The people of Kazakhstan wonder who their next president will be

Apr 11, 2019

IN A COUNTRY which had all but abolished politics, how much excitement can the people of Kazakhstan take? A month ago the only ruler most of them had ever known, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had run Kazakhstan since it was still part of something called the Soviet Union, suddenly announced he was stepping down. Declaring it was time to hand power to a younger generation, the 78-year-old abruptly resigned, putting in charge the 65-year-old head of the Senate, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, for the remainder of his term, which was due to last until next year. For a while, that seemed to be that. Yet on April 9th Mr Tokayev declared he was calling a snap presidential election, because “it is necessary to remove uncertainty.”

What uncertainty? Not only is Mr Nazarbayev clearly in charge of his own succession, he is also not going away. The loyal Mr Tokayev’s message, starting with his inaugural speech, has been all about buffing Mr Nazarbayev’s image as Kazakhstan’s founding father. There is little question of launching new political and economic initiatives. Stability, as under Mr Nazarbayev, is all.

Meanwhile, control has not entirely or even largely shifted to Mr Tokayev. The “First President” and “Leader of the Nation” has in effect created a parallel power structure. Above all he remains, as head of the Security Council, in...

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