Nazarbayev ruled a dictatorship in Kazakhstan and has been compared to figures such as the likes of Lee Kuan Yew
and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
He was accused of human rights abuses
by several human rights organisations
and suppressed dissent and presided over an authoritarian regime
According to independent observers, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
, no election held in Kazakhstan
since independence has been free and fair by international standards.
In the country's first open direct presidential election, held in 1991, he appeared alone on the ballot with no opposing candidates and won 98% of the vote. An April 1995 referendum
extended Nazarbayev's term until 2000 and in August of that year, a constitutional referendum
was held which allowed for a new draft for the Constitution of Kazakhstan
. In 1999
, Nazarbayev was re-elected for 2nd term and again in 2005
. In 2010, he announced reforms to encourage a multi-party system
. This led to the reinstatement of various parties in Parliament following the 2012 legislative elections
, although having little influence and opposition as the parties supported and voted with the government while Nur Otan still had dominant-party control
of the Mazhilis
. In 2015
, Nazarbayev was re-elected
with almost 98% of the vote, as he ran virtually unopposed. In January 2017, Nazarbayev proposed constitutional reforms that would delegate powers to the Parliament of Kazakhstan
. In May 2018, the Parliament approved a constitutional amendment allowing Nazarbayev to serve as president of the Security Council
Early life and career
Äbish avoided compulsory military service due to a withered arm he had sustained when putting out a fire.
At the end of World War II
, the family returned to the village of Chemolgan, and Nazarbayev began to learn the Russian language
He performed well at school and was sent to a boarding school in Kaskelen
After leaving school, Nazarbayev took up a one-year, government-funded scholarship at the Karaganda Steel Mill in Temirtau
He also spent time training at a steel plant in Dniprodzerzhynsk
, and therefore was away from Temirtau
when riots broke out there over working conditions.
By the age of 20, he was earning a relatively good wage doing "incredibly heavy and dangerous work" in the blast furnace.
Nazarbayev joined the Communist Party
in 1962, becoming a prominent member of the Young Communist League (Komsomol
and full-time worker for the party, and attended the Karagandy Polytechnic Institute.
He was appointed secretary of the Communist Party Committee of the Karaganda Metallurgical Kombinat in 1972, and four years later became Second Secretary of the Karaganda Regional Party Committee.
In his role as a bureaucrat, Nazarbayev dealt with legal papers, logistical problems, and industrial disputes, as well as meeting workers to solve individual issues.
He later wrote that "the central allocation of capital investment and the distribution of funds" meant that infrastructure was poor, workers were demoralised and overworked, and centrally set targets were unrealistic; he saw the steel plant's problems as a microcosm for the problems for the Soviet Union as a whole.
Rise to power
Nazarbayev (front row, second from left) at the signing of the Alma-Ata Protocol
, December 1991
In 1984, Nazarbayev became the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan
(Chairman of the Council of Ministers), under Dinmukhamed Kunayev
, the First Secretary
of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan
At the sixteenth session of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan in January 1986, Nazarbayev criticized Askar Kunayev, head of the Academy of Sciences, for not reforming his department. Dinmukhamed, Nazarbayev's boss and Askar's brother, felt deeply angered and betrayed. Kunayev went to Moscow
and demanded Nazarbayev's dismissal while Nazarbayev's supporters campaigned for Kunayev's dismissal and Nazarbayev's promotion.
Nazarbayev (three rows from left) at the 1992 World Economic Forum chaired by Henry Kissinger
On 10 December 1993, the Supreme Soviet voted to dissolve itself and that same day, a presidential decree was signed which set changes in local representative and executive bodies with elections of the mäslihats
(local legislatures) taking place every 5 years and äkims
(local heads) being appointed by the president. In March 1994, Kazakhstan for the first time since independence, held a legislative election
which was boycotted by the Azat and Jeltoqsan parties. From there, the pro-presidential People's Union of Kazakhstan Unity
party won a majority of 30 seats with independent
candidates whom were on presidential-list won 42 seats. The OSCE observers called the elections unfair, reporting an inflated voter turnout.
Nevertheless, the new composition of the Parliament was considered to be "professional" with different various political factions
that functioned. In May 1994, the Surpeme Council
passed a vote of no confidence
against Prime Minister Sergey Tereshchenko
amidst political scandals evolving Tereshchenko and government ministers. Nazarbayev objected to the change, arguing that the Constitution gave the president the right to appoint the PM with already existing parliamentary confirmation regardless of the motion of confidence.
