Kazakhstan Politics: Nazarbayev resigns as Kazakhstan president

REUTERS  Shamil Zhumatov

A general view shows Akorda the official residence of Kazakh President in Astana KazakhstanREUTERS Shamil Zhumatov

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev shocked the nation on Tuesday (March 19) by announcing his resignation after almost 30 years in power.

Under the constitution, "in case of an early resignation of the incumbent president his powers will be transferred to the chairman of the Senate until his term ends", Nazarbayev said, noting that then the country would hold the election. "We put Kazakhstan on the map where there was never such a country".

"It was an honor for me to serve the people", he said. "The results are well known to you". Nazarbayev opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union, but was forced to take Kazakhstan out of the union as it collapsed in December 1991. He first rose to authority in the 1980s as a Communist Party official under the Soviet regime, which appointed him president shortly before the U.S.S.R.'s collapse. "I think we are in the midst of a transition that will likely take a year or more but that won't have the discontinuities which might have occurred had he left by dying".

Nazarbayev has been widely praised for maintaining stability and ethnic peace in Kazakhstan but he also has faced criticism for marginalizing the political opposition and creating what is effectively a one-party state.

Nazarbaev announced that veteran politician and diplomat Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, now the speaker of the Kazakh Senate, would take over presidential duties as of March 20 and serve until the scheduled presidential election in 2020. "It is hard to say whether he will become a public figure that will take part in the presidential election". He's seen here at the Akkorda Palace in Astana, Kazakhstan, in 2016.

"It was both long anticipated and an abrupt change at the same time", Marat said.

Speculation was triggered last month when he asked the Constitutional Council to rule on what powers he would retain in the event of leaving his position voluntarily.

The longtime leader had shown his hand about resigning, Goble said.

In late February, Nazarbayev dismissed the country's government, citing a lack of economic growth, and pledging new reforms to improve people's quality of life.

The Kremlin said Nazarbayev and Putin had spoken by phone on Tuesday, but gave no details of their conversation.

She credited Nazarbaev with being behind the initiative to create the Eurasian Economic Union and said he had "bolstered cooperation between Russian Federation and Kazakhstan".

Kazakhstan, which is roughly the size of Western Europe, managed to remain largely peaceful after gaining independence.

"He is an influential figure that resembles Putin", Satpayev said.

"The relations between Russian Federation and Kazakhstan won't deteriorate because of this move".

But just who might that be? In April 2015, he was re-elected with nearly 98% of the vote and he also holds the title of "Leader of the Nation". Tokayev previously served as prime minister and foreign minister in addition to working as the director-general of the United Nations office in Geneva between 2011 and 2013.

He spoke hours after his office said that he would make an important announcement. He has served twice as prime minister and also worked as the president's chief of staff. Uzbekistan, the most populous nation in former Soviet Central Asia, has undergone a political thaw after the death of Karimov.

"But the real question is whether this will usher in a better future for Kazakhstan". "[Nazarbaev] doesn't want that from what I can see".

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