Kazakhstan Now a Beacon for Democracy
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Republic of Kazakhstan's independence from the Soviet Union. In that short period, the Central Asian nation - which has the land mass of Western Europe - has become a success story both economically and politically.
After the Soviet Union's collapse, Kazakhstan had to weather a grave economic crisis, overhaul its uncompetitive, state-controlled industries and develop a system of government that, for the first time, allowed its people to be heard and represented.
After difficult times, Kazakhstan is now a beacon of stability in a volatile region. Its economy has been growing steadily and rapidly, as foreign investors have justifiably grown confident that the nation adheres to the rule of law. As a result, Kazakhstan is a major, reliable supplier of oil, natural gas and uranium, and a good friend and trading partner with the West.
And soon the country will demonstrate its progress when it comes to democracy. On April 3, Kazakhstan will hold a presidential election. On that day - in the country and around the world - the Kazakhs will show how far they've come in governance during the past two decades. I am certain that the elections will be both free and fair.
International monitors have flocked to Astana, the capital, to see for themselves. They are learning that Kazakhs express their opinions openly. They will also see that the ballot box will be available to everyone old enough to vote, not just in Kazakhstan but in embassies around the globe.
I urge anyone who cares about the truth to visit our voting queues and to ask our citizens about their many freedoms. They will find that Kazakhs are confident in their country's democratic aspirations - and eager to talk about it.
Kazakhstan has been developing its democratic processes for years. In 2007, Kazakhstan instituted a constitutional reform that reduced the presidential term from seven to five years.
In 2009, in order to further democracy, laws were adopted under which at least two parties were guaranteed membership in the Mazhilis, the lower house of the Kazakh Parliament. In addition, public funding of political parties was authorized.
As an obvious achievement in this on-going quest for democratization, Kazakhstan served last year as chairman of the world's premier election monitoring group, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Kazakhstan was widely commended for its leadership of OSCE, including by the U.S. If that's not an indicator that Kazakhstan is serious about democratic governance and human rights, I don't know what is.
One more piece of evidence: Late last year, a large group of citizens pushed hard - without government prompting - to schedule a referendum this spring that, if approved, would have extended the presidency another 10 years. No elections would have been held during that period if the referendum had passed.
But in January, based on the ruling by the Kazakh Constitutional Council, Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, rejected the referendum and, instead, called for the election that will be held next month. Presidential elections will be held again in five years, as the Constitution requires.
That decision is a true measure of real democracy.
Kazakhstan is the gateway to Russia and China and a loyal friend to the U.S. and the West. No country has been a stronger advocate of peaceful coexistence among powerful nations. When President Nazarbayev met last year with President Obama in Washington, they discussed how they could best continue to destroy nuclear weapons and promote peaceful uses of clean atomic energy.
I believe we are a responsible and trustworthy member of the international community in a pivotal part of the world. But most of all, we are a dependable democracy that is trying to learn how to become more democratic all the time. Watch April 3 and you will see.