Kazakhstan renames capital after retiring leader Nazarbayev as new president Tokayev takes office

Acting President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev takes part in a swearing-in ceremony during a joint session of the houses of parliament in Astana, Kazakhstan March 20, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Kazakhstan renames capital after retiring leader Nazarbayev as new president Tokayev takes office

  • Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took office in a pomp-filled ceremony less than 24 hours after Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down
  • Tokayev immediately proposed changing the name of the Central Asian nation’s capital

ALMATY: Kazakhstan’s new president was sworn in Wednesday following the shock resignation of the country’s long-time ruler and in his first official act renamed the capital after his predecessor.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took office in a pomp-filled ceremony less than 24 hours after Nursultan Nazarbayev, the only leader an independent Kazakhstan had ever known, suddenly announced he was stepping down.
Tokayev immediately proposed changing the name of the Central Asian nation’s capital from Astana to Nursultan, or “Sultan of Light” in Kazakh, and parliament approved the change within hours.
The senate also appointed Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva as speaker, setting her up as a potential contender to succeed her father.
Tokayev, 65, will serve out the rest of Nazarbayev’s mandate until elections due in April next year, though the former president retains significant powers in the country he ruled for nearly three decades.
Tokayev told lawmakers that Nazarbayev had “shown wisdom” by deciding to step down, a rare move in ex-Soviet Central Asia where other leaders have hung on to power until death.
“Yesterday the world witnessed a historic event,” Tokayev said, hailing Nazarbayev as a visionary reformer.
“The results of an independent Kazakhstan are there for all to see,” he added.
Nazarbayev changed the capital from Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty to Astana in 1997, transforming it from a minor provincial town into a futuristic city of skyscrapers rising from the steppes.
Its name meant “capital” in Kazakh and there had long been speculation of a renaming after the leader who shaped it.
The city is central to government propaganda highlighting the achievements of Nazarbayev’s reign and his journey to build it was recently the subject of a state-funded film, “Leader’s Path: Astana.”
Nazarbayev, 78, ruled Kazakhstan since before it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
He steered the country through a major transformation, developing huge energy reserves and boosting its international influence, but was accused of cracking down on dissent and tolerating little opposition.
Nazarbayev will continue to enjoy significant powers thanks to his constitutional status as “Leader of the Nation,” life-time position as chief of the security council and head of the ruling Nur Otan party.
Tokayev appeared to be in pole position to take over in the long term until senators voted shortly after his swearing-in to name Dariga Nazarbayeva, 55, as their new chief.
She is the most politically prominent of Nazarbayev’s three children and has long been mooted as a potential successor.
Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister from 2015 to 2016, Nazarbayeva has significant influence over the media.
Analysts said it was too early to declare a clear frontrunner to become the next elected president, with the recently named prime minister, 53-year-old Askar Mamin, another possible contender.
Tokayev, the interim president, has a strong diplomatic record dating back to the Soviet period and has twice been foreign minister.
This should go some way to reassuring Kazakhstan’s major partners including China, the European Union, Russia and the United States that the move will not threaten key relationships.
Tokayev “is a safe pair of hands, he is a loyal presidential lieutenant,” said Kate Mallinson, a Russia and Eurasia expert at the London-based Chatham House think-tank.
Kazakhstan-based analyst Dosym Satpayev described Tokayev as a “heavyweight” but said he lacked popular appeal.
As for Kazakh society’s reaction to Dariga Nazarbayeva, it “would be mixed to say the least,” Satpayev said.
“A candidate from the family would be controversial and Dariga does not speak the state language, Kazakh, as well as her father,” he said.
Satpayev also pointed to another Nazarbayev relative — nephew Samat Abish, a high-ranking security official who rarely appears in public — as a potential contender from inside the family circle.
“This would be something like a Putin scenario, wherein a connected figure appears from the shadows at the last moment,” Satpayev said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sudden emergence following Boris Yeltsin’s sudden retirement in 1999.
The new leader will need to tackle growing discontent over falling living standards after Kazakhstan’s economy was hit by the 2014 drop in oil prices and western sanctions against Russia, a key trading partner.


Latest sex accusation against Trump lands with a thud

Updated 8 min 48 sec ago
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Latest sex accusation against Trump lands with a thud

  • Carroll, a feature writer and Elle advice columnist, revealed her accusation against Trump in an excerpt to an upcoming book
  • Trump and her allies have responded by casting Carroll aside as an opportunist
Nearly a week after the latest sexual misconduct accusation against President Donald Trump, the story has largely landed with a thud.
Some see the muted response to author E. Jean Carroll’s allegation of Trump assaulting her in a department store dressing room more than two decades ago as yet another example of the divisive Politics of Trump: Those who support him dismiss it as fake news. Those against him see it as confirmation of what they knew all along.
“Essentially, you’re either for him or against him, and if you’re for him, it doesn’t matter what he’s done,” said Larry Sabato, who directs the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It really is remarkable. He simply is exempt from the rules everyone else must obey.”
It’s a cycle that’s been repeated before. After more than a dozen women came forward during Trump’s 2016 campaign with allegations of sexual misconduct years earlier, Trump called them “liars” who sought to harm his campaign with “100-percent fabricated” stories. When the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged weeks before the election of him bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, he dismissed it as “locker room talk.”
In the case of Carroll, a feature writer and longtime Elle advice columnist, her accusation was revealed in an excerpt to an upcoming book, leading Trump and others to cast her aside as an opportunist. Her book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” describes what she calls a lifetime of encounters with predatory men, starting with her early years as an Indiana cheerleader and pageant winner.
She said that Trump, in the mid-1990s, followed her into a dressing room after a chance encounter at the high-end New York department store Bergdorf Goodman and proceeded to pull down her tights and sexually assault her. Trump, in denying the account on Monday, said she’s “not my type,” a stunning remark from a US president that briefly breathed life into the story.
But even ranking Democrats such as Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois were resigned to how it would all play out. “I wouldn’t dismiss it,” he told The Washington Post, “but let’s be honest, he’s going to deny it and little is going to come of it.”
Lawyer Debra Katz, who represented Christine Blasey Ford in her Senate testimony on her alleged high school assault by then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, concurred.
“The electorate knew this about him. This is nothing new about his character or his behavior — at this point there have been, what, 13 credible accusers?” Katz said. “People have become inure to it. And it’s disgraceful.”
Carroll, who did not return messages left on her cell phone from The Associated Press this week, stopped short in various television interviews of calling what happened to her rape and described the experience as a “three-minute” ordeal that did not change her life. Carroll has said she doesn’t plan to seek criminal charges and it appears the statute of limitations has run out.
“I’m a mature woman. I can handle it,” she said on MSNBC. “My life has gone on. I’m a happy woman.”
It didn’t help that Carroll’s book excerpt dropped late last Friday and was largely drowned out by events of the week: the refugee crisis at the border, the US brinkmanship with Iran and the regular onslaught of news about the environment, the economy and the 2020 election.
“We are trauma-fatigued by the volume of despairing issues seemingly beyond our personal control,” said Carrie Goldberg, a New York lawyer who represents victims of sexual assault and revenge porn. “When a solution feels beyond grasp, it can be impossible to muster an appropriate emotional reaction.”
Sen. Mazie Hirnono, a Hawaii Democrat, called it a sad day when a rape accusation against the president leaves the country numb.
“With this president you have the Iran situation going on, you have North Korea going on, you have the border crisis going on,” she said. “So after a while you just practically throw up your hands.”