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Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected

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MEPs have welcomed attempts by Kazakhstan to ensure that more women are elected in its upcoming parliament elections. This comes  just ahead of the next elections, which have been set for January 10, 2021. This will elect members to the lower house of the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis. It will be the energy-rich Central Asian country’s first parliamentary elections since Kassym-Jomart Toqaev in 2019 succeeded Nursultan Nazarbaev, who resigned that year after nearly three decades in power, writes Colin Stevens.

In a departure from custom, the date falls at the end of the legislature’s five-year term,

President Tokayev says the electoral and political process has been liberalized to allow for more involvement from civil society.He refers specifically to what was dubbed the parliamentary opposition bill – a piece of legislation that he approved in June. Under this change to the law, non-ruling parties are supposed to acquire a greater say in setting the legislative agenda.

This is important in the context of the Mazhilis, the lower house of parliament, where the governing Nur Otan party won 84 out of the 107 seats up for grabs in the 2016 election.

Tokayev said another positive change was the mandatory 30 percent quota on party lists for women and youths. For the purposes of this requirement, a youth means anybody under 29-years-old.

Elections for local government bodies, the Maslikhats, are taking place on the same date.

There are currently six registered political parties in Kazakhstan. Nur Otan, which has as its figurehead the former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, The other two forces in parliament are the pro-business Ak-Zhol, which bills itself as the “constructive opposition,” and the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan, or KNPK.

A recent poll (in which 7,000 people were questioned) showed 77 percent of respondents plan to cast their ballot.

The last parliamentary elections were held in March 2016.

Ahead of the elections, this website canvassed the opinions of MEPs and others.

Andris Ameriks, vice chairman of the Central Asian delegation in the European Parliament, told EU Reporter: “During these elections, people of Kazakhstan will make their choice in electing deputies for the following 5 years. I believe that the nation of Kazakhstan will make the right choice, while Kazakh leadership will follow the democratic processes in the name of prosperity and wellbeing of the country and its people.”

He added: “I greatly welcome continuation of ex-President Nazarbayev’s established direction in the legal reforms and actions taken by the current Kazakh leadership in developing the country’s democracy, transparency and good governance.

“Introduction of a mandatory quota of 30% of women and young people on the party lists, signed by President Tokayev, is of  great importance for the further development of balanced political life in  Kazakhstan and for keeping the politics in line with the world’s practice.

“The results of the elections are highly important for Kazakhstan, Central Asian region and for the EU as for a close partner of Kazakhstan, therefore I hope that people of Kazakhstan will be active and responsible in deciding who will represent them in the Majilis during the next five years.

“At a time when the whole world is struggling with a pandemic that has caused great social turmoil and provoked national governments, it is vital that these elections provide a real example of mutual trust between the people and the authorities.”

Slovenian RE member Klemen Groselj, who is parliament’s standing rapporteur on Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan is already an important partner of the EU in Central Asia, especially in the energy field, but there are also other possibilities of cooperation that have not been fully exploited yet.

“Looking at recent events in the South Caucasus, I believe there is now more than ever a mutual interest in a further development and strengthening of existing relations. I see a wide range of concrete opportunities for cooperation in the near future, for instance in the framework of the Green Deal and Digitalization.”

On the election, he added: “I expect the Kazakh authorities to guarantee the necessary conditions for a free and fair election process while providing adequate precautionary measures in light of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Open, safe, transparent and fair elections can be a solid foundation for the future growth of our economic and political cooperation with Kazakhstan.”

Greens MEP Viola von Cramon noted: “With decreasing Russian influence and progressively aggressive China, central Asian republics, including Kazakhstan are signalling some openness to the EU. It is a positive sign.

"There had been positive steps were made in guaranteeing the basic right of assembly and investigating tortures by law enforcement officials. The question is now how far will the controlled democratization will go.

“In regard to the upcoming elections, having a mandatory 30% quota for women and young people as well as an increased role of opposition in the legislative process is a welcome change. How will the rankings in the list be distributed and whether we will see truly critical opposition gaining ground in the lower house of the Parliament? We will be very closely following these changes.”

Peter Stano, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. told this website: "The EU welcomes the invitation extended to OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and members of the European Parliament to observe the 10 January 2021 Kazakhstan parliamentary elections. In light of the ongoing  reform and modernization processes in Kazakhstan, in particular the  adoption of laws on elections and  political parties (May 2019), the EU expects the elections to be conducted in a free, open and transparent manner, fully respecting the freedoms of expression and assembly."

He said: "The EU welcomes that for  the  first  time  a  30  percent  quota  will  be  introduced  in  party  lists  for  women  and youth jointly. The EU encourages Kazakhstan to avail of the advice and expertise of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and to fully implement the recommendations made previously and any that may be forthcoming."

Fraser Cameron, director of the Brussels-based EU/Asia Centre, said that the elections “should mark another step forward in Kazakhstan’s  steady progress towards a more open and democratic society”.

The former European commission official added: “It would be important to allow more parties to compete than was the case during the last parliamentary elections.”

EU

‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say 

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Always on’ culture poses serious risks, MEPs say ©Deagreez/Adobe Stock  

The European Parliament calls for an EU law that grants workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. In their legislative initiative that passed with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions, MEPs call on the Commission to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.

The increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees, MEPs say. Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the COVID-19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

MEPs consider the right to disconnect a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right, including via collective agreements between social partners. They should ensure that workers will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers.

“We cannot abandon millions of European workers who are exhausted by the pressure to be always 'on' and overly long working hours. Now is the moment to stand by their side and give them what they deserve: the right to disconnect. This is vital for our mental and physical health. It is time to update worker’s rights so that they correspond to the new realities of the digital age,” rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) said after the vote.

Background

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. This figure is expected to remain high or even increase. Research by Eurofound shows that people who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week, compared to those working on their employer’s premises. Almost 30% of those working from home report working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to less than 5% of office workers.

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Brexit

Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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EU

Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas

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At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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