Kazakhstan’s transition takes place according to Nazarbayev’s plan

Nazarbayev [L] and Tokayev among delegates of the Nur Otan party. [Astana Times]

Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party unanimously nominated on Tuesday (23 April) Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as its candidate for the 9 June presidential election. The first President of the country Nursultan Nazarbayev said he had planned this move for years.

Tokayev took over as head of state since Nazarbayev surprisingly resigned on 19 March. A Speaker of the Senate at the time, Tokayev will serve as interim president before elections are held, the retiring president announced.

Kazakhstan stunned: President Nazarbayev surprisingly resigns

Kazakhstan’s first and only president so far, Nursultan Nazarbayev, surprisingly resigned on Tuesday (19 March) and announced that the Speaker of the Senate, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, will serve as interim leader before the next presidential election.

On 9 April Tokayev set 9 June as the date of the early presidential election and said the vote was “absolutely needed” to ensure “continuity, predictability and stability”.

Kazakhstan to hold early presidential elections on 9 June

Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev set on Tuesday (9 April) the date for the early presidential election for 9 June and said the vote was “absolutely needed” to ensure “continuity, predictability and stability” after the long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned.

Tokayev’s nomination on Tuesday was supported by 600 delegates at the Nur Otan (People Democratic) congress and was announced by Nazarbayev himself.

Nazarbayev described Tokayev as a “close ally and outstanding politician” and praised his vast experience.

“As a party chair, I put forward Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Having known him for many years, working together, I believe he is the most well-deserved candidate for this highest position in the country,” said Nazarbayev.

“I am sure Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is such a candidate that will follow the politics of friendship, equal rights of Kazakh citizens. I call on all our people to support this candidate… I firmly believe in our victory, because our course is right and people trust us,” said Nazarbayev.

One-horse race

The nomination appears to indicate that the election is likely to be a one-horse race, but also that continuity would be preserved and that Kazakhstan would remain predictable and consistent in its foreign policy.

Nazarbayev said he had been planning this move for several years.

“I resigned on 19 March. But a new generation will come to lead the country. This is how it works in life and I believe they will work for the sake of the country and our generation should help them,” said Nazarbayev, as quoted by the Astana Times.

“If I did something over this time, I am a happy person, happy politician. I made a conscious decision. Such decisions are not taken within one day or one month. I was preparing for such a decision for a few years and, honestly, more than three years. I looked everywhere, looked at allies and came to this conclusion. And it was right,” he said.

Tokayev thanked Nazarbayev for the support and nomination.

“With all my heart, I feel the burden put on me by a great person, founder of our country. Therefore, I pledge to live up to such big trust to the best of my ability,” said Tokayev.

Born in 1953, Tokayev is a career diplomat and a polyglot: He is fluent in Kazakh, Russian, English and Chinese and has knowledge of French. He has served, among other positions, as director general of the United Nations Office in Geneva, and as a personal representative of the UN Secretary-General to the Conference on Disarmament.

Nazarbayev, 78, retains sweeping powers in the country of 18 million as the official “national leader”, chair of its security council and head of Nur Otan.

The capital Astana, of which he was largely the architect, was renamed Nur-Sultan city on 23 March, and so were the main boulevards in the country’s cities. It was also decided that a monument in his honour would be erected in the capital.

The Kazakh transition is likely to be studied as a rare example in the post-Soviet space where leaders often spend many years in power until they pass away, creating risks for the stability of the country. Foreign Policy Magazine wrote that even Russia’s Putin could be inspired by Nazarbayev’s well-planned retirement.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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