After early parliamentary election in March, 2016, the party system of Kazakhstan began to develop under new conditions. Last election for Majilis allowed:
- to form multiparty parliament officially;
- to withdraw radical opposition from the format of legitimized public policy;
- to reform and rejuvenate the deputy corps of Majilis.
At the same time, the election did not resolve several key issues of public policy:
- parliamentary representation does not have all intraelite groups and this reduces the significance of public policy sector in general;
- pro-government party-outsiders continue to exist in a vague format;
- criticism of international organizations regarding the compliance of electoral process to democratic standards is not withdrawn.
Apart from that, election revealed a number of emerging issues:
- status and set of possibilities of parliamentary opposition parties are not identified;
- segment of non-parliamentary constructive (moderate) opposition has completely disappeared.
Capacity of existing parties is very limited. Only the party of power, “Nur Otan” has maintained proper activism and influence and its functioning is explicitly regulated by president’s policy. Other parties could not achieve the level of general civil political structures. General public considers them primarily as lobby groups. The level of trust in parties, the level of support to party programs, recognition ratio of party leaders are remaining significantly low.
In ideological terms, all parties differ in their eclecticism, while second level parties- in their social-populism. Eclecticism of ideological orientations of political parties and their social-populism are conditioned by the political immaturity of Kazakhstani voters. Up to now citizens’ ideological preferences remain uncertain.
Thus, party system of Kazakhstan is still in the process of making. Political parties are not yet independent subjects of political processes, they merely reflect the interests of the influence groups who are behind them. Party leaders find it impolitic to work with voters constantly under such conditions and limit themselves to the application of various political-strategic techniques during election campaigns.
Overall, political parties of Kazakhstan perform functions of aggregating and articulating interests of voters, but they are not able ensure “feedback” between government institutions and public. Decisions-making process of parties continue to be secretive and closed, as well as, they are linked to ensuring the interests of owners and sponsors of the party, not of target group of electorate. Under such conditions, party-political processes oftentimes turn into backstage political bidding of owners of parties with central and regional powers.
Main threats and risks in the perspective of party building
There are a range of issues to be resolved by political system of Kazakhstan, which are connected with the effectiveness of government and public institutions, competitiveness of the country and the quality of its political management:
- underdevelopment of civil society institutions, erosion of party-political and information space – and as a consequence, the rise of political apathy of citizens, accumulation of “discontent”, and joining to destructive organizations and structures;
- the problems related to the quality of administrative management, and of judiciary and law enforcement systems;
- inconclusiveness of main institutional reforms;
- foreign policy threats related to fundamental changes of geopolitical situation in the world, which are growing because of foreign information and political pressure.
Degeneration of party institute, replacement of party competitiveness with confrontation of public “elite” of contesting influence groups as main threat have the potential to escalate uncontrollable social tension. The public needs new channels for “disposition of protests”, but, these channels should lead to disappearance of control on internal and party ground.
The development of party space can offer partial solutions for the given problems:
- to restore the channels of connection with public, to bridge the gap between population and government apparatus;
- to ensure the competitiveness of political process;
- to critically evaluate country development plans and programs;
- to bring additional identity into Kazakhstan’s interaction processes with the outside world.
It must be noted that not all priorities mentioned above can be achieved in the framework of current party configuration, and especially, if to take into account, the affiliation of parties with various influence groups. This fact necessitates the government to move to active policy in the process of party building.