Kazakhstan was a republic of the USSR for more than half a century and was one of the last to declare independence on 16 December 1991. Subsequently it joined the Commonwealth of Independent States with the first post-Soviet constitution adopted early in 1993.
On 25th March 1990 there was a general election for the Kazakhstani Parliament which the Communist Party of Kazakhstan won, taking 342 of the 360 seats.
The former First Party Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev was elected on 1 December 1991 with 98.8% of the vote and has remained the president to the present day.
Since 1991 there have been a series of constitutional changes which have allowed the president to remain in power. In 1995 the presidential term was extended by referendum to 2000 although there was an election in 1999 which President Nazarbayev won with 81% of the vote.
Following the introduction of a new constitution in 1993 a general election was called for 7th March 1994. The president’s party, the Union of People’s Unity of Kazakhstan took the largest number of seats, 33, although there were 64 independents elected. The new parliament had 177 seats.
However, in March 1994 the Constitutional Court declared the election invalid and the legislature illegal. A new constitution was introduced which allowed for a bicameral parliament and fresh elections were held on 9th December 1995. In the intervening period the president had ruled by decree.
In the 1995 election the president’s Party of People’s Unity of Kazakhstan took 25 seats in the 67 seat Mazhilis or lower chamber.
In 1999 a new party, Fatherland (Nur Otan) was formed by supporters of the president which was a merger of a number of parties. In the October election of the same year Fatherland won 23 of the 77 seats, with the Civic Party of Kazakhstan taking 13 seats. There were 23 independents in the new parliament.
In 2004 Fatherland increased its hold on parliament, taking 42 of the 77 seats and in the August 2007 election Fatherland took all of the 98 elected seats in the new parliament (there are nine members elected by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan).
In 2006 Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation established the Eurasian Development Bank which is based in Almaty. The bank has six member states and is now incorporated into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
In 2006 a further presidential election was held and President Nazarbayev won with 91.15% of the vote. In 2011 the President won with 95.55% of the vote and in 2015 he took 97.75%. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) commented on the 2015 election saying that there was no credible opposition, no genuine choice offered to voters and significant restrictions on freedom of expression and the media.
The last general election in 2012 was described by the OSCE as ‘highly controlled’ and inevitably Fatherland won 83 of the 98 seats. The Democratic Party of Kazakhstan Ak Zhol (also known as Bright Path) won eight seats and the only other party to enter parliament was the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (CPPK) which won seven seats. The OSCE did not recognise the election as democratic.
Kazakhstan became one of the founding members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) on 1st January 2015.
The President is elected by popular vote for a five-year term.
There is a bicameral parliament. The Senate or upper house has 47 seats of which 15 members are appointed by the President and 32 members are elected by local assemblies. Members serve six year terms. Half of the members are up for re-election every three years. The Mazhilis or lower house has 107 seats of which 9 are elected by the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan and 98 seats by popular vote to serve five-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Kazakhstan at joint 131st out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 29 (where 100 is least corrupt).