ASTANA – Nursultan Nazarbayev, the last remaining Soviet-era leader and revered patriarch of Central Asia, resigned on Tuesday his post as president of Kazakhstan after nearly 30 years at the helm, although his exit from the political limelight will unlikely lead to major changes in domestic or foreign policy.
In a surprise message to the nation, the 78-year-old Kazakh leader announced his resignation as head of state as of Wednesday, but said he would remain at the head of the pro-government Nur Otan party and the country’s influential Security Council to guarantee the smoothest of transitions.
In 2010 he was declared by the Parliament “Father of the Nation,” a title that gives him weighty influence for life in all matters related to the country’s security and foreign and domestic policy, a clear message to Kazakhstan’s partners that the country will remain predictable and unchanged.
Nazarbayev, who became head of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan in 1989, two years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, was at the time one of the main supporters of Mikhail Gorbachev in his efforts, ultimately futile, to prevent the disintegration of the Soviet State.
After the collapse of the Soviet empire, he actively advocated continued cooperation among the newly independent republics, being one of the most fervent impetus of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In addition to maintaining good relations with Moscow, the Kazakh leader opened his country to cooperation with the West and East, a multi-vector foreign policy that has allowed Kazakhstan to take up a unique and privileged position in the eyes of the international community.
Proof of this was the rotating presidency of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in 2010 by Kazakhstan, a country of about 18 million inhabitants and the ninth largest in the world by land area.
One of the great merits attributed to Nazarbayev is the fact that Kazakhstan is the only one of the former Soviet republics, not counting the Baltics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – that has not been the scene of violence nor has it been involved in armed conflicts.
The Kazakh president believes that the transition to democracy should be based on a solid economic base and has proposed as a goal that the country, which owns huge reserves of hydrocarbons and uranium, should be among the 30 most developed states in the world before 2050.
His detractors accuse him of having created a corrupt regime and of trying to end all political opposition.
In the presidential elections of 2015, boycotted by the opposition, Nazarbayev won 95.55 percent of the vote.
While the the OSCE observer mission reported some irregularities, observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe considered that the results of the elections reflected the will of the Kazakhs.
Mostly because of economic growth and the generalized belief among Kazakhs that while Nazarbayev was in command of the country, peace and stability was guaranteed.
But for some time now the Kazakh leader’s advanced age had put the problem of succession on the table.
“I think that (Kassym-Jomart) Tokayev is precisely the person to whom we can entrust the government of Kazakhstan,” Nazarbayev said today, referring to the Senate chairman, who is to assume the functions of the head of state Wednesday.
According to the Kazakh Constitution, Tokayev will exercise the presidential powers during the year that remains of the mandate obtained by Nazarbayev at the polls in 2015.