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

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.


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 16 September 2019

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 

HIGHLIGHT

It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.