President Nazarbayev steps down after three decades of power. - Dispatch Weekly

March 20, 2019 - Reading time: 6 minutes

Since Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been the country’s only president and is finally stepping down after 3 decades of power. It has now been announced that Jomart Tokayev, the lead Parliamentary speaker, has been sworn in as the interim leader, until the next election in 2020.

It was previously thought that Bulat Umteratov – one of Nazarbayev’s close friends would be named the president. He had recently been investigated by Source Material and The Times regarding shady deals he made with Glencore and Kazzinc regarding shares in the private Haileybury Astana school. This scandal has potentially damaged his chances of election in 2020.

As part of Tokayev’s first actions, he named Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, speaker of the Senate. This move significantly raises her profile as a possible presidential successor.

The central Asian nation of Kazakhstan has been under the reign of President Nazarbayev for 30 years. His resignation came as a surprise, on Tuesday the 19th March 2019 the 79-year-old made his announcement on the country’s national television.

“I have taken a decision, which was not easy for me, to resign as president,” Nazarbayev said

‘He will still be very much active behind the scenes’ says one analysist.

Nazarbayev – was expected to seek another term in 2020 although he no longer is president of the oil-rich country, the newly former president will remain chairman of Kazakhstan’s powerful Security Council. He also holds power on key posts in military and political bureaucracy. Therefore, he will still be very much active behind the scenes.

Mr Nazarbayev with the Queen of England and Prince Philip during a visit to London in 2015.

Nazarbayev says “It was an honour for me to serve the people… I have worked hard to fulfil the nation’s will.” Nazarbayev is mainly celebrated by the people of Kazakhstan, for keeping the peace and stability within the country, although he has faced backlash due to his opposing freedom of speech.

In 2015 he was re-elected president for the fifth time, with 97.7% of Kazakhstan’s population voting for him, although the election was criticized for not offering any suitable opponents.

RIA news agency reported that the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament and a close ally of the country’s President Vladimir Putin, Valentina Matvienko says, Nazarbayev’s resignation was unexpected and very serious.

An elderly woman tells Radio Free Europe “On the one hand, it’s a pity. On the other hand, it’s the right time. I think he should give young people a chance,”

Another woman says “It’s a pity. If Nazarbayev leaves, something could happen. I’m afraid,”

Others were not fearful for the future, with one man telling Radio Free Europe that “Nothing has changed before. Do you think anything will change? Everything will stay as it is,” he said.

Nazarbayev will continue to have significant policymaking powers following his resignation thanks to his constitutional status as “Leader of the Nation”.

Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, speaking from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, said Tuesday’s announcement was a “big surprise” and a particularly unusual move for a Central Asian leader.

“People who lead these countries tend to like to cling on to power until the very last minute if they can, and usually it’s succumbing to mortality that brings them down … I think what [Nazarbayev] always wanted was an orderly transition of power,” Forestier-Walker said.

“If he had died then, there might have been a power struggle and I think he always wanted to avoid that. So now, we’ll be looking to see how exactly he intends to hand over the reins. He will continue very much to be at the seat of power, even though he’s taken this rather exceptional step.”

Nazarbayev’s resignation will set the stage for a potential battle between Russia and the United States for influence over the successive government.

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.