Kassym-Jomart Tokayev assumed the post of Kazakhstan's president on Wednesday following the surprise resignation of veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev after three decades in power.
Nazarbayev, 78, resigned late on Tuesday in what appeared to be the first step in a choreographed political transition that will see him retain considerable sway in Kazakhstan, an oil-rich Central Asian nation.
Tokayev, a 65-year-old career diplomat fluent in Russian, English and Chinese, will serve for the rest of the term which ends in April 2020, in line with the constitution.
In his first speech as president, Tokayev said he would continue the policies of his predecessor and rely on Nazarbayev's opinion on key policy matters.
He also proposed renaming the Kazakh capital, Astana, to Nursultan and said the country's first president since indepedence from the Soviet Union must become an honorary senator.
Nazarbayev attended Tokayev's inauguration Wednesday, entering to lengthy applause from assembled dignitaries before taking a seat on a podium above and behind the lectern where Tokayev gave an address.
Nazarbayev retains key positions
Announcing his shock decision Tuesday, Nazarbayev said he would retain key security council and party leader positions during the transition period.
“I have taken a decision, which was not easy for me, to resign as president,” Nazarbayev said in a televised address before signing a decree terminating his powers from March 20.
“As the founder of the independent Kazakh state I see my task now in facilitating the rise of a new generation of leaders who will continue the reforms that are under way in the country.”
His decision hit the price of Kazakh bonds and even appeared to weigh on the Russian rouble. Moscow is Kazakhstan’s main trade partner and Nazarbayev has enjoyed close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
From steel worker to absolute leader
Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament and a close Putin ally, said Nazarbayev’s resignation was unexpected and very serious, RIA news agency reported.
Nazarbayev, a onetime steel worker who as president helped attract tens of billions of dollars from foreign energy companies and more than triple Kazakh oil output, said he would continue to chair the Security Council and remain leader of the Nur Otan party which dominates parliament.
The former Communist Party boss steered his nation of 18 million people to independence from Moscow in 1991. He won 97.7 percent of the vote in the last presidential election in 2015 and has no apparent long-term successor.
Kazakhstan is scheduled to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
Nazarbayev’s government pushed through a number of popular policies in recent months - including raising public-sector salaries and forcing utilities to cut and freeze tariffs -- stoking speculation that he was preparing for a re-election bid.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)