Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev says he will resign the post he has held for nearly 30 years, abruptly announcing the end of an era that began in 1990. But Nazarbaev, 78, also said he'll keep several key official posts, in a speech that aired on national TV Tuesday.
In the former Soviet bloc, formerly comprised of 15 countries, Nazarbaev is the only long-standing leader to sustain power for three decades. The president of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov died in 2016 after his presidential reign of 26 years.
Despite resigning the presidency, Nazarbaev will maintain control of the ruling Nur Otan Party. He'll also remain a member of powerful government councils.
"In accordance with our laws, I'm given a status of the first president - the nation's leader (El basy in Kazakh), I will remain the Security Council's chairman, who has serious powers to determine the country's domestic and foreign policy in line with the laws," Nazarbayev said, in a translation by Russia's Tass news agency.
"In July 2018, the Security Council's status was changed from consultative to constitutional, increasing its authority, and Nazarbaev became its chairman for life," Radio Free Europe reports.
In late January, Nazarbayev asked Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council to clarify Section 3 of Article 42 of the Constitution, laying out a path for his early resignation.
On Feb. 21, Nazarbayev dismissed the entire Cabinet and reassembled it, amid a rising criticism of state officials that have been proven unable "to listen to listen to people's problems," according to Eurasianet. "No systematic work was done. The real incomes of the population have not increased. Spending on food as a share of the family budget is growing," Nazarbayev said at the time.
Nazarbaev has been a dominant force in oil-rich Kazakhstan. He's also often been accused of abusing human rights and of using autocratic methods to maintain control, amass power and influence elections.
And then there's the cult of personality Nazarbaev has developed in the former Soviet Central Asian republic. Kazakhstan celebrates holidays on both the president's birthday and on the anniversary of his first election, for instance. And in 2006, Nazarbaev changed the lyrics to his country's national anthem.
In 2017, one of the main streets in the former capital of Kazakhstan, the city of Almaty, has been renamed after him.
Nazarbaev is the only president Kazakhstan has ever known. He first rose to authority in the 1980s as a Communist Party official under the Soviet regime, which appointed him president shortly before the U.S.S.R.'s collapse. In 1991, his presidency was affirmed by an election in which he took nearly 100 percent of the vote.
Since taking power, Nazarbaev has steadily won five new terms, with lopsided results: In each of his last two elections, the perennial incumbent won at least 95 percent of the vote. During his tenure, Kazakhstan has gradually shifted the terms in office for the presidency. The terms were once for seven years; that changed in 2007, when the term was shortened to five years.
Nazarbaev won his last election in 2015 — a vote that was shifted one year early, in a move that has been a hallmark of the presidency's decades in office.