Kazakh President Nazarbayev Resigns

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a meeting in Brussels on Oct. 19 2018

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev says he will resign the post he has held for almost 30 years, abruptly announcing the end of an era that began in 1990.

He made the surprise announcement in a televised speech.

And then there's the cult of personality Nazarbaev has developed in the former Soviet Central Asian republic.

Senate Speaker Kassym-Jomart Tokayev may have been assigned the role of interim-president, but "Nazarbayev will still control the political process in the country from the outside", he pointed out.

Nazarbaev announced that veteran politician and diplomat Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, now the speaker of the Kazakh Senate, would take over presidential duties as of March 20 and serve until the scheduled presidential election in 2020. He said he sees his mission as ensuring the transit of power to a new generation of politicians.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan attends a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House January 16, 2018, in Washington, DC.

By this law, Senate Chairman Kassymzhomart Tokayev will succeed Mr Nazarbayev until elections scheduled for 2020.

Joanna Lillis, author of the book Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan, told Newsweek that it was not known exactly why Nazarbayev stepped down, but he wanted to make sure no successor undermined his legacy.

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Since independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, major investment in the oil sector has brought rapid economic growth, and eased some of the stark disparities in wealth of the 1990s.

The 78-year-old, considered the last Soviet-era leader still in office, will hand over the presidency to a loyal ally for the rest of his term, which ends in April next year.

Toqaev, 65, is a Moscow-educated former prime minister and foreign minister who also served as a United Nations diplomat in Geneva.

Nazarbayev struck an elegiac note during the unexpected televised address that resembled the 1999 resignation of ailing Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

The Kremlin said Nazarbayev and Putin had spoken by phone on Tuesday, but gave no details of their conversation. "The real question is, who will be Kazakhstan's third president".

He also became lifelong head of the country's security council past year.

Kazakhstan's huge hydrocarbon resources and location at the heart of Eurasia have already triggered political rivalries between Russia, China and the West - something observers dubbed "the new Great Game" - in reference to the geopolitical competition between czarist Russia and the British Empire over Central Asia. The votes were internationally criticised and he was accused of tolerating little opposition to his rule.

Nazarbayev's government pushed through a number of popular policies in recent months - including raising public-sector salaries and forcing utilities to cut and freeze tariffs - stoking speculation that he was preparing for a re-election bid.

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