By Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the Republic of Korea Nurgali Arystanov
The following article is based on a recent interview with Ambassador Nurgali A. Arystanov of Kazakhsta in Seoul conducted by The Korea Post media on the occasion of the Constitutional Day of the country.
The journey of any successful nation includes several key milestones which collectively influence its national identity. Beyond establishing independence, the adoption of a constitution forms the most important basis of a country’s political system and processes, as it outlines the very principles responsible for guiding the nation’s future path.
On 30 August, Kazakhstan will celebrate Constitution Day. Underpinned by the unalienable values of freedom granted to each and every citizen, the Constitution has proven central to the accomplishments of our country and provided us with the guide for development and prosperity which we enjoy today.
This year, Constitution Day holds particular importance, as it is celebrated for the first time after the amendments to the constitution, which were approved following a nationwide referendum in June last year, have come into force. These reforms have transformed Kazakhstan and have ushered in new democratic principles in our country. More powers and influence have been granted to parliament and the local government, while presidential powers have been limited, which means the government is now more accountable to the people who elected the parliament. In addition, in line with the updated Constitution, the President of Kazakhstan is now elected for only a single seven-year term, without the right to re-election.
Kazakhstan has established and further strengthened mechanisms that protect human rights and democracy by enhancing the role and status of the Ombudsperson for Human Rights, the Ombudsperson for children’s rights, and the Ombudsperson for protecting people with disabilities.
We have also reestablished the Constitutional Court, which ensures further protection of human rights and freedoms. Kazakhstan’s citizens, including the Prosecutor General and the Ombudsperson, can now directly apply to the Constitutional Court to declare unlawful norms that, in their view, contradict the principles of the Constitution.
The impact of the constitutional amendments was particularly visible during the parliamentary and local elections that were held in March this year. Simplifying the process for registering political parties resulted in new parties that took part in the elections, including Respublica and Baytaq. These elections are considered by many domestic and international political experts to have been the most competitive in Kazakhstan’s modern history. In line with the constitutional changes, which also include direct election of rural mayors, a proportional majoritarian model was used in the parliamentary election for the first time since 2004. This enabled numerous self-nominated candidates to participate in single-mandate districts along with party candidates. As a result, opportunities for citizens' participation in the political life of the country have significantly expanded. Six parties managed to pass the five percent threshold needed to get into parliament, which has created a truly multi-party representative body with different political views.
As Kazakhstan commemorates its Constitution, we must also celebrate the citizens of our country, who have embodied its fundamental values and showed their support through the referendum for the constitutional reform last year, which enabled to further enshrine the ideals of freedom, equality and concord into the fabric of our society. It should be noted that five electoral campaigns have taken place in Kazakhstan in approximately one year, including a referendum, which means Kazakhstan’s citizens have had a direct say on all the changes.
Ultimately, thanks to the constitutional amendments and reforms, a new civic and political culture has taken shape in Kazakhstan’s society. Of course, our path to overhaul the existing system in our country is far from over. Transformations and reforms, including social and economic, are a constant work in progress to ensure that the country keeps up with global changes, trends, and challenges that continuously spring up.
At the time of our Constitution’s initial signing in 1995, we were a young nation facing the many challenges encountered by newly independent countries all over the world. Looking to forge our own national identity, our Constitution codified the values that we hold dear and outlined the principles that laid the foundation for our stability and achievements. Today, following the implementation of the constitutional amendments, which affected a third of the articles of the Constitution, Kazakhstan is essentially a new nation even in comparison to just a few years ago.
In ensuring the freedoms of speech, assembly and religion, as well as political diversity and personal liberty, the Constitution has provided a blueprint for our country’s social, economic and political development. Our tolerant society, where every citizen - regardless of their creed - can feel valued and free, as well as our wider domestic prosperity, is a testament to the forward-thinking nature of our Constitution as a guide to success, unbound by time or historic context.
