ASTANA – Kazakhs expressed disbelief, resignation, fear and hope for the future on Wednesday, a day after the resignation of the president of Central Asia’s largest republic, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in power since 1989.
“What happened? When? No way!”
That was the general reaction of residents when the news broke on Tuesday in the capital Astana, which was renamed Nur-Sultan a day later in a parliamentary nod to their beloved leader of nearly 30 years.
News of Nazarbayev’s resignation hit the airwaves as Kazakhs were headed home from work. Their first reaction was disbelief.
Cells phones buzzed until late at night with messages and comments about the news bulletin.
The next day, the idea that Nazarbayev was no longer head of state began to sink in.
“I saw the president’s speech on television and I almost broke down in tears,” said Gulzhan on the Facebook, “because of the coolness with which he left office.”
Those who had not yet been born, or were too young to remember life in Kazakhstan under Soviet rule, were taken by surprise but at the same time were confident that the departure of Nazarbayev would open the way to change.
A 30-year-old businessman, Zhangueldi Akhmetov, told EFE that he felt “sad,” as if a “loved one” had died, but at the same time, “joy,” because “there will be changes.”
He also ruled out the possibility that any change would be radical and expressed confidence in the new Kazakh leader, former Speaker of the Senate Kassyim-Jomart Tokayev.
“He has given power to Tokayev, a person from his team, a professional diplomat, so there’s no reason to expect sudden changes or a different system,” he said.
Other Kazakhs could not hide their concern that the resignation of the president would bring some instability, both political and economic.
“I only hope that peace and order is maintained as it was under Nazarbayev, that the authorities do not commit excesses, which always leads to disorder,” others told EFE.
As one professional and mother of two, Laura Demesinova, said, “for us, Nazarbayev was the guarantor of peace in our country. We see and hear what happens around us.”
The most concerned seem to be representatives of large companies and members of foreign embassies.
“What will become of the contracts that depend on the guarantees respected by Nazarbayev?” several businessmen commented.
And, as the Kazakhs like to say, the country contains the entire Mendeleyev periodic table, in reference to the vast natural resources of its territory – oil, gas, uranium, gold, copper, nickel – either in the Great Steppe or in the Caspian Sea.
The director of the Renewable Energy Association of Kazakhstan, Arman Kashkinbekov, one of the thousands of professionals who received a scholarship to study abroad, acknowledged that the news initially caused him a sense of “uncertainty.”
“We lived under Elbasi (Leader of the Nation) for 30 years, we got used to it, but the next day the doubts dissipated, as I understood that now a new life begins for the country,” he said.
The head of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, Erbolat Dosayev, said in a message aimed at allaying fears that there had been no signs of a “flight of capital.”
“In the country there begins a new course of development and the (former) president, as the wise politician he is with strategic vision, gave us an example of political wisdom on how to act so that the country created by him develops successfully,” he said.
Likewise, the member of the Lower House of Parliament Artur Platonov was sympathetic to the concern that has imbued some citizens and analysts.
“I assure you that Kazakhstan is on its own path. In 30 years one of the strongest economies in Central Asia has been built. What is immutable and is our priority is the stability and well-being of citizens. That means that investors should not worry, the government devotes quite a bit of money to solving social problems,” he said.
As the Kremlin did after hearing the news, the Russian ambassador, Alexei Borodavkin, expressed his hope that “the political course designed by Nazarbayev will continue.”
Borodavkin allowed himself to make a comparison with the first democratic president of Russian history, Boris Yeltsin, who ceded the presidency to the current head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, on Dec. 31, 1999, “minutes before the New Year.”
“Your president has resigned two days before the start of the New Year according to the Eastern calendar, the Nowruz,” he said.