Nursultan NazarbayevPresident Nursultan Nazarbayev may not run for re-election in 2020, according to Kasym- Zhomart Tokayev, chairman of the upper house of parliament and second in the political hierarchy. ‘I do not believe that President Nazarbayev will run in the presidential elections in 2020,’ Tokayev told the BBC. ‘Since he is a very wise man, he is quite sensible and I think that in 2020 we will have presidential elections with other candidates.’

Tokayev’s statement made waves in political circles. Information and communications minister Dauren Abayev and foreign minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov both expressed confidence that Kazakhstan could only benefit if Nazarbayev took part in 2020. Tokayev’s statement — and the reaction within the political elite — demonstrate that there is still no agreement about the post-Nazarbayev era and this situation that is likely to continue.

Those closest to Nazarbayev want him to retain the presidency for life. Others believe that the time has come for a transition of power. Any delay, this group believes, will only postpone the process and put their interests under threat. A growing number of the political and economic elite support the idea of a rapid transition of power. They will probably dominate the political system within the next year or two.

Both groups influence Nazarbayev and the pressure on him can only increase. Much depends on what signals come from Nazarbayev himself. He may want to retire and act as a guarantor of security for his inner circle, taking part in a new political configuration without being president. But he will have to prepare the ground for the transition of power.

Work has already begun. Parliament recently passed the draft law on reforming the Security Council, of which Nazarbayev will serve as chairman for life. During that time the president will only be a regular member of the council, whose powers are substantially expanded. This change reduces the likelihood of Nazarbayev participating in the 2020 elections because he will have the necessary levers of influence as chairman of the Security Council.

There are two possible scenarios. Nazarbayev could wait until the 2020 elections, organise elections and nominate his successor. Or elections could be held ahead of schedule. In either case, the determining factor is Nazarbayev’s well-being. If he remains healthy he will probably continue to rule the country.

Nazarbayev has talked evasively about the prospects of his participation in the 2020 elections. In 2016 he said that he would work until the 2020 elections but did not say that he would then step aside. He has made clear that the issue of his participation in political life after the 2020 elections remains open.

This article was taken from our monthly Caspian Focus publication. If you wish to discuss anything within this article, or if you have and questions regarding your business in Kazakhstan then please contact us.