head of Khabar for a number of years and later a member of the board of directors, has now assumed a more prominent political role as a parliamentary deputy and founding leader of Asar.

Article 318 of the criminal code penalizes a person who insults "the honor and dignity of the president"; it was invoked throughout the year, particularly during the election campaigns. The crackdown on newspapers intensified in October and November during the run-up to the election. Newspapers Soz and Zhuma Taims-Data Nedeli, both sympathetic to the opposition, were frequently subjected to closure and print-run confiscations. The entire print run of Zhuma Taims-Data Nedeli was seized when it was determined that the paper was damaging the "honor and dignity of a presidential candidate" (Nazarbaev). Tens of thousands of copies of Svoboda Slova were seized after the paper reported on the business practices of Nazarbaev's youngest daughter, Alia Nazarbaeva.

Meanwhile, in late November, Egemen Kazakstan and Kazakhstanskaya Pravda refused to publish materials by the opposition presidential candidate Tuyakbai in which he described the Nazarbaev regime as one based on personal power, maintaining that such characterizations "violate the honor and dignity of another presidential candidate."

The private printing company Vremya-Print unilaterally terminated its contracts with Svoboda Slova, Epokha, Apta-kz, Pravda Kazakhstana, and Zhuma Taims in September following pressure from authorities.  After editors of these papers protested with hunger strikes, the Dauir printing press, controlled by Nazarbaev's sister-in-law Svetlana Nazarbayeva, agreed to print the newspapers, thereby allowing the authorities to know the contents before the papers appeared on the stands and thus prevent their distribution whenever a critical piece was published.

A number of politically motivated government lawsuits accusing critical media of insulting officials' "honor and dignity" were filed, even in cases where the allegations referred to widely known facts or were backed up with evidence. Altynbek Sarsenbaev, a former minister of information and current co-chairman of the unregistered opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol, was fined 5 million tenge (US$38,000) in damages on defamation charges. He stated in an October 2004 interview with Respublika that Khabar had monopolized the country's media market.

Soz was also asked to pay 5 million tenge (US$38,000) in damages to the KNB after the latter successfully won a libel suit against the newspaper for an article published in September 2004 that alleged the KNB was spying on leaders of the opposition Ak Zhol party. 
The new Law on National Security has imposed further limits on the already restricted domain of media freedom in Kazakhstan. Additional amendments to the Law on Mass Media under this legislation give courts much wider latitude to close down media outlets for "violating Kazakhstan's integrity," condoning "extremism," and "undermining state security." 

A game of hide-and-seek continues between Kazakh authorities and opposition newspapers. The newspaper originally known as Dat, edited by Ermurat Bapi, reappeared under the name SolDat after being banned by authorities; it continued to publish as Zhuma Times-Data Nedeli, retaining the original word Dat in its various incarnations. The newspaper has been effectively banned since December 2005, as all printing presses in the country have refused to print it.

The opposition newspaper Respublika, which has a history of tussles with the authorities and was published previously under the name Assandi Times (closed in 2004 following a lawsuit that resulted in bankruptcy), was closed again in May 2005 by the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Sport. It then published under a new name, Set' Kz, only to have 1,000 copies seized by the authorities. Earlier in April 2005, law-and-order authorities unsuccessfully attempted to extradite from Russia Respublika's editor in chief, Irina Petrusheva, on charges of tax evasion. Petrusheva is a Russian citizen who fled Kazakhstan in 2002 after receiving death threats for her newspaper's critical reporting.

Prominent international organizations such as the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Internews, and Adil Soz Freedom of Speech Defense Fund (the latter two funded in part by USAID) were subject to stricter governmental vigilance during the preelection period. As a result, independent journalists as well as staff from frequently banned opposition newspapers began publishing articles on the Internet, where they face further obstacles.
 
