Nazarbayev quits as Kazakh president

ALMATY/MARCH 19 (The Bulletin) — Nursultan Nazarbayev unexpectedly quit as president of Kazakhstan on Tuesday, triggering the first transition of power in the country since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a Nazarbayev loyalist and career bureaucrat who had been Speaker of the Senate, was inaugurated the next day as Kazakhstan’s president. He is considered to be a stand-in president until elections in March 2020.

In his resignation speech, Mr Nazarbayev, 78, said that he would still play an influential role in running the country from his position as chairman-for-life of the Security Council.

“As the founder of the independent Kazakh state I see my task now in facilitating the rise of a new generation of leaders who will continue the reforms that are underway in the country,” he said in a live television address.

And the Nazarbayev family’s grip on power was confirmed by the promotion of Dariga Nazarbayeva, Mr Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter, as Speaker of the Senate. Analysts immediately said she was now likely to get the presidency next year.

Mr Nazarbayev has been president of Kazakhstan during its entire 28 years of independence from the Soviet Union and is credited with peacefully giving up its nuclear weapons, avoiding the civil wars and violent revolutions of Kazakhstan’s Central Asian neighbours and also for boosting the Kazakh economy.

His detractors, though, say that he has crushed human rights, allowed his friends and family to siphon off the country’s wealth and promoted a personality cult. This last point was highlighted immediately after Mr Tokayev was sworn in as president. His first act was to rename Astana, the is Kazakh capital, as Nursultan.

— This story was taken from issue 404 of The Bulletin — the weekly newspaper for Central Asia and the South Caucasus

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