Kazakhstan: A seamless succession?

Long-time Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kazakhstan’s stability and security have hinged for 30 years on Nursultan Nazarbayev; its fate may now ride on how well he has planned the leadership transition (source: dpa)
  • President Nursultan Nazarbayev has anchored Kazakhstan's internal stability and international security
  • His decision to step down in March 2019 has initiated a long-prepared leadership succession
  • Mr. Nazarbayev's chosen successor, Kassym-Jomart Komayev, may end up being a transitional figure

Kazakhstan’s political elite was not replaced or even seriously disturbed when the Soviet Union collapsed. No one who questioned the communist past even came close to assuming a position of power after 1991. Instead, the country is the last post-Soviet stakazte to maintain an unbroken personal continuity in its political leadership since the USSR’s demise. Only now is this continuity facing a decisive test.

Because Kazakhstan never threw out its ruling elite, the ruling class that has remained in place since the late 1980s has undergone a gradual but deep evolution. The central figure in the power system is Nursultan Nazarbayev, an unusually talented, experienced and effective politician who served as Kazakhstan’s president from 1990 until his resignation in March 2019. Perhaps not coincidentally, he is perhaps the only national leader in the post-Soviet space who never lost touch with the everyday problems of ordinary people.

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