Motives Behind Nazarbayev’s Resignation

Nazarbayev and His New Role in Kazakhstan’s Political Sphere
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) attend the 15th Forum of Interregional Cooperation of Russia and Kazakhstan on November 9, 2018 in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan. (Getty)

Baku- On March 19, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev said he had taken the decision to resign as president while affirming that he would remain head of the Security Council and of the ruling party, Nur Otan, and a member in the constitutional body.
Following his speech, Kazakhstan had entered a new phase in the peaceful transition of power the likes of which no former Soviet Central Asian country has seen.

The decision has received scrutiny as the country is rich in oil and gas resources. It is the world’s 16th largest oil producer and the 30th largest natural gas producers. It has a fifth of the world’s uranium reserves, and it is its world's top producer and exporter of, according to 2017’s estimates.

Kazakhstan is also ranked the ninth in the world in terms of space as its area exceeds 2.4 million square kilometers, which is the highest among Islamic countries. In other words, Kazakstan represents geostrategic importance and has the potential for international competition.
A thorough reading of Nazarbayev’s decision reflects what Kazakhstan has achieved over the past 30 years of his rule. After such careful analysis, the motives behind this sudden resignation and its consequences on Kazakhstan’s future will become much clearer.
There are three main points of analyses on Nazarbayev’s decision:


Nazarbayev was born in Chemolgan, a rural town near Almaty, when Kazakhstan was one of the republics of the Soviet Union. He served as Prime Minister of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic from 1984 till 1989, when he came to power and became the first secretary general of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. On April 24, 1990, he was elected president of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

He was reelected in 1991 after Kazakhstan declared independence from the Soviet Union and continued to rule the country by winning all the presidential elections that took place in the years of 1999, 2005, 2011 and 2015.

Notably, back in 2007, Kazakhstan’s parliament approved a constitutional amendment, giving Nazarbayev an exceptional right, as the first Kazakhstani President, to run for an indefinite number of terms. In mid-2010, the Kazakh parliament granted him the title, “Leader of the Nation,” and issued a law that gives him the right to serve as lifetime chairman of the country’s National Security Council.

In addition to the titles granted to him during his rule over the past 30 years, Kazakhstan’s new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to award Nazarbayev the titles, “People's Hero” and “Hero of Labor” in recognition of his great role in building his nation and his strenuous efforts to maintain internal cohesion among people in the multicultural Kazakhstan.

Tokayev also decided to take a rare step and rename Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, “Nursultan” in honor of the long-time leader.
“We have to immortalize Nazarbayev’s great name,” Tokayev said, suggesting renaming the capital after his predecessor’s name in addition to naming the central streets of all regional centers after Nazarbayev, which was approved by the country’s parliament.

Nazarbayev’s decision is in line the main policies he stuck to ever since taking power 30 years ago. Back then, he took a bold decision and voluntarily abandoned the nuclear arsenal his country had when it was one of the Soviet Union’s republics. On August 29, 1991, Nazarbayev closed the Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk (Semei). This earned Nazarbayev international recognition as in December 2009 the United Nations General Assembly dubbed August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Testing.

Similarly, when he resigned, Nazarbayev decided to take an important decision that would preserve his country’s progress and ensure its future. It’s impossible to turn a blind eye to Kazakhstan's progress and modernization in various economic and development fields. Kazakhstan has preceded the United Nations in its Vision 2030, when Nazarbayev announced by 1998 the launch of Kazakhstan's 2030 Strategy along with its seven priorities: developing and strengthening the national security system, ensuring internal political stability and social cohesion, economic growth based on an open market economics with high foreign investments, health, education and welfare of all Kazakhs, effective employment and development of energy resources and finally infrastructure development and formation of a professional government.

In December 2012, Nazarbayez announced the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy (aka Nurly Zhol or “the Path to the Future”), which aims to make the country one of the world’s 30 most developed countries by 2050. Interestingly, Nazarbayev made this announcement before completing the targets of the 2030 plan.

The main pillars of the 2050 plan were mentioned in his 2015 presidential campaign manifesto, which included five major reforms to address global challenges. These reforms called for ensuring the rule of law, industrializing, achieving economic growth, ruling a nation with a unified future and forming a transparent and accountable government. In his first speech after winning the elections, he announced his so-called "Nation Plan", which included 100 deliberate steps to implement the five reforms.

It is noteworthy that Nazarbayev was able to announce the new strategy because his country has rapidly implemented some of the first strategy’s priorities, overcoming the technical gap and achieving high rates of economic growth and social progress.

