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Sergei Gulyaev: Public confidence in the authorities in Kazakhstan

“We can conclude that the current President Nursultan Nazarbayev enjoys almost absolute confidence of  the population”, said Sergei Gulyaev, CEO of PF “Decenta” (Kazakhstan, Pavlodar), in an article written exclusively for cabar.asia. 

 It is impossible to clearly answer whether people trust the authorities in Kazakhstan. In this regard, this article attempts to analyze the degree of public confidence in the authorities in Kazakhstan in the context of several components, in particular the type or branch of authorities, its level, etc.

In recent years, Kazakhstan has implemented a significant number of reforms in public administration, some of which are still underway. So, speaking at the XVIth Congress of the “Nur Otan” Party, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev introduced five new institutional reforms, the first of which was aimed at creating a modern professional and independent state apparatus, ensuring quality implementation of economic programs and the provision of public services.

Today it is possible to note certain disappointment among the population with decision-making process and management methods of public authorities. To some extent, this affects the process of decrease in public confidence in the government bodies.

The Definition dictionary of Russian language (S.I. Ozhegov, N. Shvedova) has the following definition: Confidence is the feeling of certainty in somebody’s sincerity, integrity or in the correctness of something. Confidence is a moral, humanistic and ethical category, serving as a universal norm of interpersonal relations and meaning the faith of one person in another. Confidence, in most cases, is not absolute and unconditional, as it needs confirmation and proof. The role of political confidence was mentioned by D.M. Dankin, defining it as a trust in political institutions, government, and generally in power authorities. “Political trust is always the question of political power, it reflects the attitude of the people to the order and activity of state structures, and it is a characteristic of the mood of the masses”. V.F. Khalipov and E.V. Khalipova give the following definition of trust in politics: “This is a socio-psychological feeling; one of the most important conditions for the success of the political parties and authorities; the state of commitment to the actions of certain political forces, individuals, activists, government agencies, inherent in both individuals and social groups. Confidence is born among citizens and bears their hopes for a better life, faith in the exercise of their interests, needs, desires, and so on”.

When conducting sociological research, respondents are generally not asked whether they trust the authorities in general. Questions are asked regarding the confidence in some specific institutions of state power. Most sociologists believe that the authorities in general is an abstract concept. It consists of specific people and institutions, respectively, the confidence may be only in specific people and institutions.

I. Public confidence in the President

Due to the fact that in the near future, there will be snap presidential elections scheduled for April 26, 2015, in Kazakhstan, it is relevant to begin the analysis with the highest level of government.

In such cases, there are often surveys of the population, asking people questions about the upcoming elections: “For whom would you vote, if the election were held next Sunday?” Even without having such surveys, we can assume that in this case, the answer is obvious – the vast majority of Kazakhstan people would vote for the incumbent President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. This is due to many factors. In short, they can be summarized as follows:

  1. For the citizens of the country, President Nursultan Nazarbayev is the guarantor from the point of view of the basic law and from the point of view of reality. Our population connects the name of the current President with real protection of interests of the state at the external level and in relations with various parties in the international arena. Now this factor is important more than ever. Kazakhs have previously trusted Nazarbayev as an outstanding diplomat and politician, but this has become especially evident in recent months. The balance of political power became disturbed, and there are anxiety and uncertainty in international relations. Therefore, the citizens of Kazakhstan expect that the name of President Nazarbayev, his experience, influence and thorough knowledge of the international situation and of all the major actors and the “rules of the game” are a certain guarantee that Kazakhstan will not be involved in any international conflict. Citizens also hope that despite the many destabilizing factors, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as Kazakh President, will be able to maintain domestic peace and stability.

The country’s leading political scientists comment the upcoming elections as follows: “People have quite a negative attitude to rumors about the change of government and about a potential successor. People usually associate stability, harmony and guaranteed independence with the name of the current President. In this case, the figure of the President in the public mind has no alternative”, says Daniar Ashimbayev, a political scientist. In an interview with BBC, a political scientist Eduard Poletaev said: “Now it so happened that the political situation allows it to hold elections, because the population has felt a request for stability. In partner countries of the CIS close to us and in Russia, the economic situation has worsened due to the depreciation of the ruble, and there are military conflicts in Ukraine. We also had the devaluation expectations, which did not materialize. This pause is quite favorable, given that this year was planned as the beginning of the implementation of major infrastructure projects and of celebration of commemorative events – the 20th anniversary of the Constitution, the 20th anniversary of the People’s Assembly and the 70th anniversary of the Victory. Holding elections in the current environment, amid stability exhibited by Kazakhstan, is a quite natural query that is supported by the leading political forces in the country”.

