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Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev

Having ruled Kazakhstan with an authoritarian grip since the 1980s, President Nursultan Nazarbaev shocked many when he unexpectedly announced his resignation on 19 March 2019. Though leaving the presidential post, Nazarbaev will retain many other influential positions in the Kazakh government. Nazarbaev, 78, will continue to head Kazakhstan's powerful Security Council, the ruling Nur Otan political party that he founded, and the country's Constitutional Council.

Nazarbaev's eldest daughter was elected speaker of Kazakhstan's upper parliament house a day after her father announced his resignation, thrusting her into a highly prominent role just over a year ahead of the next scheduled presidential election. Darigha Nazarbaeva, 55, was chosen in a unanimous vote by Senate members on 20 March 2019, hours after outgoing upper house chairman Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev was sworn in as interim president of the Central Asian country. Under the constitution, he is to remain in office until an election that is due to be held in April 2020.

Kazakhstan is a Presidential Republic. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, was elected first President of the Republic of Kazakhstan with 91% of the vote on 1 December 1991. Nazarbayev served as the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Armed Services of the Republic of Kazakhstan; the Chairman of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan; the Chairman of the “Nur Otan” People’s Democratic Party, and the Chairman of the Security Council of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Narabayev's changes to the constitution leave him unbound by term limits, and he could serve as Kazakhstan's president for life. There is speculation that Narabayev will be succeeded by an appointed member of the country's elite, most likely his daughter, who had assumed powerful positions of influence in the country's media, business sector and politics.

Nazarbayev had no succession plan. If Nazarbayev died suddenly the resulting political chaos would be frightful (strashno). There wouldn't be a smooth hand-off, as happened when Niyazov died in Turkmenistan, because the financial stakes are much, much higher in Kazakhstan. After having Nazarbayev at the top for 20 years, a new generation is slowly emerging and wants a different system. However, this is really only about the elite, because among the population as a whole, Nazarbayev still polled a better-than-80% approval rate.

Nazarbayev was born on July 6, 1940 in the village of Chemolgan, Kaskelen District, Almaty region in Kazakhstan. Born into a family of migrant ["transhumant"] herders of eastern Kazakhstan in July 1940 – his mother working a hectare of sugarbeet and fearful of the wolves – Nursultan Nazarbayev’s education began with his walking 6km to school in all weathers after rising at 5am to tend the cattle. His first paid employment was at the blast furnace of Termitau’s steel-works.

An ethnic Kazakh, Nazarbayev received an education in metallurgy and engineering before embarking upon a career in Soviet politics. In 1967, he graduated from the Highest Technical Educational Institution at the Karaganada Metallurgic Works. He is a Doctor in Economics, Academician of the National Academy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, International Academy of Engineering, Russian Federation Academy of Social Sciences, Honorable Professor of the Al-Farabi Kazakh State National University, Honorable Member of the Academy of Science of the Republic of Belarus, Honorable Professor of the Lomonosov Moscow State University.

From 1960 through 1969, he worked at the Karaganda Metallurgical Works. He was soon to enter the political scene, by the only possible route under Soviet rule, as Party Secretary of Karaganda’s metallurgical Kombinat. Within five years of graduating from Karaganda’s Polytechnic in 1967, he had become Party head of Kazakhstan Magnita. From 1969 through 1973, he was involved in the Party and Komsomol work in Temirtau of the Karaganda region. From 1973 to 1977, he was a secretary of the party committee at the Karaganda Metallurgic Works. From 1977 through 1979, he served as secretary, and then second secretary of the Regional Committee of the Party in Karaganda.

From 1979 through 1984, he served as Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. He became chairman of Kazakhstan's Council of Ministers in 1984 and helped to institute some positive reforms to industrial policies during a decade mostly characterized by economic stagnation and political mismanagement of Kazakhstan. From 1984 through 1989, he was a Chairman of the Ministers Council of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, making him – at 44 – effectively Prime Minister.

In June of 1989, Moscow promoted Nazarbayev to the position of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, becoming the executive of the Soviet republic. Soon proving himself a skilled negotiator, Nazarbayev bridged the gap between the republic's Kazaks and Russians at a time of increasing nationalism while also managing to remain personally loyal to the Gorbachev reform program. Nazarbayev's firm support of the major Gorbachev positions in turn helped him gain national and, after 1990, even international visibility. Many reports indicate that Gorbachev was planning to name Nazarbayev as his deputy in the new union planned to succeed the Soviet Union.