Kazakhstan has intensified control and vigilance over pro-opposition Internet Web sites. The country's leading Internet service providers, Kaztelecom, which is state owned, and Nursat, which is privately owned but regulated by the state, regularly block access to opposition Web sites and introduced technical controls such as limiting bandwidth and blocking access, even via proxy servers. Access to any material critical of Nazarbaev or members of his family is routinely blocked by the these two state-controlled Internet service providers. Furthermore, it is impossible under the current system for an independent company to provide Internet access. Though no recent reliable data are available (CIS Factbook estimated 250,000 Internet users in 2003), the number of Internet users may have reached about 400,000 given the rapid advance in telecommunications technology and rising standard of living in urban areas.

A new regulation introduced in September 2005 on the registration of Internet domain names requires all domains to be registered in Kazakhstan (.kz) and mentions that non-Kazakh domains can be denied registration. KazNIC, a domain-registering company, was ordered by an Almaty court to stop hosting the Navigator Web site at Navi.kz in October. Navigator registered its domain in Russia as Navikz.net but found access to its site blocked within Kazakhstan. It was forced to move its Web site out of the CIS zone when Russia's Federal Security Service visited the Web site at the request of Kazakhstani authorities who urged Russia to stop hosting the site. A court in Almaty banned the domain names Navigator and Navi in both the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets. It now publishes under the name Mizinov.net.
Reporters Without Borders has condemned these governmental controls over Internet access by complaining that "bodies that manage the country code top-level domain names (ccTLDs) are above all technical. They are not qualified to censor the contents of sites."  The OSCE and Human Rights Watch have also criticized the attempts to censor Internet sites.

Kazakh officials have also showed a low tolerance for humor or political satire. They shut down the popular Borat.kz Web site, created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, which featured a satirical Kazakh journalist character called Borat who was styled after the sexist and racist Kazakh journalist Cohen portrays on the U.S. cable channel HBO. Zhuma Taims-Data Nedeli faced criminal charges by the Almaty KNB in February 2005 for insulting the "honor and dignity" of the president in a satirical article about the elections that included the sentence "Our candidate for the presidency would be Notnursultan Notabishevich Notnazarbaev."

The strange death of Zamanbek Nurkadilov, a former associate of Nazarbaev who in 2004 accused the president of misuse of power and hoarding wealth, found very little attention in the state-controlled media. Nurkadilov was found dead on November 12, 2005, with three gunshot wounds. A government inquiry pronounced the death a suicide, whereas his supporters point to evidence suggesting Nurkadilov was killed on orders given by someone in the government. Nurkadilov had informed the pro-opposition press of his intention to make "sensational revelations" pertaining to the Kazakhgate bribery case before the elections. Journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov was killed in an inexplicable road accident in July 2004 soon after a "sensational" interview with Nurkadilov, but transcripts of the interview were never found. The extent of the regime's control over media makes an independent and impartial inquiry in such matters impossible.

Local Democratic Governance: 

Kazakhstan's centralized administrative system allows for very limited autonomy or direct public participation at the regional or local level. Its administrative subdivisions are 14 oblasts, 2 special administrative divisions of the capital, Astana, and the former capital, Almaty, 84 cities, 160 districts (raions), and 2,150 rural settlements (auls).

Cities have local councils (Maslihat), which are elected for five-year terms. But very little decision-making power has devolved to the councils, whose members are elected indirectly via electors, thus limiting local participation. The established procedure of electing electors, a hangover from the Soviet era, is informal and feeds on patronage. Maslihats serve primarily as rubber-stamp bodies to approve acts by local executives, though each oblast Maslihat, and those of Almaty and Astana, nominate two members each to the Senate. OSCE/ODIHR observers criticized the elections in 2003 as containing far greater violations than the 2004 parliamentary election.

