Country Risk

Despite resignation, Nazarbayev likely to retain political influence over Kazakh leadership, including facilitation of dynastic power transfer

20 March 2019

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev speaks during a session of the Collective Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) at the Independence Palace on 8 November 2018. Source: Anadolu Agency / Contributor

On 19 March, after holding the presidency since 1990, Nursultan Nazarbayev announced his resignation effective 20 March.

  • Despite stepping down, Nursultan Nazarbayev is highly likely to retain decisive political influence in Kazakhstan in the one-year outlook. This retention of control is ensured by the specific institutional arrangements, which Nazarbayev emphasised in his farewell speech, including the lifelong chairmanship of the Security Council, which was also considerably empowered in 2018. In addition, Nazarbayev will retain the chairmanship of the ruling Nur Otan party and membership in the Constitutional Council.
  • By leaving office before the end of his current term, Nazarbayev also probably intends to facilitate a dynastic succession in an orderly and formally constitutional manner. Today (20 March)'s unanimous election of Nazarbayev's eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who has been a senator since 2016, to become the Speaker of the Senate represents the confirmation of IHS Markit's earlier forecast regarding the increased likelihood of a push for a dynastic transfer of power in Kazakhstan. Nazarbayeva replaces Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, who assumed the interim presidency in accordance with the Constitution. If Tokayev becomes incapacitated while serving the remainder of Nazarbayev's term, which ends in April 2020, Nazarbayeva will become Kazakhstan's next leader.
  • Not every faction in Kazakhstans vast and heterogeneous ruling circles is likely to acquiesce to the dynastic transfer of power to Nazarbayeva, increasing the probability of intra-elite struggle for power. Although Nazarbayev's immunity is constitutionally enshrined, his ability to retain a stabilising influence on the Kazakh elite for years to come is far from certain. Some elite factions are likely to oppose the probable presidential candidacy of Nazarbayeva, which is likely to be floated in the run-up to the presidential election in April 2020. The resulting intra-elite rivalry spells out potentially destabilising consequences, such as potential state contract revisions, for key sectors, including mining and oil and gas.

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