Kazakhstan's foreign policy also played a significant role in consolidating his success. He issued a statement on March 31, 2016, titled “Manifesto: The World. The 21st Century” that served as a comprehensive program of action to enter this century without wars by working in accordance with three main principles:

First, there will be no winners in any modern war; everyone would be on the losing side.
Second, a new war will inevitably entail the use of weapons of mass destruction, which would eventually lead to the destruction of humankind.

Third, the main tool for resolving all disputes among states should be peaceful dialogue and constructive negotiations on the basis of equal responsibility for peace and security, mutual respect and non-interference into domestic affairs.

In light of these three principles that govern his state’s foreign policy, many initiatives and steps were taken. Among them are: the 1992 initiative to convene the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, the establishment of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 1995, the 2002 Eurasian Media Forum, the establishment of Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in 2003, the annual meeting of Astana Economic Forum in 2008. The outcome of all efforts was electing Kazakhstan for the first time as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council during the 2017-2018 session.


Although Nazarbayev announced his intention to step down, he remained head of the Security Council and of the ruling party, Nur Otman, a member of the Constitutional Council and President of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (AKP), which, in accordance to the constitution adopted after the 2007 referendum, includes members from the country’s different races and ethnicities.
As such, Nazarbayev will still have a role to play in the country’s politics. As a matter of fact, Tokayev, Kazakhstan’s new president, recently said in a speech:  “an authoritative opinion of the Leader of the Nation will have a particular, even, primary importance in the development and adoption of strategic decisions”.

Tokayev took office as the President on March 20 following Nazarbayev’s resignation in accordance of Kazakhstan’s constitution, which states that in case of early termination of powers, the Speaker of the Senate will become the President until the next election.
Tokayev already has a lot of experience in government having served as Chairman of Kazakhstan’s Senate, foreign minister, prime minister and as director general of the United Nations Office at Geneva.

Kazakhstan will most likely not change its interior and foreign policies; rather it is expected to follow the same path guided by Nazarbayev and there are three indicators that point to that conclusion.

The first indicator is the fact that the retired president will still very much be involved in the country’s political life, “I am staying with you. The concerns of the country and the people remain my concerns,” he said.

The second indicator is the new president, Tokayev, who was handpicked by Nazarbayev himself. “I believe that Tokayev is the person whom we can entrust the governance of Kazakhstan,” the latter commented. “Alongside me, he has been working since the first days of Kazakhstan’s independence. I know him well. He is an honest, responsible and indispensable person. He fully supports the implemented policies inside and outside the country. All programs were developed and adopted with his participation,” he explained in his speech, hinting that Tokayev will follow his path. Tokayev also affirmed in a speech: “Being fully aware of the full scope of responsibility of the upcoming mission, I plan to direct my knowledge and experience to ensuring the continuity of the strategic course of the Leader of the Nation.” In addition to that, he said all portraits and photographs of the First President will remain a vital attribute in public premises, civil servant buildings, and educational institutions.

The third and biggest indicator, however, lies in the preparation taking place for the new president after Tokayev. Nazarbayev’s daughter, Dariga, who was deputy prime minister, was appointed as chairwoman of Kazakhstan’s Senate succeeding Tokayev. She also served as head of the Nur Otan party’s parliamentary faction. She is one of the most prominent candidates for the presidency, especially since she founded her party (the Asar party) and merged it with Nazarbayev’s in 2006 under the name “Nur Otan.”

Nazarbayev previously suggested he didn’t plan to hand over power to any of his daughters, however by choosing Dariga to chair the Senate he paved the path for her to become president either in the upcoming presidential elections, which will take place in March 2020, or automatically if Tokayev were to leave office before that date.

In conclusion, despite that peaceful transition of power in Kazakhstan, not much change to the state’s internal approaches and foreign alliances will happen.

The transition was aimed primarily at maintaining the state’s achievements in several areas as Nazarbayev fears all his efforts would fade away if his country did not adapt to the global changes and transformations taking place.

“We see that the world is changing, it is not static. Not only are new opportunities arising but also new global technological and demographic challenges are growing and instability of the world order remains,” he said in his recent speech.

“We must change too, together with the world. I appeal to the young generation of Kazakhstan: Take care of the independent Kazakhstan, our common homeland, the Eternal Nation. This is our people, the land of our great ancestors. We have one homeland, one land.”
“Take care of the friendship and unity of our people, our mutual trust and respect for the culture and traditions of every citizen of the country. Only in this way will we be strong, and overcome all the challenges. Only in this way will we flourish,” he stressed.

These words reflect Nazarbayev's keenness to ensure his country remains unaffected after his absence. Especially after all he did for its reconstruction and following its independence.

He applied all that he had learned from other countries’ experiences, especially those which were mired in political conflict after their leader left them with no contingency plan.