Neither the Constitution nor the prevalent legislation provides for elections of oblast, regional, or local administrative heads (akims) or elaborates their powers. According to clause 4 of Article 87 of the Constitution, all akims are part of the unified system of executive power, are appointed by the president and the government of the republic, and may, regardless of the level they occupy, be dismissed from office by the president at his discretion. The akims of townships, villages, and counties report to their superior administrative heads. No mechanism exists for ensuring their accountability to the local population. A high turnover in regional leadership means that the average tenure of an akim is typically less than two years.

Kazakhstan revised laws pertaining to local governance in 1998, 2001, and 2004, but there is still no provision to introduce the direct election of akims or enhance their legal powers. The law "Local State Administration in the Republic of Kazakhstan," adopted in 2001, defines the activities and areas of competence of local Maslihats, akims, and administrative bodies (akimat). Another law, "Elections of Akims of Local Counties, Villages, and Townships," adopted in the same year, provides for introducing gradual elections of akims at the local level, authorizing the Central Election Commission to work out the details in coordination with the akims of the provinces involved. The Central Election Commission, and not the oblast or local election commissions, determines the number of electors of local akims in specific villages, counties, and townships. Together with the Central Election Commission and District Election Commission, the district and local akims play a role in ensuring that election results in their constituencies are favorable to the regime.

A decree in December 2004 stated that a phased process of direct elections for akims at district and village levels will take place from August 2005 until the end of 2007 and that some regions will hold elections on an experimental basis. Elections for akims were held in four districts in August 2005 as an "experiment," which was presented to the public as a "step toward democratization." Four incumbent akims were "elected" in indirect elections in which deputies of the Maslihat served as electors while the real electorate was not involved. In a symbolic and propagandistic act, the Chemolgan district (the native place of Nazarbaev) in Almaty oblast has been the only district to hold a direct election of akims, which occurred in 1999.

Kazakhstan has failed to make any headway in introducing elections or establishing a proper legislative base for the rights of local and regional bodies. Holding direct local elections in the present framework does not denote a democratizing step because the incumbent akims, their superior heads, and members of the Central Election Commission and District Election Commission wield enormous influence in the nomination of candidates. The lack of finances available to local bodies for organizing elections is another serious limitation.

Local bodies have no budgetary powers or authority to levy taxes, as the central government determines taxation rates and budgetary regulations. Despite formal central control, some resource-rich oblasts have been able to enjoy de facto decentralization to a certain extent. Akims in the regions that have attracted the most foreign investment--particularly Aktau, Magistau, Karaganda, East Kazakhstan, and Pavlodar--have tended to exercise greater control over budgetary matters and extracted significant contributions to various "social and welfare projects" from foreign investors. Local budgets are allowed to keep all fines for environmental pollution but have to transfer other revenues to their higher authorities. Oblasts are not allowed to keep their surplus budget and are required to give it to the needier oblasts. Both donor and recipient oblasts have expressed dissatisfaction over this system of deduction from local budgets and subvention from the national budget.
Under the present Law on Elections, political parties, public associations, and higher-level election commissions nominate candidates to serve in seven-member local election commissions, which has enhanced a top-down regulation of local election commissions, further undermining local initiative and participation.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

Kazakhstan's Constitution states that the judiciary is to be independent but provides no mechanisms to safeguard its independence. Under the country's strong executive system based on presidential patronage, the judiciary--like the legislative branch--has remained loyal to the regime. It has served to protect the interests of the state and its functionaries rather than those of individuals, minorities, and the weaker strata of society.

The Constitution spells out an elaborate procedure for appointing judges in which the president proposes nominees for the Supreme Court, who are then approved by the Senate. These nominees are recommended by the Supreme Judicial Council, which is composed of 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 has made a significant effort to raise salaries and the level of professionalism in the judiciary. A Judicial Academy was set up with help from the OSCE/ODIHR to train judges and became fully functional in 2004 with the launch of a magistrate program. All future judges will be required to attend the Judicial Academy. The American Bar Association/Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative has been aiding judicial reforms since 1993 and has now focused attention on providing training in judicial ethics and human rights. More than three-fourths of Kazakhstan's lawyers are state employed, though the percentage of lawyers who are either self-employed or work with foreign companies is growing rapidly. The two main associations of independent lawyers are the Association of Lawyers of Kazakhstan and the Legal Development of Kazakhstan.

