Library of Congress – Federal Research Division
Country Profile: Kazakhstan, December 2006
same status as provinces. The 1997 reform divided the country into 160 districts and 10 municipal districts.
Provincial and Local Government: The governors of the provinces and districts, called akims, are appointed by the president. In 2006 a reform measure established direct elections for local governors, who previously were appointed by the akims. At city, district, and province level, the legislative body is the council (maslikhat), which is directly elected but has only budgetary and tax-raising power. The province maslikhats also elect the members of the national Senate from their provinces.
Judicial and Legal System: The system, whose independence is compromised by heavy control by the executive branch, functions at three levels: district, provincial, and federal. Judges at all levels are appointed by the president. Supreme Court and province-level appointments are made through the Supreme Judicial Council, which in turn is composed of ex officio presidential appointees. District-level judges are appointed from lists provided by the Ministry of Justice. Most criminal cases are heard at the district level; provincial courts try cases involving a possible death penalty and serve as appeals courts for decisions at the district level. Provincial court decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court at the federal level. In 2002 legislation, the prosecutor general, who is the chief legal representative of the state, received new quasi-judicial powers that eroded the already small independence of the judiciary. Although judges are well- paid at all levels, bribery is common. Trial by jury, for which the constitution provides, was to be introduced for the first time in 2007, for capital cases only. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to counsel; however, in 2005 only half of criminal trials involved defense lawyers. Higher-court reversals of verdicts because of improper procedure have been common.
Electoral System: The national election law provides for universal suffrage for citizens aged 18 or older. National elections are overseen by the Central Election Commission, whose members are appointed by the president with the approval of the Majlis. The commission has summarily removed opposition candidates from ballots as recently as the 2002 Senate elections. Opposition candidates also have been bribed and intimidated, and in 2004 a court rejected the qualifications of one electoral bloc. International monitors found major procedural flaws in the Senate elections of 2002 and the Majlis elections of 2004. International observers declared the presidential election of December 2005, which Nazarbayev won easily, to be an improvement over earlier elections but still below democratic standards. The next Majlis elections are scheduled for September 2009.
Political Parties: Parties have not played an important role in Kazakhstan’s political structure, and the Nazarbayev government has worked to prevent the development of an adversarial system. The constitution prohibits political parties based on religion. The election law of 2002 substantially reduced the number of parties by setting new financial and membership requirements on registration, which is under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. In the 2003 local elections, candidates from the presidential party, Otan (Fatherland), ran unopposed in more than 50 percent of races. Aside from Otan, 10 parties—one of which is chaired by the president’s daughter—were registered for the Majlis elections of 2004. Three of the parties called themselves opposition parties, although all were considered moderate. All of the other seven had strong government ties. Otan won a decisive majority in the 2004 elections, whose procedures