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By Beibut Atamkulov is the foreign minister of Kazakhstan. Article at Euractiv.com
Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, with an area the size of Western Europe and a population of more than 18 million citizens, is tomorrow testing the maturity of its democracy, writes Beibut Atamkulov.
The presidential election on 9 June is crucial for the future development of our country. The elections of the head of state have indeed taken place regularly since Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991. This election, however, is the first time that First President Nursultan Nazarbayev is not running.
In a relatively short time, having only gained independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has become a dynamically developing country. In less than three decades, Kazakhstan has built a stable, growing economy with a favourable business climate. We now rank 28th in the World Bank's Doing Business Index. Our young population is well-educated, multilingual and aspirational.
The comprehensive and decisive reforms have ensured that we are on a firm footing. Our economy continues to diversify, incomes are rising, and people are enjoying better quality healthcare and education.
The upcoming elections are aimed at electing a new president of the country, for whom the task of further improving the well-being of the population, building a socially oriented state will also be a priority.
The decision of the First President to willingly step aside in favour of a new generation of leaders demonstrates the maturity of Kazakhstan's statehood. Kazakhstan has certainly bucked the trend in an age which is often characterised by challenging political transitions.
This election will also be the most competitive in our nation's history. Seven candidates are running, giving the electorate more choice than ever before. One of the features of the electoral process is that the candidates include representatives of the opposition.
In addition, the Ak Zhol party's candidate, Daniya Yespayeva, has become the first woman in the history of Kazakhstan to run for president. This is another important step in our democratic development.
Kazakhstan's presidential nomination process has been designed to be robust and fair. For example, it stipulates in law that all candidates must receive signatures from 1% of Kazakhstan's registered electorate – around 118,000 people. All seven candidates, representing different policies and visions for the country, have received public support from many citizens.
Despite the instability in the global economy, Kazakhstan remains an attractive foreign investment destination in Central Asia, and accounts for more than half of the region's GDP.
As part of the industrial-innovative development programme of Kazakhstan, launched to help diversify and decrease the dependence on a resource-based economy, about 500 new businesses were established in the last four years.
The country remains focused on the digitisation of the economy, the development of e-government platforms, smart cities, communications, and a completely new space industry.
Serious attention is also being paid to our nation's social development. In recent years, per capita GDP in Kazakhstan has increased six-fold, reaching more than $9,000. Over the last thirty years, more than 1,500 new schools were built. In the next three years, we plan to build 200 more.
We are working hard to expand and enhance the quality of our education system. Kazakhstan is ranked 9th by the level of education of young people in the Vouchercloud rankings.
The Bolashak (Future) international educational scholarship programme gives young Kazakh citizens the opportunity to study internationally at many of the world's leading universities. Since the programme was established twenty-five years ago, more than 13,000 students have completed their studies under this fully funded government scholarship.
Kazakhstan is home to more than 130 different nationalities who make an important contribution to the development of our country and build a future for their children. A striking example of tolerance is the harmonious coexistence of peoples from around twenty different religious denominations. Every three years in Kazakhstan, the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is held, seeking to ensure interreligious and interfaith dialogue in the world.
Due to its geographical position and location at the heart of the Eurasian continent, Kazakhstan has also become a modern transit hub. Our logistics and transport infrastructure enables trade between East and West, North and South.
Kazakhstan has been conducting and will conduct a peaceful multi-vector foreign policy focused on the development of partnerships with all countries of the world. As our First President put it, “Due to its geopolitical position and economic potential, Kazakhstan does not have the right to isolate itself on narrow regional problems.
This would be incomprehensible not only to our multi-ethnic population, but also to the entire world community. The future of Kazakhstan is in Asia, and in Europe, in the East, and in the West".
Kazakhstan is a young nation with an ancient history. The citizens of Kazakhstan of various ethnic, political and religious identities have worked together over the last thirty years to build a stable, prosperous and open society. Exercising our democratic right through a national vote on the presidential election will help strengthen what we have achieved.
For our country to develop and thrive, it is important as many citizens as possible exercise their constitutional right and vote on June 9.
It is just as important for the international community to clearly understand that, proceeding from the interests of our own people, Kazakhstan is firmly on the path to strengthening its democracy and expanding its market economy while being clearly conscious of its responsibility for the stability, security and sustainable development of not only the key region of Central Asia, but the whole of Eurasia.
Regardless of the outcome of the June 9 elections, our determined course of action will continue.
Image: Sunday's presidential polls are seen as the next stage of the political transition in Kazakhstan. [EPA-EFE/IGOR KOVALENKO]