Supreme Court judges now receive a higher remuneration package than government ministers. The government has promised further salary improvements for low and high courts and a pension provision to make bribery "not only morally unacceptable but economically disadvantageous as well."

Kairat Mami, chairman of the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan, attempted to illustrate the efficiency and "greater public trust" in the judiciary by pointing out that about 1 million civil suits and complaints were filed with the courts in 2004, almost twice as many as in 2000.  While the judiciary has shown increased professionalism in handling civil and criminal cases, it continues to have a checkered record in cases relating to civil liberties, political freedom, independent media, and human rights issues.

The courts have shown complete complicity in passing sentence on opponents and critics of the government without credible evidence or proper procedures. These instances include the trial in absentia of ex-premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin in 2000, opposition leaders Mukhtar Ablyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhakiyanov in 2003, and journalist Sergei Duvanov in January 2003. The politically fabricated nature of these convictions and the unjust conduct of the trials have been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, and other international organizations. Even the decision to release Zhakiyanov on parole by a local court was executed only after the completion of the presidential election to suit political priorities.

 Kazakhstan has maintained a moratorium on the death penalty since 2004, apparently in a bid to hold the OSCE chair in 2009. Though the judiciary has introduced life imprisonment as an alternative to the death penalty, judges are authorized to pass death sentences until the death penalty is completely abolished. Kazakhstan's justice minister, Zagipa Baliyeva, refused to provide the date when the death penalty will be abolished, stating that it depends on the development of an appropriate opinion in the society. 

As part of Kazakhstan's drive to "humanize its criminal prosecution system," the use of incarceration has decreased and probation and community service are being introduced as alternative forms of punishment. The number of convictions carrying prison terms decreased from 51 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2004. At the same time, the number of acquittals doubled. A new amnesty law will apply to some 5,000 prisoners and reduce the overall number over a two-to-three-year period.

In accordance with the draft state program for reforming the judicial system, approved by the Supreme Judicial Council for 2004-2006, the Majilis voted to approve a bill introducing jury trials. Kazakhstan has adopted the continental, or Franco-German, model (different from the classic, or Anglo-Saxon, model), which provides presiding judges with the opportunity to review cases along with jurors and to join them in the final decision-making process. It is believed that jury trials will help reduce graft and corruption and enhance the independence and impartiality of courts. Whether jury trials can attain this objective remains doubtful, given the low level of public trust in the judiciary and its poor track record of passing independent judgments. Also, there is a built-in potential for continued government influence and pressure on presiding judges, though ostensibly they would participate in the process "to ensure objectivity and fairness of the verdict."

The impact of these measures is reduced by a lack of reforms to the criminal code of 1998, which maintains many of the features of Soviet-era law. Amendments to the Law on Terrorism and Religion in May 2005 and the introduction of a new Law on Extremism in February 2005 heralded an increase in the power of law-and-order authorities without corresponding safeguards for civil liberties.

Corruption: 

Corruption is endemic and at the same time difficult to demonstrate in all patronage-based personalistic regimes in which an independent media, access to credible information, and democratic accountability are absent. Kazakhstan's oil and mineral resources are under the firm control of members of the regime, including friends and associates who hold many of the formal governmental posts. This system has served to "legalize" preferential access to public office and to disguise corruption.

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. While lower- and middle-ranking officials and minor political figures have been penalized on corruption charges, top-level government officials, political actors, and regime associates and supporters remain beyond the reach of inquiry. The major political personalities who have been tried for "corruption and misuse of office" over the past years are ex-regime figures who organized opposition parties. All of them challenged the president over policy issues after having amassed considerable political power and financial influence. This proves that a direct confrontation with the president will invariably lead to accusations of corruption and financial misdealing and heavy penalties.

