Nazarbayev Has Left, but Has He?

Yesterday, on March 19, 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that he had abdicated his position as the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Head of the Senate of the Kazakh Parliament KasymZhomart Tokayev has become Interim President. He assumes the office on March 20 upon taking the oath and is to serve until the next elections.

One cannot say that Nazarbayev’s resignation was a surprise. The talks that the power transit in Kazakhstan is already underway have been going on for quite some time. Nonetheless, the announcement made by the leader that has been irreplaceable for whooping 30 years has made the news.

At the same time, the expectations that the country is to start living a different life in the nearest future are, in our opinion, nothing but idle hopes. Nursultan Nazarbayev has resigned from the post of the head of the state but not from the status of the sovereign ruler of the country. He himself underscores it in his resignation announcement (text in bold by

“As you know, our law has granted me the status of the First President – the Leader of the Nation. I remain the Chief of Security Council which is a position of a great responsibility. I remain the head of Nur Otan party, a member of the Constitutional Council. In other words, I am still here with you. The struggles of the country and the people remain my own struggles.

As the founder of the independent Kazakh state, I see my future task in ensuring that a new generation of state leaders who will continue the on-going reforms ascends to power”.

So, in contrast with the English who leave without saying good-buy, Nursultan Nazarbayev had said good-buy but did not leave.

Considering that Nazarbayev is the irreplaceable leader of

  • Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan,  

(see Why does Nazarbayev Need a New Security Council? )

  • Managing Council of Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund,

(see A Test for Mightiness)

  • Nur Otan party,

(see On Nur Otan’s Sectarianism)

as well as the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan and also, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, has unlimited political immunity, he will continue to dominate Akorda.

With that, de-jure, he is shedding all the responsibility for everything that is happening and will happen in the country. So, on one hand, we may congratulate KasymZhomart Tokayev on the fact that he is now the second in succession President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, on the other hand, we may express our sympathies since he has now become the main “scapegoat” of the nation.

It is still too early to tell who Nur Otan’s nominee will be at the next presidential elections, but Tokayev will probably not be the one (more likely, it will be the daughter or the nephew). On the other hand, it is of use to reflect upon why Nursultan Nazarbayev has decided to abdicate the presidential chair.

The two reasons that are evident are his age and the health status. But these reasons alone do not justify Nazarbayev’s taking such big a risk.

In our opinion, three scenarios are possible.

First, there could be a strong external pressure that had forced Nursultan Nazarbayev to resign in exchange for certain guarantees or promises not to bully him and his family members. If it is so, we will allow ourselves to suppose that it was US President Donald Trump that acted as the main bully – just think how troubled Nazarbayev looked on the photos taken at his White House meeting with Trump. But we will repeat, this is only an assumption. It could also be Russia or China that exerted the pressure.

Second, there is the critical state of health when it is already pointless to try and hold on to the power but what exists is the desire to quietly meet one’s doom in the bosom of one’s family.

Third, there are concerns that the protest moods in Kazakhstan will grow and the events will unfold according to the Algerian scenario.

Be as it may, but the old and experienced political “fox”, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has made yet another surprising move having stepped aside and assumed the position above the rest including his successor in the office. And now many people, inside the country and abroad, will wait for the further developments with great interest. 

We believe nothing extraordinary will happen, at least, until the next presidential elections. However, certain movements will invariably start happening in the ruling elite which is good news since, in the recent years, the domestic policy process in Kazakhstan has grown grey, empty and devoid of a message. Now we have got a suspense story. Granted, it is limited in scope and is more of a bureaucratic than of a political nature. Nonetheless, it is heartening to see that happen.


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