  1. At the special election held on April 3, 2011, in Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev won 96.31% of the vote. We can assume that the election 2015 will keep that percentage, and possibly it will be even higher by 2-2.5%. This assumption is also confirmed by the fact that at the moment, all the presidential candidates have been already registered, and among them, there is no candidate who at least to some extent could be a real competitor and pull over at least 3% of the votes. If you conduct a survey of citizens right now, it is likely that for the vast majority of respondents, it is even difficult to recall the names of the other presidential candidates.

No one except Nursultan Nazarbayev can currently maintain a balance of forces in the internal politics and economics. None of the figures that have been discussed as possible successors managed to come at the forefront of the political scene in recent months.

The population associates only the personality of Nursultan Nazarbayev with the ability to control all branches of government, if necessary to intervene in any process and restore the disturbed balance.

Implementation of various strategic documents, planned reforms, etc., is also associated with the incumbent President.

Thus, we can conclude that the current President Nursultan Nazarbayev enjoys almost absolute confidence among the population.

II. Public confidence in the executive branch

2.1. Confidence in the Government

Does the population of our country believe in the executive power? We can first start with the central executive power. Do we, Kazakhs, trust our government? As a true citizen, I would like to answer “yes, we do”. But is it really so? How does the Government perform its functions in relation to citizens? In this case, we say ‘government’, implying a collective image of the whole central executive branch.

Of course, in general, in our country, we do not have mass actions or acts of public disagreement with the government’s position, perhaps, we do not have such traditions. We are trying to change something, to defend or to prove only at the last minute. Of course, it would probably be more effective if we respond to some decisions of the Government, with which we disagree, at the stage of adoption and implementation of such decisions, and not when everything is already decided, and the situation comes to a standstill. Timely involvement in the process would, on the one hand, ensure people’s participation in the government, but on the other hand, would provide timely “collapse” of pressure, avoiding a situation where people would have to apply radical means to demonstrate their dissent and protest. In this regard, it is important to recognize that there is often not much initiative on the part of citizens. There are many townsfolk conversations and rumors, but there are few real initiatives and proposals.

Overall, probably, the situation with the confidence in the Government can be described as follows. At the level of the layman, who does not go to “assets” meetings, does not participate in the events held to a limited circle of people, who are introduced to the plans of certain state agencies, etc., the confidence in the governmen is not very high. If you “dive” for some time into the world of taxi drivers, vendors in small shops and markets, representatives of micro and small businesses, as well as the great mass of the self-employed, you can hear a lot of hard criticism of the Government. Of course, first of all, people reproach the central executive bodies of the devaluation and the atmosphere in which this process took place. People remember the statements made from the stands and displays about the corridor for the exchange rate, about the measures to curb the growth of exchange rate and the strengthening of the national currency, etc. After all, the head of the National Bank said that they were preparing for the devaluation during six months, so why it happened then in the emergency work mode? Why immediately after the incident, senior leaders went through the bazaars, there were established headquarters, and the data on residues of gasoline in storage were collected?

What does the man in the street see in this situation as an ordinary citizen? He simply states that the promises are not fulfilled, that once again, people have been cheated… The key word here is “once again”. The fact is that over the last 20-25 years, there were many such deceptions. Does the government cheat intentionally or accidentally, due to false assessing the situation, resources, opportunities, risks, etc. It does not matter, the important fact is that the citizens have not won anything from such actions; they only lost. It turns out that we already have inconfidence in the Government at the cellular level. We understand that nobody tells us the truth about what is happening and what is planned, we are present with a fait accompli.

According to a survey by the Kazakh express public opinion monitoring bureau Demoscope conducted in 2013, only a tenth of the respondents had confidence in Kazakhstan state bodies. According to the survey, in the whole country, the level of public confidence in the public system (all state agencies) was fairly low – 11 percent. In this case, the highest levels were in Zhambyl region – 34.6 percent, in Kostanai oblast – 21.7 per cent and in Aktobe – 22.7 percent. According to this survey, the rating of trust in government ministries has not exceeded the national average of 3.5 percent. Courts and maslikhats enjoyed even smaller percentage of confidence – 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent respectively. In addition, the survey showed that confidence in the parliament was also low – only 4 percent. According to the survey, the prosecutor’s office enjoyed only 4 percent of the population’s confidence.

It is clear that over the past two years, the situation with the trust to power bodies definitely has not changed for the better.

