Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Justice filed a draft law with the Mazhilis — the lower chamber of parliament — which is aimed at transforming the Security Council into a permanent agency that is protected by the constitution. The Security Council is a consultative body under the Presidency. Its status shall be determined by a constitutional law setting out the following prerogatives: ‘preservation of the country’s national security and capacity to defend itself against external threats, preservation of internal stability, defence of the constitutional regime and promotion of national interests in the international arena’.
Once the law is adopted, President Nursultan Nazarbaev will become the permanent chairman of the Security Council and will therefore be entitled to the job even if he decides to step down from the Presidency.
Some local observers believe that Nazarbaev is actively preparing his own succession and wants to use the Security Council as an ultimate safeguard against a future president’s potential ambitions. The incumbent’s constitutional standing has been significantly boosted since 2007, when Kazakhstan elected a one-party parliament. All quasi-opposition parties had been eliminated from the electoral contest — until new elections five years later — with the ruling Nur Otan surging in popularity amid strong economic growth and domestic stability.
No election in Kazakhstan has been held in conformity with international norms, according to recurrent criticisms from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Nur Otan’s victories in 2007, 2012 and 2016 — as well as Nazarbaev’s triumphant personal re-elections in 2005, 2011 and 2015 — were all tainted by procedural irregularities and the undisguised use of administrative levers to deprive opponents of the ability to stage effective campaigns.
The addition of the Security Council to the list of Nazarbaev’s exclusive constitutional rights is more of a continuation of this old trend, rather than the dawn of a new one. Nazarbaev can run for an unlimited number of terms since 2007 and has had the officially recognised status of Leader of the Nation since 2010. He cannot be arrested, interrogated or searched. The same applies to his property, both movable and immovable. This is similar to diplomatic immunity although Nazarbaev is not a foreign national. The President’s bank accounts, interests in property and other assets cannot be blocked, frozen or seized following a court order because they are protected by law.
The Leader of the Nation status effectively makes Nazarbaev an untouchable figure of national prominence who can engage in any type of activity, even if it is outright illegal, without fear of being prosecuted. And now with the proposed changes to the Security Council legislation, Nazarbaev may become even more entrenched into the state.