Even as he supported Gorbachev during the last two years of the Soviet Union, Nazarbayev fought Moscow to increase his republic's income from the resources it had long been supplying to the center. Although his appointment as party first secretary had originated in Moscow, Nazarbayev realized that for his administration to succeed under the new conditions of that time, he had to cultivate a popular mandate within the republic. This difficult task meant finding a way to make Kazakhstan more Kazak without alienating the republic's large and economically significant Russian and European populations. Following the example of other Soviet republics, Nazarbayev sponsored legislation that made Kazak the official language and permitted examination of the negative role of collectivization and other Soviet policies on the republic's history. Nazarbayev also permitted a widened role for religion, which encouraged a resurgence of Islam. In late 1989, although he did not have the legal power to do so, Nazarbayev created an independent religious administration for Kazakhstan, severing relations with the Muslim Board of Central Asia, the Soviet-approved oversight body in Tashkent.

In March 1990, elections were held for a new legislature in the republic's first multiple-candidate contests since 1925, with supporters of Nazarbayev and the Communist Party taking most of the seats.

In October 1990, Kazakhstan moved closer to independence when the parliament named Nazarbayev the country's chairman, and then, soon afterward, it converted the chairmanship to the presidency of the republic. In contrast to the presidents of the other Soviet republics, Nazarbayev remained strongly committed to the perpetuation of the Soviet Union throughout the spring and summer of 1991. He took this position largely because he considered the republics too interdependent economically to survive separation. Yet simultaneously, Nazarbayev fought hard to secure republic control of Kazakhstan's enormous mineral wealth and industrial potential, and Moscow relinquished authority over these areas in June 1991.

During the breakup of the Soviet Union, Nazarbayev continued to support the increasingly marginalized Gorbachev in the hopes that together they could convince the other Soviet republics to stay unified under a revised Union Treaty. On the first day of the August 1991 coup, Nazarbayev withheld criticism of its hardline leaders because they appeared capable of taking over the Russian government, but once their incompetence became clear on the second day, he again threw his public support behind Gorbachev. While he publicly hoped to preserve the USSR, Nazarbayev also prepared for the possibility of Kazakhstan's independence, appointing professional economists and managers to high posts, and seeking the advice of foreign development and business experts.

The outlawing of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, which followed the attempted coup, also permitted Nazarbayev to take virtually complete control of the republic's economy, more than 90 percent of which had been under the partial or complete direction of the central Soviet government until late 1991. Nazarbayev solidified his position by winning an uncontested election for president in December 1991. The Soviet Union was officially dissolved a week later and Kazakhstan became an unequivocally independent state.

Since April 1990, he was President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. On December 1, 1991 the first national presidential elections were held where Nursultan Nazarbayev had been supported by 98.7 percent of electors. On April 29, 1995 the powers of the President Nursultan Nazarbayev were prolonged till 2000 as a result of the national referendum. However, in autumn 1998, Nazarbayev called Presidential elections for January 1999, nearly two years early. Despite OSCE concerns about the fairness of elections held at such short notice, the elections went ahead. On January 10, 1999 he was elected the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the alternative basis with 79.78 per cent of electors.

On December 4, 2005 he was again elected President of the Republic of Kazakhstan supported by 91.15 per cent of electors. The OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) noted a number of significant shortcomings in proceedings. In 2007 Constitutional amendments reduced the presidential term from seven to five years. They also limited the number of consecutive terms to two, although the first President of the Republic is exempt from this restriction.

On June 14, 2010 the Constitutional Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan No.289-IV “On Introduction of Amendments and Supplements to Certain Constitutional Laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the Issues of Improvement of the Legislation in the Field of Ensuring the Activity of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan - the Leader of the Nation” came into force. This means that he and his immediate family enjoy life long immunity from investigation and prosecution. The legislation also gives Nazarbayev the right to veto legislation and address Parliament at will, even when no longer President. In addition, it introduces penalties for those found guilty of insulting the honor of the President.

In December 2010, a public campaign was launched in favor of a national referendum extending the President’s term in office, without elections, until 2020. Many domestic and international observers, including the UK, EU and US, expressed concern at this initiative. Following advice from the Constitutional Council, the President instead issued a decree calling early Presidential elections on 3 April 2011. President Nazarbayev won this election with 95.5% of the vote (there was a 90% turnout). OSCE expressed some concerns with the election.

President Nazarbayev, like many of his countrymen, has a strong affinity for horses. The presidential horse farm is located on the outskirts of Astana in a residential area, but is surrounded by a high-fence and security guards. Inside the gates are a large stable, indoor and outdoor riding arenas, and a clubhouse with a pool table, sauna, and exercise room. The stable holds approximately forty horses from various parts of the world. Nazarbayev visits the horse farm on occasion, though not too frequently. Nazarbayev's wife -- Sara Nazarbayeva -- never accompanies him, but sometimes his "second wife" comes to the horse farm. Most Kazakhstanis are familiar with the rumor that Nazarbayev has a "second wife," a former airline stewardess, who is said by some to reside in London. More recently, there were whispers that Nazarbayev has yet a "third wife," a former beauty queen. Taszhargan, an opposition newspaper, printed a sympathetic article about Sara Nazarbayeva which expounded on her status as Nazarbayev's "co-wife."

