Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Is Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev Signaling He’s About to Leave Office?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 6 – Nurzultan Nazarbayev, 76, has taken an intriguing step suggesting that he may be about to leave office: he has called on Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court to provide him with its interpretation about the paragraph of that country’s constitution reagarding the bases for a president to leave office before his term is out.

            By taking this step, Nazarbayev, who is the last Soviet-era leader to remain in power – he has been in charge there since 1990 – has provoked speculation in Kazakhstan and in Russia that he wants to retire (

                This is not the first time rumors of his pending retirement have surfaced, and Andrey Grozin, a specialist on Central Asia at Moscow’s Institute for the CIS Countries, says it is “senseless” to speculate about Nazarbayev’s retirement because when and how he lives is something that “depends on him alone.” 

            While many in Kazakhstan suggest that the current president is preparing for “a transition,” the Moscow analyst says that Nazarbayev’s request may be intended to increase his options. At present, Kazakhstan’s basic law allows for a departure from office only because of health or because of treason.  He can’t leave simply because he wants to.

            Given that Nazarbayev would not want to have to admit his health had deteriorated or still more absurdly that he is guilty of treason, the Kazakhstan president may simply want the court to hold that of course an incumbent leader can decide to go on his own.  Given that elections are slated for 2020 and may be held this year (four of the last five presidential votes there have been moved up), he may simply want to give himself more room for maneuver.

            According to Grozin, there are two possible scenarios. Either he will retire before the presidential elections in December 2020 and transfer power to the head of the Senate, becoming in effect “the senior leader” like Deng Xioping was in China, or he will use his power to win the election and then hand off power and build up a successor who will then assume office.

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