Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s uninterrupted post-Soviet leader, has announced he is resigning as president after nearly three decades at the helm.
Speaking in a televised address to the nation, Mr Nazarbayev, 78, said he had taken the “difficult decision” to leave his post.
“This year will mark 30 years in which I have held the highest post,” he said. “The people allowed me the chance to be the first president of independent Kazakhstan.”
Mr Nazarbayev rose to the presidency in 1990 while the Soviet Union was still in existence.
Since then, he has cemented his grip on the oil-rich state, suppressing dissent and strengthening the levers of authoritarian rule.
In 2015, he was re-elected with 98% of the vote.
Like all other post-independence elections, the vote was considered neither free nor fair.
According to the Kazakh constitution, the presidency will now temporarily pass to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Chairman of the country’s Senate and a former prime minister. He is considered to be one of the main candidates to take the job on a permanent basis.
It is unlikely the announcement marks the end of Mr Nazabayev’s firm grip on Kazakh politics. In his televised address, he confirmed he would remain as chair of the ruling party, and would become life-long head of the Security Council – a role fixed in the constitution only last year. At the time, many speculated the new position was designed to allow Mr Nazarbayev to keep a hold on power.
Few in Kazakhstan were surprised by today’s announcement, says Amirzhan Kosanov, an opposition politician and former government official. Both society and president had “clearly become tired of each other” after 30 years. Likewise, few were surprised by Nazarbayev’s manoeuvrings to remain “de facto the most influential person in the country.”
“While Nazarbayev remains alive, nothing will change,” Kosanov told The Independent. “He will choose Kazakhstan’s second president, who will only be able to operate independently once the first has physically left the scene.”