The history of Kazakhstan’s parliamentarianism begins in March 1990, when the election to the Supreme Soviet of the Kazakh SSR of the 12th convocation was held. This was the first democratic election to the country’s highest legislative body when the Soviet administrative-planning system was still strong. Over 2,000 candidates contested 360 seats in parliament. The peculiarity of this election was that 90 people were elected from republican public organisations. Even though this election was held in the absence of fully-fledged political parties, it made the transformation of the totalitarian system irreversible.
From 1990 the political system changed significantly in Kazakhstan. Public and political movements exerted pressure on political institutions, mainly on the power structures of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, blaming it for the economic crisis and failures in economic reforms. Moreover, discord emerged among the Communists and calls were made for reforming the party. New parties and movements then emerged — Azat, Zheltoksan, Alash, Unity, the Social Democratic Party and others.
The changing political situation set its demands — after the declaration of independence the country badly needed to develop the new legal basics of its statehood. That is why the first laws to be drafted were the Laws On the Establishment of the Post of President, On the Election of President of the Republic, the Declaration on State Sovereignty; the new name of the state was adopted and the citizenship of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established; new state symbols: the national emblem, the national flag and the national anthem were adopted; the legislative basis for the formation of the armed forces and the law-enforcement agencies of the state was created.
Taking the new conditions into account, the new constitution was drafted and adopted by the ninth session of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Kazakhstan of the 12th convocation on 28 January 1993. This became the beginning of a switch to a qualitatively new stage of ensuring national independence and real guarantees of civil rights and liberties and the practical implementation of the promising ideas of building a democratic society and lawful state.
However, the new possibilities opened up and the growing economic crisis diverted the people’s attention from politics. The further implementation of reforms and the deteriorating socioeconomic situation showed the inefficiency of central bodies of power, above all, in the legislative branch represented by the obsolete Soviets, which failed to react quickly to the rapidly changing events and adopt appropriate measures.
The results of the work of certain bodies of the Supreme Soviet of the 12th convocation that were functioning on the permanent basis also confirmed the idea of creating a professional parliament, which would work in one pattern with the government. It was in these conditions that the country’s leaders chose to create an orderly state structure based on the principle of a division of branches of power functioning on a permanent basis with a clear distribution of rights, duties and responsibilities between all of its players. This resulted in the adoption of the Law On the Voluntary Dissolution of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Kazakhstan on 10 December 1993. The next election to the Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation was held on 7 March 1994, and it helped the development of a multiparty system in Kazakhstan. A total of 73.84% of voters took part in the election, and out of 910 candidates 692 met the registration requirements and contested 135 parliamentary seats in single-seat constituencies, with an average of five candidates standing in each constituency.
The Union of People’s Unity of Kazakhstan, the People’s Congress Party, the Socialist Party and the Federation of Trade Unions set up their party factions and a further 14 groups of deputies were set up based on their members’ occupations. Parliamentary opposition very quickly emerged in the Supreme Soviet of the 13th convocation and it was led by the Progress group of deputies, which proposed a package of reforms titled the New Economic Policy.
For the first time in Kazakhstan’s history political parties and movements gained access to the real levers of power and the possibility of influencing government policies. The new Supreme Soviet, elected in March 1994, was more professional and started its work by hearing many urgent laws. However, the imperfection of the Code On Elections, the continuing debate about many provisions of the constitution, the sluggishness of the Supreme Soviet in adopting necessary market laws created a deadlock in the political and economic sphere. It was precisely this reason that Kazakhstan’s national currency, the tenge, collapsed at the beginning of 1994. The events that took place in March 1995 had considerable influence on the political situation in the country.On 6 March 1995 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan issued a ruling on a lawsuit brought by the former parliamentary candidate, Tatyana Kvyatkovskaya, who cast doubts on the constitutionality of certain actions in the organising and holding of the election to the Supreme Soviet. By this ruling the Constitutional Court found the March 1994 parliamentary election and the powers of deputies illegitimate.
As a result, in line with the Constitutional Court’s ruling, the Supreme Soviet ceased to exist. The ruling stated: «not only did the methodology of the vote count, adopted by the Central Election Commission, lead to widespread violations of the constitutional principle of ‘one voter — one vote’, but it also distorted the election results, and, in essence, changed the election system established by the Code On Elections. By this the Central Election Commission violated Article 60 of the constitution, exceeding its powers.» Thus, the second composition of the Supreme Soviet was found illegitimate and the unconstitutionality of parliament’s powers meant the unconstitutionality of the government’s powers. As a consequence, as well as the members of the Supreme Soviet, government members had to resign. The parliamentary crisis grew into a constitutional one.
In this situation the entire responsibility for the future development of Kazakhstan fell onto President Nursultan Nazarbayev. In that period his work was more intense than it had ever been. In the absence of parliament the head of state signed 511 decrees, including 132 that had the force of law, to revive the economy through the creation of a new and sufficient legislative basis. He went on to issue laws that were vital to continue the reforms — the Laws On Land, On Oil, On the National Bank, On the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Status of Its Deputies, On Excises, On Bankruptcy and so on .
Two years later in December 1995 the first bicameral Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established: the election of members of the Senate, parliament’s upper chamber, was held on 5 December, and the election of members of the Mazhilis, the lower chamber, was held on 9 December. In accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, adopted by a referendum on 30 August 1995, the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan is the supreme legislative body of the country.
The Law On Elections in the Republic of Kazakhstan set different procedures for the election of members of the Senate and members of the Mazhilis. Senators were elected by regional legislatures (two senators from each region) with a two-year cycle of election of half of the senators, while members of the Mazhilis were elected in a direct election in single-seat constituencies for four years. According to the Law On the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Status of Its Deputies, 15 deputies of the Senate are appointed by the country’s president with account of the need to ensure the representation of national cultural and other significant interests of society in the Senate and nine deputies of the Mazhilis are elected by the Assembly of Kazakhstan’s People.
According to the architects of the constitutional reform, the Senate was appointed to represent the interests of regions and limit excessive radicalism by the Mazhilis, while regions received the opportunity of comprehensive discussion and weighted decision of their main problems through the senators. This has, to some extent, integrated the lawmaking initiatives of each region of the country. In addition, the election of half of the senators every two years makes the parliamentary system very flexible, because the relatively frequent election changes the social composition of the upper chamber in line with social and political changes in Kazakh society. At the same time, the other half of senators ensures the continuity and efficiency of the upper chamber. The term for senators is six years, while the term for members of the Mazhilis is five years. Members of parliament take an oath before the people of Kazakhstan.