COMMENT: Nazarbayev rips up his succession plans

>> The sacking of Dariga Nazarbayeva as Speaker of the Senate means that her father has had a rethink on how he wants to organise his succession, writes James Kilner.

MAY 2 (The Bulletin) — As The Bulletin was going to print, news filtered through that Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev had fired Dariga Nazarbayeva as Speaker of Kazakhstan’s Senate.

This is an extraordinary move for Tokayev to pull off. He has been viewed as a straw-man for Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev resigned last March as president and installed the pliant Tokayev as his successor, although he insisted on being called the Leader of the Nation.

At the same time, Dariga was promoted to take over from Tokayev as Speaker of the Senate. Those of us trying to read the smoke signals coming out of the Akorda discerned a succession plan. Essentially it was that Tokayev would keep the hot seat warm for Dariga while her father was alive. Once he had died, though, the job was hers. By jettisoning Dariga this analysis has now, and to stick with the analogy, gone up in smoke.

So what happened? The short answer is that we only know for sure that Tokayev said that he had “terminated” Dariga’s position as Speaker of the Senate.

This wasn’t, then, a gentle let down or a quiet resignation, this was a sacking. Make no mistake, this is unusually blunt language. The Akorda normally talks in platitudes.

The reality is that only one person can sack a member of the Nazarbayev family and that is Nursultan Nazarbayev himself. As with all Tokayev’s major decisions, he would have had to run this past Nazarbayev first. In effect then, Nazarbayev fired his own daughter. The succession plan has been ripped up.

Dariga may have become too much of a liability. In the past nine months or so her youngest son, Aisultan, has been in court in London accused of biting a policeman during a drug bender. He has also released a statement in which he claimed to know of massive corruption in Kazakhstan. Her older and more serious son Nurali has just defended himself against a corruption charge made by the British authorities. This may have been too much to bear for Nazarbayev.

Dariga is also not well-liked in Kazakhstan. She owes her support-base to her father. This means that she can be cut out of the political picture without much risk that she will establish a rival power-base.

Now that Dariga has been sacked, the next couple of weeks and months will make for critical Akorda watching.


>> This story was first published in issue 444 of the Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on May 2 2020. For details on how to subscribe, go to

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