In regard to the work of individual ministries, there are also too many questions. You can recall the recent debates that have taken place in the Majilis of the Parliament in respect of the Ministry of Health and the need for such a ministry as such. A lot of debate was about the effectiveness of the relevant ministries such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Interior, etc. Many of the reforms, which sounded loud and ambitious, in the end, turned out to be not very effective. Examples of such reform are pension, health care, modernization of housing and communal services, the fight against corruption, local government, etc.

The fact that the government regularly experiences various reform processes does not inspire optimism and confidence either: change of heads of ministries and departments, unification of central bodies, the introduction of new, the abolition of the old, etc. etc. What does this mean in practice? Reform is often blamed of the failure to comply with any goals, objectives and indicators. Pending issues or concerns can be forgotten with the reformed or abolished body. New leaders are usually not responsible for the mistakes of their predecessors. The principle of continuity does not work well.

Another fly in the ointment is permanent corruption scandals that periodically occur in connection with the names of high-ranking officials. So, over the past year, in Kazakhstan, there were eight high-profile corruption scandals, which involved leaders at the highest level: the former mayor of Karaganda region, the former mayor of Pavlodar region, the former deputy mayor of Atyrau region, the former vice-minister of agriculture, the former vice minister of education and science, the former chairman of the Statistics Agency, the former chairman of Agency for Regulation of Natural Monopolies, the former director of the Border Service, and, finally, the former prime minister.

Speaking of corruption, it is also appropriate to mention the conference “Anti-corruption Mechanisms”, held on the 26th of June 2014 in Almaty. At this event, Deputy Chairman of the Agency for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption Andrei Lukin said that in Kazakhstan, there were isolated cases of corruption in all spheres. “I can point out a few areas that suffer most strongly from corruption – in the tax authorities, customs sphere, land issues and public procurement”, he said.

Taken together, all these factors very significantly reduce the level of public confidence in the Cabinet. If we now go outside and ask passers-by, whether they trust the Government, the answer is likely to be negative. So, unfortunately, in general, we do not trust the Government.

2.2. The confidence in the local authorities

What about the local executive bodies? The ratings of akims are held regularly. But to be honest, the methodology and tools for conducting such ratings raise questions, and often – doubts about their reliability and objectivity.

So far it is not clear what criteria evaluated the effectiveness of the regional governors. What about the akims who have just been appointed? If they did not have time to do anything? The author of this article had to personally deal with the development of such a rating when once I received a call with a request: “You do public surveys, so write something on our Akim”. “What exactly you are looking for?” “Well, anything… house utilities, street cleaning, etc.”. All these issues are very much implicated in the subjectivism. Speaking on the assessment of akims (region, city, district, rural district), often the results ranking and gossips differ greatly. For example, in every city, people from generation to generation talk about the stories saying about some “good” mayor, who built something or created something, introduced a tradition, etc. So, how does the newly appointed akim of the region come to the forefront at published ratings?

Unfortunately, it often happens that the opinion of the population on the territory of the akim does not coincide with the views of the government. For example, people are not satisfied with the work of public services, dissatisfied with the policy of local authorities in relation to the point construction, land acquisition, etc. But this discontent has no effect on the future career of the relevant akim. And in the ranking, by the way, people’s opinion is not taken into account.

Therefore, the level of public confidence in the local authorities may differ significantly from region to region. In one region, akim is known as a strong-willed, ambitious leader. In the other, akim is a temporary worker, waiting a while before a new appointment in the capital. People tend to know in advance of the reasons why a particular mayor was appointed. Therefore, it is important to regularly conduct surveys of public opinion, to use the tools of public evaluation and monitoring. In general, the opinion of population about the local authorities can and should be used much more efficiently. After all, competition between regions has always existed and will take place.  “Good” mayor is a source of pride of residents of one region, and at the same time, a source of envy of people from other regions. And in terms of fair competition, as you know, the consumer always wins, i.e. resident of a particular territory. And, returning to the ratings, it is important to understand that ratings, if their quality is high, should be a tool to influence on Akims, an argument of the population in favor of their agreement/disagreement, trust/distrust of local authorities.

In fairness, it should be noted that during recent years in Kazakhstan, there have become fewer problematic issues at the level of urban management. You can watch the people asking questions in the reporting meeting with the Mayors of cities and to analyze these questions. Thus, in the reporting meetings held in the region in early 2015, most of these questions again were related to the housing sector, the issues of public services, management of apartment buildings, improvement, gardening, etc. Most of these issues are resolvable. And, moreover, the budgets of cities (regional centers and cities of regional importance) now allow solving many of these issues. It is noteworthy that the citizens have come to the understanding that the questions have different levels of decision: some issues can be resolved at the local level, while others are completely tied up at the central level, so, for example, people do not ask akim of the city the question of raising the pension, because it is not his competence.

