ISSN 2330-717X

The Post-Nazarbayev Transition In Kazakhstan Appears To Be Over – OpEd


Last year when longtime Kazakhstan leader Nursultan Nazarbayev handed over the office of the presidency to Kasym-Jomart Tokayev and installed his daughter as head of the country’s Senate, most analysts expected Tokayev to be a short-term figure and Dariga Nazarbayeva to be the ultimate successor.

But today, Tokayev stripped Nazarbayeva of her deputy mandate and thus of her position as head of the Senate and first in line to succeed him if he died or stepped aside. Tokayev looks to have pushed aside his chief competitor and to have solidified his hold on the presidency, Vyacheslav Polovinko of Novaya Gazeta says.

The theory that has now been undermined was based on the proposition that Nazarbayev completely controls Tokayev and wants ultimate power to stay within the family, the Moscow journalist says (

Developments over the past year laid the groundwork for Tokayev’s actions today.  He laid out a reformist agenda, was not afraid to criticize some aspects of his predecessor’s policies, and demonstrated that he was in charge, thus winning the loyalty of most members of the Kazakhstan elite. And Nazarbayev has supported him.

Over the same period, Dariga Nazarbayeva has sought to keep herself in front of the public with criticisms and proposals, although she has been careful not to attack Tokayev directly. But her position has been weakened by the behavior of her children and by British findings that she and they may have been involved in money laundering.

The coronavirus crisis gave Tokayev an opening. He announced tough measures, while Dariga Nazarbayev made an appeal to the republic’s supreme court which some think may have been intended to limit the president’s ability to take such steps, although no one is certain, Polovinko says.

Her move might have been “the trigger” for Tokayev’s move today, but it is certainly a major one. She is now out of office, and there is no obvious way back. The big remaining questions are who will take her place. Even if it isn’t a close Tokayev ally, it won’t be a placeholder for her. And what will she do?

But whatever Dariga does, her path to the presidency is foreclosed, despite the assumptions to the contrary that were widespread until today.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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