President Nazarbayev married Sara Alpysovna Nazarbayeva in February 1992 – the founder and the president of the “Bobek” International Children Charitable Fund. Since July 1994, S.Nazarbayeva is the president of the “SOS – Children’s Villages Kazakhstan”. The President has three daughters. Nazarbayeva Dariga Nursultanovna (born in 1963) is the eldest daughter. She has two sons and one daughter. She is a Doctor in Political Science. Dariga is the Majilis deputy of the Parliament of 5th convocation and Chairwoman of the Socio-Cultural Development Committee. Kulibayeva Dinara Nursultanovna (born in 1967) is the middle daughter. She has a son and two daughters. Since 2004, she chairs the Board of Directors of the Kazakh-British Technical University. Nazarbayeva Aliya Nursultanovna (born in 1980) is the youngest daughter. She has two daughters. Aliya chairs the “Elitstroy” Construction Company.

In a bizarre turn of events, presidential son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev, husband of Dariga Nazarbayeva, finally exhausted President Nazarbayev's patience with a series of rash public statements accusing Kazakhstani officials of criminal activity and criticizing the recent package of constitutional amendments. The Ministry of Interior announced on 23 May 2007 that a criminal case had been opened against Aliyev and two associates for the alleged kidnapping of two Nurbank officials in mid-January, one of whom remained missing after disappearing a second time in late January.

Following the announcement of the reform package which included a provision lifting term limits on President Nazarbayev, Aliyev told the Financial Times that the decision to lift term limits "would not improve the republic's chances of winning the OSCE presidency." He added that "I fear that my many years of work on the campaign may not bring success." In an apparent attempt to counterbalance her husband's comments, first daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva told Kazakhstan Today on 22 May 2007 that she had signed the proposal to lift constitutional term limits on Nazarbayev because "his historic mission is far from being accomplished," and "strong presidential power is the chief guarantee of stability and democratic development."

This was (at least) the third time that Aliyev's outrageous behavior had driven Nazarbayev to take drastic action. In 2001 Aliyev was sent to "honorable exile" in Vienna for the first time after allegedly plotting to seize power. Following Aliyev and Nazarbayeva's intense criticism of the government in the wake of the February 2006 murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, Aliyev was stripped of his post as Deputy Foreign Minister and sent back to Vienna, and Nazarbayeva's Asar party was folded into Otan. Given Aliyev's increasingly irrational behavior and his unprecedented public airing of grievances, which shocked all levels of Kazakhstani society, this was the end of his public life in Kazakhstan.

In the wake of Aliyev's demise, Nazarbayev took relatively quick action to ensure that his family would be less of a source of political friction. Daughter Dariga Nazabayeva essentially disappeared from the political scene. She had been a member of parliament and head of a separate political party, Asar. After the forced merger of Asar with Nur Otan, she was a deputy chair of the combined party. She was not elected to the new parliament in August 2007 and is no longer in the Nur Otan leadership.

In 2007, President Nazarbayev's son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, celebrated his 41st birthday in grand style. At a small venue in Almaty, he hosted a private concert with some of Russia's biggest pop-stars. The headliner, however, was Elton John, to whom he reportedly paid one million pounds for this one-time appearance. Nelly Furtado performed at the August 2007 birthday bash for Kulibayev's wife, Dinara Nazarbayeva. When the Kempinski group built luxury villas in Bodrum, Turkey, Kulibayev bought up a number of them -- at a cost of 4-5 million dollars each -- and doled them out as gifts to friends and family.

President Nazarbayev was to steer his new country through the turmoil of the rouble crisis of the mid-1990s to a market economy and into rising prosperity and industrial diversity. President Nazarbayev sees his greatest achievement as building an independent country without violence or a split along ethnic or religious lines. He has also overseen some of the most extensive financial and economic reforms in the former Soviet Union. Another of his achievements is that he dismantled the enormous nuclear legacy left to Kazakhstan following independence. Nazarbayev not only cared deeply about his own legacy, but also sincerely wanted the country he struggled cannily for over two decades to build to be successful in its own right and, thus, internationally respected.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev won a fifth term in office after garnering 97.5% of the vote from an election held on 26 April 2015. The two obscure candidates opposing him (a Communist Party official and a trade unionist) received 1% or less of the vote and were widely believed to have joined the race to create the illusion of an electoral choice.



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