The people of Kazakhstan base their lives on a cultural heritage that has survived many years of suppression. There is a strong emphasis on hospitality, generosity, and a deep-seated respect for their elderly, as well as a long-standing pride in their country's music and poetry.
The Kazakhstan constitution, which was adopted by referendum in 1995, places considerable power with the president. He is elected by universal suffrage, and appoints the prime minister and the cabinet. He may legislate by decree, dissolve parliament, dismiss the government, call referenda, and veto laws passed by the legislature. He must also approve changes to the constitution.
The bicameral legislature consists of a Senate and the Majilis. The Senate has 39 members, 7 members of whom are appointed by the president, with the remaining 40 members being selected by the local district governments. The Majilis has a total of 77 members, with 67 members elected by popular vote and 10 more selected from the winning party's lists. The legislature has little actual power.
The judiciary is under the control of the president and the executive branch. Judges at all levels are appointed by the president making it difficult to prosecute governmental corruption.
Kazakhstan is an independent state, formerly a Soviet republic. However, like 12 of the other 15 other former republics - save Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - it is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Thus, ties to Russia continue to be close. This relationship is particularly critical, because Kazakhstan's oil is presently exported through pipelines across Russian territory.
To encourage foreign investment, the government has initiated a program of economic reform and privatization.
The currency has stabilized, inflation reduced dramatically while the GDP increased, and state control over the economy is gradually being lifted. The government still has considerable economic control, however, and reforms to the legal system are also needed to bring it up to international standards.
Kazakhstan has vast natural resources with some of the largest known oil and natural gas reserves, including three of the world's most extensive oil fields in the region of the Caspian Sea. These reserves have attracted international oil exploration and refining companies.
In addition, international mining companies, communications companies, and a variety of consumer products companies have established operations in Kazakhstan. The country also has considerable agricultural potential with its extensive steppe land, which is conducive to both grazing of livestock and grain production.
Most expatriates with families and children live in Almaty, the largest and most cosmopolitan city, while others are assigned to Astana, the capital. Although Astana is the political hub of the country, Almaty is said to offer more of the facilities and amenities that many expatriates prefer.
Visitors will find the Kazakhstanis hospitable and accustomed to interacting with foreigners as they have done for centuries having been located on the trade route between Europe and Asia.