Country in central Asia, bounded north by Russia, west by the Caspian Sea, east by China, and south by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
Government The 1995 constitution, which was amended in 2007, provides for a strong presidential executive system, with a two-chamber parliament. Supreme executive power is held by the president, who is popularly elected to serve (with effect from 2012) a five-year term, without re-election limits. There is a 107-member lower chamber, the Majlis, and a 47-member upper house, the senate, with 15 senators appointed by the president and two senators selected by each of the 16 elected regional assemblies. Ninety-eight members of the Majlis are elected for a four-year term by proportional representation from party lists and nine are elected by an Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan, a body appointed and headed by the president to reflect the country's different ethnic groups. The president works with a cabinet (council of ministers) whose head is effectively prime minister.
History Ruled by the Mongols from the 13th century, the region came under Russian control in the 19th century. Inhabited by the traditionally nomadic but now largely sedentary Kazakh people, there was a revolt against Tsarist rule in 1916. After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, it enjoyed brief autonomy but in 1920 it came under the Soviet Union (USSR) as an autonomous republic and became a full union republic in 1936. During the early 1930s more than one million people died in Kazakhstan from starvation and repression of local elites associated with the Soviet agricultural collectivization programme. In the early 1940s, under the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, large numbers of Germans were deported from the Volga region to the republic. During the 1950s, northern Kazakhstan was the site of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's ambitious ‘virgin lands’ agricultural extension programme, aimed at turning its pasture lands into a grain-producing region. This was accompanied by harvest failures during the early 1960s and the desiccation of the Aral Sea, but also to a large influx of Russian settlers, turning the Kazakhs into a minority in their own republic. Nuclear-testing sites established in the east of the republic, new industries, and the Baikonur space centre also drew in Slav settlers.
Reform under Nazarbayev There were violent nationalist riots in the then capital, Almaty, in December 1986 when the long-serving Kazakh Communist Party (KCP) leader Dinmukahmed Kunayev was effectively sacked by the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and replaced by an ethnic Russian. In June 1989 Nursultan Nazarbayev, a ‘reform communist’ in favour of nationalism, assumed leadership of the KCP and in February 1990 became the republic's president. He embarked on a pragmatic programme of cultural and market-centred economic reform, involving the privatization of the services and housing sectors. During the spring of 1991 President Nazarbayev pressed for the signing of a new USSR Union Treaty and opposed the August 1991 conservative communist coup attempt against Gorbachev in Moscow, describing it as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’. Soon after the coup was thwarted, the KCP was abolished. However, Nazarbayev played a key role in ensuring that the ‘uncontrolled disintegration’ of the USSR was averted and that non-Slav republics joined the new Commonwealth of Independent States, formed in December 1991 at Almaty.
Independence recognized Kazakhstan's independence was recognized by the USA in December 1991; in March 1992 it joined the United Nations (UN). Kazakhstan inherited substantial nuclear weapons from the USSR and the Nazarbayev administration agreed to gradually remove these, commencing in 1992 with tactical weapons. The republic ratified START I and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in December 1993. The republic achieved nuclear-free status in 1995.
Kazakhstan has gradually developed a market economy, with mass privatizations from 1993 and joint-venture agreements have been signed with foreign companies to develop the nation's immense gas, oil, and uranium reserves. In 1994 it entered into an economic, social, and military union with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, providing for free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour between the states.
Increasing authoritarianism Nazarbayev was popularly elected president in December 1991 and a new constitution, adopted in 1993, increased his authority, as well as making Kazakh the state language. Nazarbayev initially sought to rule in a consensual manner and to promote market-centred economic reforms, while limiting the pace of political change. However, there were signs of creeping authoritarianism by the mid-1990s, with the president ruling by decree and seeking to avoid a direct election in 1996. The decline in GDP and spiralling inflation that accompanied the economic-restructuring programme led to popular unrest, and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians and Germans emigrated. An economic and military pact was signed with Russia in 1995, but parliament rejected moves to give the Russian language equal status with Kazakh and to privatize land. Nazarbayev responded by dissolving parliament, with new elections in December 1995 being won by his supporters, and a national referendum re-ratified his popular mandate to 2000. The new constitution, approved by referendum in August 1995, was criticized for reducing democratic freedoms, by banning the formation of trade unions in state institutions and replacing the republic's constitutional court with a constitutional council, whose decisions would be subject to presidential veto.
Exploitation of oil reserves In September 1997, Kazakhstan signed oil agreements worth $9.5 billion with China. The deal included the construction of a 3,000-km/1,860-mi pipeline to the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Since 2000, the country has enjoyed significant economic growth, boosted by its energy resources and per capita GDP increased substantially, turning Kazakhstan into a middle-income country. Western oil companies continue to compete for exploration rights, and experts believe that southwest Kazakhstan, around the Caspian Sea, might contain as much as 200 billion barrels of oil – twice the proven reserves of Kuwait.
New capital In November 1997 Akmola, in the north, was officially declared the country's new capital city; its name was changed to Astana (which means capital in Kazakh) in 1998.
Summit meeting An agreement to form a Central Asian single economic market by 1998 was signed with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in August 1996. In July 2000 the presidents of Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and pledged cooperation in fighting terrorism, religious extremism, and drug trafficking.
Controversial 1999 presidential elections In November 1998 the former prime minister, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who set up the Republican People's Party (RPP), and the Green Party leader, Mels Eleusizov, were barred from standing in the January 1999 presidential elections after being found guilty of recently attending an illegal political meeting. Kazhegeldin was also accused of corruption, forced into exile and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in absentia. Nazarbayev won the election by a landslide margin, helped by massive media support.
From 2000, there was an increase in Islamic militancy to which Nazarbayev responded with strengthened security measures and increased regional cooperation. In June 2001, Kazakhstan joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (with China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan).
In November 2001, members of the Democratic Choice grouping were removed from the government after it called for a reduction in presidential powers, and leading members were imprisoned. Allegations emerged in 2002 that the president was diverting state funds into his personal account. And in June 2003, Imangali Tasmagambetov, resigned as prime minister in protest against land reforms that allowed private ownership for the first time.
Halting moves towards democratization The president's Otan Party won a majority in the 2004 national assembly elections and Nazarbayev was re-elected in the December 2005 presidential elections, with 91% of the vote, finishing ahead of four other candidates.
During 2006 there were indications of a move towards greater democracy, with a state commission set up to oversee a strengthening of the judiciary and widening of the legislature's powers. However, parliament voted in May 2007 to remove presidential term limits and the president's Nur Otan (Light of the Fatherland) party made a clean sweep of seats in the August 2007 national assembly elections.
The global credit crisis in 2008 brought a temporary halt to a decade of rapid growth, during which Kazakhstan's economy had expanded by 10% a year, driven by oil exports. The government responded by pumping in funds to support the banking sector and the country became a major exporter of uranium from 2010. In 2010 the legislature gave Nazarbayev the lifelong title of ‘leader of the nation’. In April 2011, the 71-year-old Nazarbayev was re-elected president, with 95% of the vote.
The government declared a state of emergency In December 2011 after 16 people were killed in police clashes with striking workers in the western oil town of Zhanaozen. Vladimir Kozlov, an opposition leader, was accused of inciting this violence and was jailed for seven years in October 2012 for ‘attempting to overthrow the government’.
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