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The Stronger Civil Society The Stronger Democracy Politics Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Civil society plays a key role in building pressure for democratic transition and pushing it through to completion. According to the proponents of civil society, democracy occurs when subordinated social groups achieve sufficient access to the state so as to change the patterns of representation contained within it. Civil society groups occupy the political realm between the state and the individual and encompass subordinated social groups as well as other groups across the social strata. The mobilization and activism of civil society groups can enact change and aid in democratic transition. This means that the stronger civil society, the stronger democracy is like to be. Building the link between civil society and democracy, many politicians and academicians have expanded the role and benefits of civil society from sustaining a democracy to being an important force able to bring about democratization. Similarly, Diamond et al. state that democracy will be likely consolidated and will be of higher quality if a rich, dense, vibrant, institutionalized and highly “civic” civil society emerges. [2] Linz and Stepan argue that “a robust civil society, with the capacity to generate political alternatives and to monitor government and state can help transitions get started, help resist reversals, help push transitions to their completion, help consolidate, and help deepen democracy. At all stages of the democratization process, a lively and independent civil society is invaluable.” [3] Another scholar, Bunbongkan points out that civil society can consolidate democracy by forcing the government to be more accountable, transparent, and responsive to the public, which strengthens its legitimacy. [4] Kalshnikova states that developed and strong democracy is possible only where the citizens can influence state power and control it. This intends to close interaction of the political system and civil society. [5] The Russian scholar, N.S. Fedorkin relates civil society to the results of the historical development of Western civilization, and considers that it can be defined “as the body of social relations and institutions that operate relatively independently of political power and can impact on its decision making process through mediate institutions (political parties, interest groups, pressure groups ).” [6] 

This thesis represents an attempt to analyze the development of civil society and its contribution to the process of democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan. I think there are relatively few studies which have been touched on the prospects of development of civil society and democratic consolidation in Central Asia, a region with Communist legacy. Hence, with the break-up of the former Soviet Union in 1986, Kazakhstan was thrust into statehood and self-government. On December 16, 1991, it was the last of the former Soviet republics to declare independence.

Since its independence, Kazakhstan has been fully engaged in the transition from a Soviet political system to democracy. It had been acknowledged in the international community as moving forward in its path to democracy, with its numerous independent media outlets, liberal government policies, and growing non-governmental organizations. Like other former Soviet republics, it has developed numerous civil society organizations, but despite of this democracy has not flourished. Even though most of the literatures on democratic consolidation cite that civil society is the main feature of promoting and consolidating democracy. However as Kazakhstan’s case shows this theory could be refuted, as civil society movements do not enhance the democratic consolidation in this country.

Thereby, the purpose of this thesis is to examine the extent of Kazakhstan’s democratic consolidation within the general framework of civil society as one of the leading concepts being promoted by the academic community as a principal factor in the consolidation of the liberal democratic government. The main hypothesis in this study is that the civil society does not foster democratic consolidation and it is substantiated by two main reasons. The first reason deals with the deep traditional social cleavages among Kazakh people that unfavourably impact on democratic consolidation. The titular ethnic group in Kazakhstan remains tied to their kindred and clan-based past. These clans and their traditional adherence have a negative influence on the society and political life of state. As this factor has a strong influence in politics it may result in unforeseen consequences. Thereby, while people of the country will not strive for equality and are not willing to fight for it, democracy will not take hold. The second reason is related with the Western-based civil society organizations that prevent democratic consolidation. In other words, foreign assistance in establishing civil society organizations in Kazakhstan can hinder democratization, as these organizations have not been determined by their own priorities. People should come together with common idea and decide what is important and make their opinions known to decision makers. If outside groups are setting up organizations, it is probably that people will likely join an already established group, but it can hinder indigenous people to understand the true role of associations. In this way, the civil associations do not come about because of grass-roots’ common desire to unite together, but rather are created on the priorities of the Western donor-organizations. This thesis will analyze each of these reasons in depth.

As a methodology, this master thesis mainly referred to secondary sources including books, journal articles, news accounts, reports of several think tanks, official and unofficial statements, OSCE and UN reports, Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and analyses by journalists and newspaper articles both in English and Russian. While the examination of the theories and historical background of civil society development and democratic consolidation were done through books and journal articles, for the analysis of the current period the research referred to news accounts, official and unofficial statements, official web sites of parties, president, parliament, analyses by journalists and political scholars.

Chapter one points out the theoretical framework for the analysis of the relationship between civil society and democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan. The chapter will first go through a detailed review of democracy, democratic transition and democratic consolidation theory literatures. Secondly, the chapter will examine the relationship between civil society and democratic consolidation. I will estimate the level of democratic consolidation via the civil society, as civil society is one of the main factor of democratic consolidation. Thirdly, the chapter will provide the literature review on the impact of civil society on democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan.

Chapter two aims to provide a historical background and democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan since independence. The chapter will briefly explain the political situation in Kazakhstan before, during and after the Soviet Union. As Kazakhstan chose a democratic way of government it had to make considerable reforms in political, social and economic areas, which are also examined in this chapter. Then the chapter will examine the role of external actors and organizations in promoting and consolidating democracy.

Chapter three analyzes the impact of civil society on democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan. It gives a brief background of civil society formation in Kazakhstan from 1990. Then the chapter will provide two main hypotheses of this thesis. The first hypothesis deals with the impact of the deep traditional social cleavages among Kazakh people on democratic consolidation, whereas the second hypothesis examines the influence of Western-based civil society on democratic consolidation. Then the chapter will continue by emphasizing the other main obstacles in the way of civil society development in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Finally, the conclusion summarizes the analysis of civil society and democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan. It highlights why civil society hinder democratic consolidation in Kazakhstan in spite of fact that most of reliable resources argue that civil society is the core indicator of democratic consolidation. The conclusion chapter is dedicated to summarize the general finding of thesis which claims that as long as traditional social cleavage among titular ethnic group and Western-based civil society organizations which were not created on common desire of indigenous people to determine their own priorities prevail, the democracy could not be consolidated.


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