Though the so-called Kazakhgate corruption case made international headlines, investigations remained stalled throughout 2005. James Giffen, the main accused and a former consultant to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev, was charged in a U.S. federal court with funneling up to US$84 million in illicit payments to Nazarbaev and former prime minister Nurlan Balgimbaev in exchange for lucrative concessions to Western oil companies. Most of the charges against the indicted Giffen fall under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from bribing foreign officials for business advantage.

The Giffen hearings were postponed for a third time owing to the late presentation of materials in U.S. federal court in New York, and a new trial date was set for January 2006.  The repeated delays have shifted international and domestic attention away from the case. The U.S. anticorruption practices law penalizes those who pay bribes but not the recipients, which all but rules out that charges will be brought against Nazarbaev or Balgimbaev. Meanwhile, Nazarbaev's latest electoral victory and sustained PR campaign to boost his image in the international media have given him an aura of legitimacy.

Kazakhstan's enormous oil and mineral resource base and lack of democratic oversight have created a fertile environment for the nontransparent accumulation of wealth by top elites. Kazakhstan established the National Oil Fund in 2001 to protect the economy from volatility in oil prices and to aid the transparent management of oil revenues. While its revenues have grown to US$5.2 billion thanks to high oil prices and growing exports, vital issues of transparency, management, and redistribution of oil fund revenues have not been addressed. The Parliament has no authority to conduct an audit of oil funds or to determine how and under what conditions the funds are to be used.

Kazakhstan joined Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in October 2005. The EITI was introduced by British prime minister Tony Blair in September 2002 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit to increase transparency of payments by companies to governments and government-linked entities, as well as transparency of revenues to those host country governments. One of the memorandum's provisions requires the establishment of a National Council including interested parties such as Majilis deputies, representatives of oil and gas companies, the Ministry of Finance, and nongovernmental organizations. There are doubts about the participation of independent NGOs in this initiative. Another provision requires a mandatory disclosure of oil revenues received by the treasury from each of the 51 legal entities operating in the oil and gas industries (and any new ones that may be formed). No progress has been made on this issue thus far.

The government has continued to issue small- and medium-scale measures to combat corruption at all levels of governance and administration. A new anticorruption decree issued in April 2005 restructures disciplinary councils in all provinces, instructing them to become more public oriented, promote greater transparency, and reduce government interference in business activities. The Ministry of Interior Affairs, financial police, KNB, and Disciplinary State Service Commission are responsible for combating corruption.

Some positive efforts have been made to enhance awareness about corruption at the grassroots level. Transparency Kazakhstan, the local branch of Transparency International, together with the Interlegal Foundation for Political and Legal Research published a textbook titled Basics of Preventing Corruption. This publication was part of the project Combating Corruption Through Civic Education, conducted in partnership with members of Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council and Supreme Court. Though such actions denote the government's efforts to scale down corruption, it is very difficult to determine the extent of corruption and combat it without investigations by genuinely independent and impartial agencies. The problem is compounded by Kazakhstan's patronage-based judicial system, which is entirely loyal to the executive. The prosecutor-general, appointed by the president and not accountable to the government, handles inquiries into official corruption, in conjunction with the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs.

According to the global Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International, a Berlin-based organization combating corruption worldwide, Kazakhstan showed a slightly improved rating. Its score of 2.6 was the best in Central Asia, better than the 2.2 score of oil-rich Azerbaijan. In comparison, the score for Kyrgyzstan was 2.3, Uzbekistan 2.2, Tajikistan 2.1, Turkmenistan 1.8, and Russia 2.4.  In 2004, Kazakhstan scored 2.2. These improvements are minimal since any score of 5.0 or below (the lower the score, the higher the corruption perception) reflects a serious corruption problem. The index defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain and measures the degree that corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians.