Structure of Government
The postindependence government was structured by the 1993 constitution
with a strong executive branch, a parliament, and a judicial branch.
In practice, the administration of Nursultan Nazarbayev dominated
governance sufficiently to impel the writing of a new constitution
providing justification for the one-man rule that developed in
the early 1990s.
The constitution formalizes the increased power that President
Nazarbayev assumed upon the invalidation of parliament in early
1995. It continues the previous constitutional definition of Kazakstan
as a unitary state with a presidential form of government. The
president is the highest state officer, responsible for naming
the government--subject to parliamentary approval--and all other
republic officials. The 1995 constitution expands the president's
power in introducing and vetoing legislation. The government that
the president appoints consists of the Council of Ministers, headed
by a prime minister, and several state committees. In early 1996,
after Nazarbayev had reshuffled the government in October 1995,
the Council of Ministers included the heads of twenty-one ministries
and nine state committees; the prime minister was Akezhan Kazhegeldin.
In the October 1995 shift, Nazarbayev himself assumed the portfolio
of the Ministry of National Security.
The new constitution does not provide for the position of vice
president, although it permitted the incumbent vice president,
Yerik Asanbayev, to remain in office until 1996. The president
has the power to declare states of emergency during which the
constitution can be suspended. The president is the sponsor of
legislation and the guarantor of the constitution and of the proper
functioning of government, with the power to override the decisions
and actions of local authorities and councils. The only grounds
on which a president can be removed are infirmity and treason,
either of which must be confirmed by a majority of the joint upper
and lower houses of the new parliament. In the event of such a
removal from power, the prime minister would become the temporary
The 1993 constitution created a unicameral parliament, which
was to replace the 350-seat Supreme Soviet when the mandates of
that body's deputies expired in 1995. Composed overwhelmingly
of career communists, the 1990 parliament had been a balky and
turgid partner for the task of economic and political reform.
Although he probably lacked the legal authority to do so, Nazarbayev
pressured this parliament into a "voluntary" early dissolution
in December 1993 in order to allow the seating of a smaller and
presumably more pliant "professional parliament." Under the 1995
constitution, the parliament consists of two houses, the Senate
and the Majlis, both operating in continuous session. Each of
Kazakstan's nineteen provinces and the city of Almaty, which has
province status, have two senators. These are chosen for four-year
terms by joint sessions of the provinces' legislative bodies.
An additional seven senators are appointed directly by the president.
In addition, ex-presidents automatically receive the status of
senators-for-life. The Majlis has sixty-seven representatives,
including one from each of fifty-five districts drawn to have
roughly equal populations, and the Senate has forty seats. Direct
elections for half the seats are held every two years. In the
first election under the new parliamentary structure, all seats
in both houses of parliament were contested in December 1995;
runoff elections filled twenty-three seats in the Majlis for which
the initial vote was inconclusive. International observers reported
procedural violations in the Majlis voting. The new parliament,
which was seated in January 1996, included sixty-eight Kazak and
thirty-one Russian deputies; only ten deputies were women.
The initiative for most legislative actions originates with
the president. If parliament passes a law that the president vetoes,
a two-thirds vote of both houses is required to override the veto.
A similar margin is needed to express no confidence in a prime
minister, an action that requires the president to name a new
prime minister and Council of Ministers.
The judicial system is the least developed of Kazakstan's three
branches of government. Although Minister of Justice Nagashibay
Shaykenov objected strenuously, the constitution retains the practice
of presidential appointment of all judges in the republic. The
1993 constitution specified terms of service for judges, but the
1995 document makes no mention of length of service, suggesting
that judges will serve at the president's pleasure.
Under the 1993 constitution, lines of judicial authority were
poorly defined, in part because the republic had three "highest
courts"--the Supreme Court, the State Arbitrage Court, and the
Constitutional Court--which among them employed a total of sixty-six
senior judges. Many of these senior judges, as well as numerous
judges in lower courts, had been retained from the Soviet era,
when the judicial branch was entirely under the control of the
central government. The 1995 constitution makes no provision for
the State Abritrage Court, which had heard economic disputes among
enterprises and between enterprises and government agencies. Provisions
for the new judiciary clearly subordinate all other courts to
the Supreme Court, which also has a consultative role in appointing
Kazakstan is divided into nineteen provinces, and the city of
Almaty has administrative status equal to that of a province.
In turn, the provinces are divided into regions that consist of
a number of settlement points. Each province and region and most
settlements have their own elective councils, charged with drawing
up a budget and supervising local taxation. Cities have their
own local councils as well, and large cities are divided into
regions, each of which has its own council.
The local legislatures lack the authority to choose the local
executive, who is appointed directly by the president. The local
executive has the job of ensuring that decisions of the national
government are enforced and that the constitution is observed.
Province and regional "heads of administration," known by the
Russian term glav or the Kazak term hakim ,
are presidential appointees. The hakim , in turn, appoints
the members of his staff, who are the department heads of the
jurisdiction. The hakim also can reverse budgetary decisions
of the local councils.
There has been considerable pressure, especially in the predominantly
Russian north, to make the hakim posts elective rather
than appointive. In 1994 Nazarbayev indicated that he would consider
doing so, but the 1995 constitution provides only that the local
councils can express no confidence in their hakim by
a two-thirds vote. The president also has the power to override
or revoke decisions taken by local councils; a hakim
has the power to control budgetary decisions taken by the local
Data as of March 1996