By George D. Gleboff, Aidana Yergaliyeva and Nazira Kozhanova
The following is compilation of three articles that appeared on The Astana Times on March 19 and March 21, 2019.
ASTANA (IDN-INPS) – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev stunned the nation March 19, announcing during a nationally televised address that he would be resigning the office he has held for nearly three decades.
“As the founder of the independent Kazakh state, I see my future task in ensuring the coming to power of a new generation of leaders who will continue the ongoing reforms,” he said in what he called a “special” address that was delivered in both the Kazakh and Russian languages.
“The issue of succession of power in Kazakhstan is resolved in the Constitution. In case the current President relinquishes the duties, his duties are transferred to the Chairman of the Senate until the end of the current term. Then, the election of a new President is held.”
Nazarbayev, who was first elected in December 1991, went on to sign what he called his last decree as President of Kazakhstan, relinquishing his duties beginning the next day, March 20, and appointing the time for the taking of office for the current Chairman of the Senate, Qasym-Jomart Toqayev, as noon March 20 at the joint session of Parliament.
Nazarbayev described his successor as a trustworthy person “who knows the country, its economy and politics.” Nazarbayev also said Toqayev is “an honest, responsible and indispensable person,” well qualified to lead the nation.
A graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Toqayev has held some of the highest positions in Kazakhstan as Foreign Minister in the early years of Kazakhstan’s independence, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister and most recently Chair of the Senate.
The President explained his decision to step down comes at a time when the world is changing and bringing not only opportunities, but technological and demographic challenges, which call for a new generation to step up to bring the solutions.
“My generation and I did everything for the country that we could,” he noted.
Recalling the decisions the country’s leadership made after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nazarbayev said the challenge was to build a market economy, dismantle the totalitarian system and modernise the institutions of society, all three at the same time.
“Kazakhstan’s own path of development… allowed the country to move from an agrarian economy to an industrial service economy,” said President. “There is a process of industrialisation and urbanisation in the country. The world’s leading investors have come to the commodity sector. This made it possible to implement the most complex projects in the oil and gas sector.”
The current President, however, will maintain major power in the country as the constitutional law of 2010 introduced the role of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Elbasy (Leader of the Nation) to ensure the nation’s unity, protection of the Constitution, rights and freedoms of citizen.
“I remain the Chairman of the Security Council, which is vested with strong powers. I remain the chairman of the Nur Otan Party, and a member of the Constitutional Council. Which means I stay with you and the country and our people remain my concerns,” said Nazarbayev.
Nazarbayev interpreted his new task as to ensure the coming to power of a new generation of leaders who will continue the transformations that has begun in Kazakhstan.
“Throughout these years, you supported me in every election and I had the honour to serve my great nation, my country, for that I am deeply grateful,” he told the nation.
Nazarbayev believes Kazakhstan must change along with the world and become a Society of Universal Labour where everything is done for a nation’s citizens.
As the first President of Kazakhstan concluded his historic address, he said the future of Kazakhstan must be one of “a country with strong economy, the best education and health care, where citizens are free and equal, where the power is just and where there is the rule of law.”
Experts praise Nazarbayev’s decision
Yerlan Karin, chair of the Kazakhstan Council on International Relations (KCIR), noted in his Telegram channel that Nazarbayev leaves office at a time when he remains highly popular among people.
“Nursultan Nazarbayev surprised everyone by ending his presidential powers at the peak of his political influence, having an absolute index of the level of political support among the population. So much so that he could go to the polls again and confidently confirm his mandate,” said Karin
Karin also noted that Nazarbayev built a stable nation over his 30 years in office and put in place government systems that would continue that stability after he left office. “Nazarbayev purposefully built all necessary institutional and legal framework to ensure the stability of the political process and the sustainability of the state course,” Karin added.
Zhaksylyk Sabitov, an expert from the Institute of World Economy and Politics (IWEP) under the Foundation of the First President agreed, saying, “With this statement, the First President calmed down all those who worried about the future of Kazakhstan.”
He added: “Foreign investors and the international community received a clear signal that Kazakhstan will have continuity of currency course and the status quo will remain. (And) the population of Kazakhstan also received a signal that the policy of the new President will continue the course of the First President.”
He added that the systems the former President put in place will keep the country on a stable path for a long time.