The Constitution provides a solid legal framework for Kazakhstan’s international cooperation. Here, its partnership with Korea is no exception. Both countries share common democratic values and principles, and share common goals of strengthening democracy. Over the years of diplomatic relations, we have been able to establish high-level cooperation across the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, including political, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
This is evidenced by the fact that over the past 30 years, the Presidents of Kazakhstan have visited the Republic of Korea 6 times, and the Presidents of the Republic of Korea have visited Kazakhstan 6 times. Frequent contacts at the highest level provide indicate to a high level of mutual trust, understanding and affinity.
His Excellency Foreign Minister Park Jin’s recent visit (May 30 - June 1) to Kazakhstan provided a powerful impetus to political dialogue and all other aspects of our cooperation. His call on His Excellency President Tokayev was very productive and indicative of warm and brotherly relations between our two countries. His meeting with His Excellency Murat Nurtleu was rich in substance and friendly and constructive in character.
Economic ties between Kazakhstan and South Korea have expanded significantly. Today, Korea is Kazakhstan’s 3rd largest trade partner and 6th largest investor. South Korea has invested in various sectors in Kazakhstan, including energy, infrastructure, and technology. The two countries have also engaged in trade partnerships, particularly in energy resources, minerals, and agricultural products.
A number of South Korean companies successfully operate in Kazakhstan, such as Samsung, Shinhan Bank, Lotte, SK, KNOC, POSCO, Hyundai and Kia. In general, over 700 companies operate with the participation of the Korean capital.
The trade turnover between the two countries is increasing from year to year. By the Korean statistics, the trade in 2022 more than doubled and reached $6.5 billion. Korea has made investments in $8.9 billion Kazakhstan worth. As we build Just Kazakhstan upon President Tokayev’s initiative, we are strengthening the rule of law, better protection of freedoms and rights, thus creating one of the best investment climates and favorable business environments in the region. In this context, we seek more investments from Korea and would be glad to welcome more Korean companies in our economy.
People-to-people ties are also on the surge. Air Astana and Asiana Airlines together operate 11 flights per week between Almaty and Seoul facilitating tourism, culture, educational and private sector engagements.
In conclusion, we note that the Constitution Day of Kazakhstan is evidence of the country's commitment to democratic governance and the protection of the rights of citizens. Further democratization of Kazakhstan will contribute to the growth of relations between Kazakhstan and South Korea, which are characterized by economic cooperation, cultural exchange and diplomatic cooperation. These ties reflect the mutual desire of both countries to strengthen their ties and work together for common prosperity and development.
The Republic of Kazakhstan, according to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a very, very special country to the Republic of Korea.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, with a territory the size of Western Europe.
Since gaining independence in December 1991, Kazakhstan has rapidly grown into an economic powerhouse in Central Asia over the past two decades based on an active national development strategy and abundant natural resources such as oil and gas.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992, Korea and Kazakhstan have deepened cooperation in various fields, including politics, economy, and culture.
In 2009, bilateral relations were upgraded to strategic partner status, and in 2022, bilateral trade volume reached US$6.5 billion and cumulative investment from Korea to Kazakhstan reached US$2.7 billion.
There are currently more than 340 Korean companies operating in Kazakhstan.
A general visa waiver agreement was signed in June 2014 and a temporary labor agreement in September 2014, and a direct flight between the two capitals, Seoul and Astana, was established in June 2015.
Too, Kazakhstan is an important partner in the peaceful settlement of the Korean Peninsula, and is a reciprocal partner in the economic fields of energy resources, construction, healthcare, and information and communication.
The new economic cooperation program 'Fresh Wind,' signed in April 2019, is expected to contribute to the diversification of bilateral economic cooperation and the deepening of the strategic partnership.
Korea hopes to build on the friendly and cooperative relationship that has been established between Korea and Kazakhstan to create a win-win growth model for both countries.
Korea will strive to contribute to Kazakhstan's industrial diversification policy by sharing Korea’s economic growth experience, and Korea will broaden the scope of mutual understanding between the peoples of the two countries through various cultural exchange events such as K-Pop.
In addition, Korea will provide practical help to Korean citizens visiting Kazakhstan through consular services and prompt provision of local information.
Meanwhile, the approximately 120,000 Koreans living in Kazakhstan are growing into a respected ethnic minority in all walks of life. Korea will continue to spare no effort to help them contribute to Kazakhstan's national development and play a bridge role in the development of bilateral relations.