Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s strongman, resigns

Mar 20, 2019

ONCE A STRONGMAN has been in power for 30 years, it is reasonable to assume he will leave office only in a coup or a coffin. But Nursultan Nazarbayev, the 78-year-old who has run Kazakhstan since 1989, is trying to find a third way. On March 19th he took to the airwaves to announce his retirement as president of the oil-rich Central Asian country. The announcement marks the end of an era, not just for Kazakhstan but for the region: Mr Nazarbayev was its last Soviet-era leader left in power. When the former steelworker ascended to the leadership, Kazakhstan was still part of the Soviet Union. He presided over independence in 1991 and had governed ever since.

A showman to the last, Mr Nazarbayev signed his resignation decree on live television. On March 20th Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, the 65-year-old chairman of the Senate, was sworn in for the rest of Mr Nazarbayev’s term, as the constitution stipulates. Mr Tokayev immediately ordered Astana, the vainglorious capital Mr Nazarbayev founded, rechristened “Nursultan” in his honour. Shymkent, Kazakhstan’s third-largest city, rushed to rename its main street “Nazarbayev”.

Rumours had long swirled that Mr Nazarbayev was preparing to step down. Yet his physical and mental health seem robust; there had been no inkling the announcement was coming this week. Fully half of Kazakhstan’...

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