The lower house of Kazakhstan’s parliament, the Majilis, has rejected in the first reading a bill on the status of Kazakhstan’s new capital, Akmola. Their main disagreement lay with Article 6 of the bill, which seeks to protect the capital from disruption by curtailing the right of the public to hold meetings and demonstrations on the territory of the city. After acrimonious debate, deputies referred the bill to committee for reworking. Ironically, the vote, held on January 22, was the first parliamentary vote held in Akmola, which was inaugurated as Kazakhstan’s new capital on November 8. (Panorama, January 23)
Deputies rejected the bill, which was drafted by Justice Minister Baurjan Mukhamedjanov, on grounds of both presentation and content. They complained that, though the government finished drafting the bill last May, it did not present it to parliament until December, when parliament was busy with its move to Akmola. Principally, they rejected Article 6, intended to replace a presidential decree dated March 17, 1995, which restricted the holding of meetings, processions and demonstrations in the then capital, Almaty. Mukhamedjanov argued that a similar curtailment in Akmola was justified because the capital is covered by Article 32 of Kazakhstan’s Constitution, which prohibits demonstrations threatening "state security and public order."
The 1995 decree has been sharply criticized by the leftist opposition movement "Azamat," the small, self-styled labor movement, and the head of the Almaty-based human rights bureau, Evgeny Zhovtis. Azamat, with the Communist party, organized two demonstrations in protest against the 1995 decree, on March 30 and again on November 30 of last year. The rallies, which attracted only around 1,000 (March) and 500 (November) participants, led to two imprisonments. The leader of the labor movement, Madel Ismailov, was arrested in March but subsequently released. One of Azamat’s three co-chairmen, Galym Abilsiitov, was imprisoned for fifteen days for organizing the November protest.
Although Kazakhstan’s parliament was initially reputed to be submissive to the president, it has over the past two years become increasingly prepared to express its own point of view on legislative matters. That deputies referred the bill to committee, rather than sending it back to the government for revision, suggests that parliament is keen to observe President Nazarbaev’s timetable. According to that plan, Akmola will be ceremonially presented to the world on June 10 — foreigners having been invited neither to the low-key official opening last November nor to the capital’s first working day in December.
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