Nazarbayev emerges to deliver TV address to Kazakhstan nation

Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev surfaced on Tuesday for the first time since deadly protests erupted more than two weeks ago, saying in a televised address he remained in the capital and denying rumours of a clash with his chosen successor, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

Nazarbayev’s disappearance from Kazakhstan’s media since late December had led to speculation that he had fled the country with his family after protesters took to the streets demanding the 81-year old “father of the nation” be removed from political life.

He had retained his grip since stepping down in 2019 after almost three decades in power, handing his official role as president to Tokayev but retaining his role as chair of the National Security Council.

On Tuesday, however, Nazarbayev, flanked by the Kazakhstan flag, referred to himself as a simple retiree and said Tokayev had “full power”.

“In 2019, I passed the mandate to [Tokayev] and since then I’ve been a pensioner, I am on a well-earned rest in Kazakhstan’s capital at the moment, and I didn’t go anywhere,” he said, according to the transcript, which notably avoided naming the capital, which was named Nur-Sultan in his honour when he stepped down.

“President Tokayev has the full power. He is the chairman of the Security Council. Soon, he will be elected as chairman of the Nur-Otan party,” the former president said, referring to the ruling political party, of which Nazarbayev is still the leader. “So there is no conflict or opposition among the elite. Rumours on this topic are completely irrelevant.”

Commentators have suggested that the protests, which brought together disparate disaffected groups, were a clash of elites, with Nazarbayev’s people being defeated and his era coming to an end.

In his address on Tuesday, Nazarbayev called on the people to back the reform programme pledged by Tokayev to address inequality in central Asia’s biggest economy in the wake of the demonstrations. “This crisis will pass and make us stronger,” he said.

Tokayev last week reshuffled the government, appointing a new prime minister, and announced a number of popular measures, including freezing officials’ salaries and creating a fund for rich businesses to contribute to.

He has also begun to clear state institutions and businesses of Nazarbayev allies. He ordered the dismissal of Nazarbayev’s nephew Samat Abish from his position as deputy head of the National Security Committee, or KNB, on Monday, after firing and arresting his boss Karim Massimov, considered to be a close ally of Nazarbayev.

Nazarbayev’s three sons-in-law have also stepped down from influential positions. Timur Kulibayev, the husband of the middle daughter Dinara Kulibayeva, and one of Kazakhstan’s richest individuals, according to Forbes, resigned as chairman of Atameken lobbying group on Monday.

Last week, Dimash Donasov, the husband of Nazarbayev’s youngest daughter Aliya Nazarbayeva resigned as chairman of KazTransOil. Kairat Sharipbayev, said to be the partner of his oldest daughter and parliamentarian Dariga Nazarbayeva, stepped down as chairman of QazaqGaz, recently rebranded from KazTransGaz, according to an official statement.

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