Interview with Zsanibek Abdrasov, Kazakh ambassador to Hungary, about the presidential elections
Kazakhstan has reached an important milestone in its democratic development. Although elections have been held regularly since independence in 1991, the presidential election on November 20 is considered one of the most significant for the future of democratic politics in Kazakhstan.
It was the most turbulent year in our recent history. First of all, our country was rocked by tragic events in January, when an armed coup attempt took place in Kazakhstan. A little more than a month later, the conflict in Ukraine broke out, which indirectly affected the economy of our country. However, despite these difficulties, our people began to write a new chapter in their political development. In March, Kazakh President Kashim-Zomart Tokayev proposed constitutional reforms aimed at changing the country's entire state model and form of government by limiting the power of the president, strengthening the role of parliament, increasing citizens' participation in political processes, and further strengthening the protection of human rights.
In the June referendum, 77 percent of our citizens voted in favor of the constitutional amendments. This was Fair Kazakhstan’s demonstration of what Fair Kazakhstan is all about - our strong commitment to democratic principles and increasing the role of citizens in public decision-making. Our country has become one of the leading countries in economic, social and political reforms in the post-Soviet region, thanks to the conscious aspiration of our people towards democratic development.
The implementation of concrete reforms allowed us to stand firmly on our feet and look forward to a bright future. Our economic initiatives have focused on diversification, demonopolization and ensuring equitable distribution of national income. Importantly, President Tokayev's proposal reduced the presidential mandate from two five-year terms to one seven-year period, without the possibility of re-election. This initiative would eliminate the risk of monopolization of power and strengthen the principles of democracy.
Given these major constitutional changes and reforms, President Tokayev decided in September to seek democratic confirmation of his mandate for fundamental changes in Kazakhstan for the next seven years. Our country is changing at a rapid pace, and it is important that our citizens express their opinion on the future direction of the country's development. The elections are an opportunity to reflect after Tokayev's three-year presidency and to find out whether people agree with the vision of a Just Kazakhstan.
This election will be the most varied in the history of our country. Six candidates with different political views are running, including representatives of the opposition, so voters have a wide choice. In addition, it is the first time in our history that two women are running for president. This is another important step in Kazakhstan's ongoing democratic development. Over the years, Kazakhstan has taken concrete steps towards gender equality and increasing the role of women in business and politics. We now see the fruits of these efforts.
In Kazakhstan, the nomination process for presidential candidates is open and fair. For example, each candidate must obtain the signatures of 1 percent of Kazakhstan's registered voters — about 118,000 people. The six candidates, who represented different policies and ideas about the country, enjoyed the support of many citizens. This is another proof of the functioning of democracy.
Of course, it is essential to ensure that elections are free and fair. It is no secret that our region is still developing the democratic mechanisms necessary to ensure fully open elections. However, I believe that Kazakhstan is proving itself to be above and beyond the general expectations. President Tokayev promised that the elections will be fair, open and will take place with the wide participation of domestic and international observers. Previous elections were observed by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and several other international organizations. Kazakhstan has always welcomed observers and their constructive feedback, and we look forward to seeing them in the upcoming elections.
Given the significant global geopolitical challenges, the upcoming vote is important not only for Kazakhstan, but also for the international community. As a country located between Asia and Europe, we play a key role in facilitating trade between the two regions. Given our diplomatic relations with all parties, we are also ready to contribute in any way to the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine. Economically, our government is also actively improving Kazakhstan's investment environment, which makes the region the best investment location. I have no doubt that our government will continue on this path even after the inauguration of the new president.
Today, bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Hungary are developing in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust. There are no unresolved problems or disagreements between the two countries, and political dialogue and interaction are taking place within the framework of various international organizations.
Hungary is one of Kazakhstan's most important allies in Central and Eastern Europe. The declaration on strategic partnership was signed in 2014, and the Kazakh-Hungarian Strategic Council was established in 2015. Five meetings have been held so far. As you know, the permanent co-chairman of the Strategic Council on the Hungarian side is Finance Minister Mihály Varga.
Kazakhstan and Hungary strive to develop and deepen trade, economic and investment relations. Priority is given to cooperation in the fields of agriculture, energy, transport and logistics, information technology, tourism and healthcare. An important mechanism of bilateral cooperation is the Kazakh-Hungarian joint intergovernmental committee, whose eighth meeting will be held on December 8-9, 2023 in Budapest. The Kazakh-Hungarian Business Council and a joint Direct Investment Fund were also established.
In the last ten years, the gross inflow of direct investments from Hungary to Kazakhstan amounted to more than 236 million dollars. About 30 legal entities, branches and representative offices operate in Kazakhstan with Hungarian participation.
The prospects for the development of cultural and humanitarian relations grow every year. This is facilitated by the historical closeness of the two peoples and their desire to revive their national culture and traditions. The descendants of the Kun tribes who migrated from the Kazakh steppes to Hungary in the 13th century are the historical basis and a strong link between the rich cultural heritage of the Kazakh and Hungarian people. Due to this, the role of the Hungarian Gallery is invaluable in the development of cultural relations between the two countries.
Over the past 30 years, the Kazakh people have created a stable, prosperous, and inclusive society. Exercising our democratic right through the referendum helps to consolidate what we have achieved. After the election of the new president, we will further develop the close relations between Kazakhstan and Hungary. Given the solid foundations we have built, I have every reason to be optimistic about the future of relations between our countries.