Akims of regions and cities are in a more advantageous position, as compared to the central government. They have more opportunities to avoid giving the unfulfilled promises. They know in advance the capacity of local budget, and they are honest with people in terms of making unrealistic promises, thus, they have a chance to earn the trust of the people.

In summary, we can conclude that the level of trust in local authorities and to the local governors, in particular, in most cases depends on the personality of the Akilm, on his leadership qualities. Practice has shown that the Mayor, for example, may well influence the formation of a positive image of local authorities and can earn the trust of the local population.

III. The confidence in the representative power

3.1. The credibility of the Parliament

We will consider the representative government both at the center level and on the ground. So, do we have confidence in our Parliament? The issue is complex. Knowing personally many deputies of the Majilis of the Parliament and the Senate, knowing the volume of their work and their serious honest attitude to work, I know that they can be trusted. But this is the subjective opinion of a person aware of how parliament deputies work. Most of the people, however, often see the Parliament and its behavior as illogical. How else can we explain the fact that MPs, for example, the Majilis, regularly communicating with their electorate, getting enough objective information about what is happening on the ground, often propose extremely unpopular bills, causing discontent among citizens? We can recall the example of the change increasing the retirement age.

The directions of legislative activity also often cause a lot of questions among the residents, for example, the changes made recently in the Driving Regulations, the use of special restraints for driving children, as well as a long saga of changing the requirements to the content of automobile kits. The impression is that instead of focusing on the practice applied, i.e. fully and fairly apply the rules that already exist in the legislation, members of the Parliament decided to impose additional rules which are also hard to implement.

In practice, social activists are regularly confronted with issues that rest on the imperfection of the legislation. And frankly, for many officials, it is very convenient – they can always refer to a bad law. If someone is disatissfied,  he is advised to blame Astana in bad laws. At the level of public trust in MPs, this practice is reflected negatively. It seems that local authorities are simply limited by legal norms, and only MPs who sit in Astana can be blamed of this, as they know nothing about real life in the country and its regions. At the same time, it is absolutely unclear if local authorities themselves, who stumble upon the same system error, have even turned to higher authorities with suggestions for improvement of the legislation?

According to the data of the sociological survey conducted by the public opinion monitoring Bureau DEMOSCOPE in 2013 at the International Center for Journalism MediaNet, Kazakhs hardly know their MPs, often confusing them with the representatives of the executive branch. Overall, the poll revealed that the level of public trust in MPs was “extremely vague: 53.3% (41 people) of the names of MPs have less than 2.5% of the vote. Previous sociological surveys by the Bureau also showed an extremely low level of trust to the MPs: only 9% of respondents previously trusted the MPs.

In general, there are very few laws that can be called efficient with absolute certainty. Somehow, often laws are adopted on an emergency basis with the motivation “Let’s pass them now, and then in due course, we will make corrections in them”. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to modify what was initially not very well developed.

In summary, if we take a 10-point scale of trust, we can conclude that the level of trust of citizens to the Parliament is about 4 points.

3.2. Confidence in local representative bodies

About the credibility of local representative bodies, it may be noted that, compared to the situation 5-7 years ago, now the level of confidence slightly increased. According to a survey conducted by the Foundation “Decenta” in 2009 In Pavlodar, 96.75% were unable to name the deputies of the city maslikhat of their constituency. As a result, the respondents were unable to assess their activities. Only 1.3% of the 3.25% of those respondents who remembered the names of the elected gave a positive assessment of their work.

Such a negative situation was caused by the fact that 6-7 years ago, the capacity of local budgets was very limited. In other words, it was difficult for local deputies to solve most of the problematic issues coming from citizens. In recent years, there has been done some work in the direction of urban upgrading and housing reform, so the reproaches toward maslikhat deputies became somewhat fewer. But does this mean that the level of trust in them has increased? There is an opinion that maslihats still do not solve, at least, essentially serious issues, such as budgeting. These issues are more of competence of the executive authorities, in particular, departments of economy and budget planning. Many people know about it and try to seek a solution of their problems directly among the governors or local government agencies.

In general, it should be noted that the relationship between voters and deputies leaves much to be desired. This mutual fault – on the one hand, local deputies treat this too formally, and, on the other hand, voters are not very active and do not attend  the meetings with their deputies.

