The Republic of Kazakhstan’s government system and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. The presidential administration controls the government, the legislature, and judiciary as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. The April 2015 presidential election, in which President Nazarbayev received 97.5 percent of the vote, was marked by irregularities and lacked genuine political competition. The president’s Nur Otan Party won 82 percent of the vote in the March 2016 election for the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) observation mission noted some progress but judged the country continued to require considerable progress to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections. On June 26, Kazakhstan selected 16 of 47 senators, members of the parliament’s upper house, in an indirect election tightly controlled by local governors working in concurrence with the presidential administration.
The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; and pervasive corruption and abuses by law enforcement and judicial officials. There were selective restrictions on freedoms of expression, press, assembly, religion, and association, including restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There were limits on citizens’ ability to choose their government in free and fair elections and prohibitive political party registration requirements. Additional problems included forced labor; and restrictive independent trade union registration requirements.
The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases; nevertheless, corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for those in positions of authority as well as for those connected to government or law enforcement officials.