Who will succeed after Nazarbayev

A new "keep it up" president

"Tokayev is exactly the person we can trust to rule Kazakhstan," said Nursultan Nazarbayev when, after almost 30 years of permanent rule, he handed over the office to his loyal comrade in March. Indeed, Kassym-Shomart Tokayev has a lot of experience. He was already Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, most recently also Chairman of the Senate, the upper chamber of Parliament.

Actually, he could have stayed in office for another year as interim president. But at the beginning of April, Tokayev surprisingly called early elections - leaving the opposition, which was already weak, little time and opportunities to prepare. His success was considered certain thanks to Nazarbayev's support, because all the other candidates were relatively unknown to the population and therefore had no chance.

Resigned as president, but still there: Nazarbayev (left) with Tokayev at the party congress in April

Tokayev was born in May 1953 in the Kazakh metropolis of Alma-Ata. He studied at the Moscow Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), the cadre forge for Soviet diplomats. And he made a career: from 1994 to 1999 he was Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, one of the first of the new independent republics that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tokayev was not only respected as a good professional in Kazakhstan. Between 2011 and 2013 he was Director General of the United Nations in Geneva - as the first representative of Kazakhstan.

Tokayev also earned diplomatic successes

Tokayev's contribution to Kazakhstan's diplomatic and economic successes is undisputed. The huge no man's land in Central Asia between Russia and China rose to become an important regional player in just three decades of its independence. Kazakhstan's "multivectoral foreign policy" - that is, good relations with as many neighbors and partners as possible - was more than just a slogan for the Kazakh elite: it was a reality.

Visiting his neighbor - Kassym-Schomart Tokayev in April with Russian President Vladimir Putin

It is also thanks to the now 66-year-old that Kazakhstan managed a balancing act - on the one hand to join the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and on the other hand to largely retain its own sovereignty.

Kazakhstan has not always followed Russia by a long way. The Central Asian country neither recognized the two republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which break away from Georgia, as "independent states", nor did Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. The Kazakh diplomats tried to establish themselves more as neutral mediators, for example in 2017 during the talks on a settlement of the conflict in Syria, which took place in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan.

Capital Astana - renamed Nur-Sultan from Tokayev in honor of Nazarbayev

A look at the trade data might make it even clearer. The EU as a whole is Kazakhstan's largest trading partner, followed by Russia and China. The USA is also an important economic partner. To a certain extent, Tokayev himself is a symbol of Kazakhstan's foreign policy orientation, because he speaks Kazakh, Russian, but also English and Chinese.

The main thing is "keep it up"

As he himself says, Kassym-Schomart Tokayev relies on "continuity" in the political course and apparently also on great loyalty to the previous president. In his first official act as interim president, he had the capital Astana renamed. In honor of Nazarbayev, he gave her his first name: Nur-Sultan.

Despite his advanced age, the 78-year-old ex-president is by no means politically a "lame duck", ie a lame, incapacitated duck. Even after the presidential election, Nazarbayev will remain chairman of the Security Council, head of the ruling party and "leader of the nation" - for life. "I will stay with you," said Nazarbayev when he announced his resignation as president. No major reforms are expected under Tokayev. You could say that even after June 9th he will only remain a "permanent interim president".