Therefore, assessing the level of trust of citizens to local representative bodies – maslikhats – using a 10-point scale, we can assess it as five points.

IV. Confidence in the judiciary branch

The judicial power is often not associated with a separate branch of government among the majority of citizens. There are many myths around the judiciary, some of which have the real basis, while others are really more like myths.

The first such myth is that all courts and judges are corrupt, that any sentence can be purchased, etc. Of course, there is no smoke without fire, but it does not mean that all judges are corrupt, and all judicial acts are purchased. However, the results of surveys and statistics show that the population has traditionally ranked the judiciary as one of the most corrupt. Hence the conclusion is that the courts still need to seriously work on debunking this myth.

The second myth is that civil procedure is expensive, difficult, hard for nerves, etc. In part, it is. An ordinary citizen, who, fortunately, has never before encountered by the courts, finds it difficult to understand the procedure of applying to court, for example, with a claim. It is difficult for an ordinary citizen to write any of the procedural documents, it is difficult to participate in court proceedings on their own, etc. Ignorance breeds fear, i.e. people do not want to have affairs with the courts. Legal illiteracy often entails an incorrect interpretation of the judicial acts and, accordingly, again people conclude that “everything can be bought”.

However, during a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Chairman of the Supreme Court said that the Kazakhs have more confidence in the judicial system. Starting from 2015, the courts of Kazakhstan are working under the new criminal law. The process of electronic proceedings is being actively implemented. The fight against corruption in the judiciary was also discussed at the meeting. The Chairman of the Supreme Court reported that comprehensive measures to strengthen the fight against corruption in the judiciary in Kazakhstan were taken in eight directions, including increasing the transparency of the courts, introduction of innovative technologies, strengthening the process of selecting judges, regular coverage of sociological studies and others, according to the website of the President of the Republic.

On the 18th of July 2014, an expanded meeting was held on the results of the work of courts of the Republic for the first half of 2014. Addressing the participants of the meeting, the Chairman of the Supreme Court Kairat Mami said: “Over the past six months, the courts of the Republic, despite the increase in the judicial burden, have demonstrated the adequate quality of justice and timely resolution of cases. Overall, 98.6% of all adopted judicial acts have been lawful and justified”.

From my own practice, it may be noted that, at least, by appearance, our courts have begun to look more impressive and worthy. I am talking about the state of the buildings, conference rooms, and the presence of waiting rooms for parties to the process, technical equipment, etc. The elements of electronic proceedings have been actively introduced. The number of electronic claims in the first half of 2014 was more than double than that of the past year. At present, about two-thirds of the republic courtrooms are equipped with the systems of technical fixation of trials. Electronic alert for participants in the proceedings is being developed, as well as the opportunities of familiarization with the case and the course of the trial.

In general, all these measures are aimed at improving the access to justice and transparency, as well as the confidence of citizens and the public in courts.

Unfortunately, we do not have any data of surveys conducted on the level of citizens’ trust in the judicial system. But we can assume that, indeed, situation in this area is gradually changing for the better.


To sum up, trying to draw general conclusions, we can see that only the President enjoys the highest level of confidence in Kazakhstan. This confidence has been tested over the years and is confirmed in every new election.

With regard to central government – both executive and representative – unfortunately, it should be stated that the citizens’ confidence, to put it mildly, is not very high. Both the government and the Parliament should make significant efforts to restore people’s confidence, which declined significantly especially in the last couple of years.

At the local level, the situation varies from region to region. But in general, assessing, for example, regional governors, taking into account the results of the ratings held several times a year in different agencies, we can conclude that there are only two or three obvious outsiders, on average, not more. The rest of the county governors may change of the situation with a level of confidence during the year. The confidence is largely dependent on the personal qualities of the akim.

Maslihats, unfortunately, do not express the will of the local population. Deputies of local representative bodies are still strongly dependent on the local executive authorities. Accordingly, the level of trust is low.

With regard to the judicial system, it may be noted that there have been significant steps to overcome some stigma attached to courts and judges associated with high levels of corruption. Gradually, the situation is getting corrected. But this process should be considered in the dynamics of at least two years. So far, we only see that the efforts of this branch of government are really made, that procedural aspects have become more clear and precise, and the statistics of quality solutions also shows a good positive trend. However, public opinion about the courts has not yet changed. And it is a domain for serious work.

Sergei Gulyaev, CEO of PF “Decenta”

Opinion of the author may not necessarily represent those of CABAR