Zhumabek Sarabekov, another IWEP expert, called Nazarbayev’s decision “truly historic in nature and aimed at ensuring the most optimal conditions for strengthening Kazakhstan’s statehood. This step testifies to the sustainable development trajectory of the state institutions of independent Kazakhstan.”
The first president in Kazakh history
Nazarbayev became independent Kazakhstan’s first president Dec. 16, 1991. He had served as Kazakh President for almost three decades.
The former President’s length of service helped ensure stability as the country developed, said Zarema Shaukenova, director of the Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies under the President.
“Many foreign experts perceive the political longevity of the first President of Kazakhstan as an important political resource and social capital… The core of Kazakh statehood, which allowed us to make difficult political, economic and social transformations, is a successful institution of the presidency,” wrote Shaukenova in a Facebook post.
Nazarbayev’s public approval did not fall below 85 percent even in the crisis years 2008-2009, said Shaukenova.
“This suggests that for the overwhelming majority of Kazakhs, the President managed to become a reliable guarantor of stability. Unswervingly following the political course, the goal (of the President), and Kazakhstan became democratic, prosperous, self-confident and self-reliant, socially consolidated and recognised by the international community,” she said.
Experts also noted that new President Tokayev is well prepared for the role and to continue the stability created under the previous president.
Kazakhs react to resignation
Many citizens of Kazakhstan were shocked and turned to social media to share their reactions.
In the wake of Nazarbayev’s resignation, Kazakhs reacted with an array of emotions. Photographer Nazgul Kenzhetay approved of this decision and summarised Nazarbayev’s work in her Instagram post: “Very smart decision! Nursultan Nazarbayev is a worthy aksakal (wise old man) of our country! We are grateful to you!”
Almaty resident and sales worker Kulzhazira Yerdenova also expressed her gratitude in her Instagram post: “Today I, just like everyone else, got shocked by political news regarding the resignation of our leader Nursultan Nazarbayev – it really touched my feelings. I can’t imagine Kazakhstan without our president. 30 years of governance! He managed to create a strong and independent state of Kazakhstan!”
At the same time some citizens were expressing their anxiety over the change. A housewife from Karaganda, Olga Kessler, wrote: “President of Kazakhstan has resigned… I’m speechless… I had no idea this would happen… What’s going to happen next? I don’t know. To be honest, I’m a bit anxious,” Kessler shared her emotions in her online post.
Other commenters on social media, whose tweets have gone moderately viral, tried to come to terms with a shock caused by a sudden announcement: “The entire state feels like it is left to wait in line with adults, the parents are away. We were not ready for this,” wrote Kazakh @B17ibrayev on Twitter.
“I don’t feel like this world is real without Nazarbayev. Astana doesn’t feel like Astana, snow doesn’t feel like snow,” wrote @champagne8th, another Twitter user.
“Oh god, something turned upside down inside of me” wrote @letnieno4i.
Shymkent residents interviewed by the nur.kz website expressed a mix of trust in Nazarbayev’s decision and uncertainty about their future.
“I’m shocked. It was like a stroke at that moment, I got scared. What’s going to happen now?” Natalya Romanova told nur.kz.
“This is a historical event for our country. Our President made a wise decision, not everyone can do it,” Yelaman Zholdas said.
“Well, you see it’s been 30 years. Time passes, our president sees that there is a need for change. Don’t see any reasons to panic about it. He remains with us,” Boris Aleksandrovich told nur.kz
“I was upset over Nazarbayev’s resignation, it was scary and unclear, who will serve as his replacement. But Tokayev is a good civil servant and an authoritative politician, I think it will be fine. Probably right now all civil servants are scared of changes. We’ll see what happens,” said Ilyas Karimov.
Nazarbayev’s resignation has already inspired a song by Diana Idris, a blogger from Shymkent. In her song, Idris wanted to assure citizens of Kazakhstan that Nazarbayev knows what he is doing.
Nazarbayev first became the head of the state in 1991. Kazakhstan’s ex-senate speaker Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev was sworn in as the republic’s new president on March 20, 2019. Tokayev will serve as the country’s president until the term of his predecessor expires in 2020.
Tokayev announced that Kazakhstan’s capital Astana has been renamed to Nursultan to honour outgoing leader Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The change was announced after Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was sworn in as president, promising to seek his predecessor’s opinion on key decisions. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 March 2019]
Photo: Outgoing Kazakh President Nazarbayev with youth representatives. Credit: akorda.kz.
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