Sidelining mentor, Kazakhstan president takes leadership of ruling party

AFP
Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan Updated: Jan 28, 2022, 09:13 PM(IST)

Nazarbayev ruled ex-Soviet Kazakhstan for close to three decades, brooking no opposition, before hand-picking Tokayev, 68, a career diplomat and then-loyalist, to replace him as president in 2019. Photograph:( Reuters )

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The move came after unprecedented unrest that left 225 people dead earlier in January

Kazakhstan's president was voted chairman of the ruling party Friday, replacing his mentor and former head of state Nursultan Nazarbayev, after a bloody crisis exposed a struggle at the top of the leadership.

"By the decision of the extraordinary XXI Party Congress, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart (Tokayev), was unanimously elected Chairman of the Nur Otan Party," his office said on Twitter.

The move came after unprecedented unrest that left 225 people dead earlier in January.

Also read | Explained: What was the cause of massive Kazakhstan unrest that unnerved prez Tokayev?

Tokayev this month questioned 81-year-old Nazarbayev's legacy, in particular widening inequality between the elite and the poor in Central Asia's richest country.

Nazarbayev ruled ex-Soviet Kazakhstan for close to three decades, brooking no opposition, before hand-picking Tokayev, 68, a career diplomat and then-loyalist, to replace him as president in 2019.

The octogenarian last year announced his decision to hand the party leadership over to Tokayev -- a move that seemed to confirm Tokayev would stand for another presidential term even if many thought his predecessor still pulled Kazakhstan's political strings.

Tokayev said during the congress that his chairmanship of the party could be a temporary affair, citing the need for an "equidistant status of the head of state".

'Undoubted successes'

Accepting his new appointment, Tokayev softened his prior criticism of Nazarbayev, by praising his predecessor's state-building achievements.

"I know that various negative rumours are circulating around the country," he said. "In this regard, as head of state, I repeat: the first president did a lot to turn our country into a strong state."

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Among the achievements Tokayev credited Nazarbayev with was the decision during the 1990s to transfer Kazakhstan's capital from its largest city Almaty -- the epicentre of violent unrest -- to a steppe city 1,000 kilometres north that was renamed "Nur-Sultan" in Nazarbayev's honour in 2019.

"This decision is recognized as strategic everywhere: both abroad and in our country," Tokayev told Nur Otan party members at the congress.

"Let us also pay tribute to the historical merits of the first president, highlight his undoubted successes and merits, and leave possible miscalculations as a warning to the future leaders of our country," Tokayev added. 

Tokayev took over Nazarbayev's most powerful position -- chairmanship of the national security council -- on January 5, a day when protests that began over a fuel price hike morphed into deadly clashes and looting.

Watch | Kazakhstan is holding more than 460 people on terrorism & disorder charges for protests

During a speech to lawmakers and officials on January 11, Tokayev criticised his mentor for failing to share the country's vast wealth with ordinary people. He said Nazarbayev's rule had created "a layer of wealthy people, even by international standards". 

In the days that followed, Nazarbayev's once-powerful relatives and in-laws were jettisoned from top corporate and political posts.

Appearing for the first time since the crisis began on January 18, Nazarbayev denied any conflict with his successor, referring to himself as "a pensioner".

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