A spark of democracy in Central Asia

After recent protests, voters in Kazakhstan overhaul their constitution with reforms that run counter to the autocracy in neighboring Russia.

Voters cast ballots during a nationwide referendum in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, June 5.

A country that has the longest border with Russia just took a big step to distance itself from its neighbor’s autocratic ways. In a June 5 referendum, voters in Kazakhstan approved changes to more than a third of their constitution. Coming five months after mass protests, the new amendments are aimed at bringing transparency and equality in a virtual one-party state.

One particular change may lead to an explosion of new political parties in the Central Asian nation. Perhaps like Ukraine before it, Kazakhstan could be moving toward a healthy democracy outside Moscow’s orbit of influence.

Until this year, much of the politics in Kazakhstan – the world’s ninth-largest country by area – involved competition among a political elite vying for the nation’s vast resources. That began to change Jan. 2 when thousands of young Kazakhs, angered by a sharp rise in fuel prices, took to the streets to demand more political freedom, greater opportunity in business, and an end to crony corruption. One activist, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, called the protests an assertion of “natural rights” for each individual.

Pushed to speed up his reform efforts, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said last March: “Those who were used to relying on behind-the-scenes schemes are panicking about losing their privileges and their sources of income.”

Many of the constitutional changes, such as greater judicial independence, don’t go far enough for some activists. Nor has the president done enough to hold to account those responsible for the killing of some 200 protesters in January.

Yet the referendum has formalized popular demand for change. One key reform would push more authority to local government, an important check on centralized power. Just before last Sunday’s referendum, President Tokayev said implementing the changes would depend “on the consciousness and creative participation of all citizens, because democracy is the daily painstaking work of each of us.” He has called on the people to embrace “patience, wisdom and endurance.”

Just as Ukraine’s growth in democracy has come in fits and starts – and now a Russian invasion – Kazakhstan has set its own path toward fully representative government. Its neighbors, in both China and Russia, might well be watching.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to A spark of democracy in Central Asia
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today