However, he eventually backed down, dismissing Tereshchenko's government
in October 1994 and appointing ethnic-Kazakh Akezhan Kazhegeldin
as the new PM.
1993 Kazakhstani postage stamp of Nazarbayev
In 1994, Nazarbayev suggested relocating the capital city from Almaty
, and the official changeover of the capital happened on 10 December 1997.
In March 1995, the Constitutional Court ruled that 1994 legislative elections
were held unconstitutionally and as a result, Nazarbayev dissolved the Supreme Council
From that period, all bills were adopted on the basis of presidential decrees such as outlawing any civic participation in an unregistered and/or illegal public association whom would be punished with 15-day jail sentence or fines from 5–10 times the minimum monthly wage in an effort "to fight organized crime."
An April 1995 referendum
extended Nazarbayev's term, originally set to end in 1996, to until 2000. In August 1995
, a referendum was held which allowed for greater presidential powers and established a bicameral Parliament
as well. Both the elections for Mazhilis
(lower house) and the Senate
(upper house) were held in December 1995 which convened in January 1996.
Nazarbayev dismissed the accusations from critics of him personally dissolving the legislature by claiming that it was under Constitutional Court's orders, saying "the law is the law, and the President is obliged to abide by the constitution, otherwise, how will we build a rule-of-law state?" and that the cancellation of the 1996 presidential elections was made by the decision of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan
arguing that "Western schemes do not work in our Eurasian expanses."
In October 1997, Nazarbayev dismissed Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin
from his post, to which according to political experts was seen as a "power grab".
In his adress, he criticised Kazhegeldin over his record reforms and in his place, Nazarbayev appointed Nurlan Balgimbayev
, an oil engineer whom prior served as an Oil and Gas Minister.
On 7 October 1998, a number of amendments were made to the Constitution of Kazakhstan
in which the term of office of the president was increased from 5 to 7 years as well as term limits. The changes also removed restriction on the maximum required age of a presidential candidate.
The following day on 8 October, Nazarbayev signed decree setting the election date for January 1999. He was re-elected
for 2nd term by winning 81% of the vote, defeating his main challenger and former Surpeme Council
chairman Serikbolsyn Abdildin
In February 1999, several pro-presidential parties formed into one party named Otan
At the Founding Congress
of the party which was held on 1 March 1999, Nazarbayev was elected as the chairman. From there, he suggested that former PM Sergey Tereshchenko
should take over the leading role, noting the constitutional limits on president's affiliation with political parties while Nazarbayev himself remained as de-facto
In July 1999, Nazarbayev signed decree setting the date for the legislative elections
The Otan, for the first time, participated in the elections, winning 23 seats. In the aftermath on 1 October 1999, Nazarbayev appointed Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
as the PM after his predecessor Nurlan Balgimbayev
had faced an increasing unpopularity amidst worsening economy and scandal revolving around an arms deal with North Korea
In June 2000, the Constitutional Council
announced its resolution which declared that Nazarbayev's second term–was in fact–his first due to the adaptation of the new Kazakh Constitution which took place in 1995 during Nazarbayev's first term. This allowed gave him the opportunity to run for another election as his term was set to end in 2007.
Nazarbayev with US President George W. Bush
at the White House in September 2006
On 4 December 2005, new presidential elections
were held where Nazarbayev won by an overwhelming majority of 91.15% (from a total of 6,871,571 eligible participating voters). Nazarbayev was sworn in for another seven-year term on 11 January 2006.
In 2006, the Otan
increased its ranks as all pro-presidential parties began merging into one. Nazarbayev supported the move, stating the need for there to be fewer, but stronger parties that "efficiently defend the interests of the population."
In December 2006, the Otan renamed itself into Nur Otan
and on 4 July 2007, Nazarbayev was re-elected as the party's chairman.
Amidst the political shakeup
, Nazarbayev dismissed Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov
in January 2007 and appointed Deputy PM Karim Massimov
to the post. He stated that Massimov had the "sufficient knowledge and experience" to "develop Kazakhstan's successes."
On 18 May 2007, the Parliament of Kazakhstan
approved a constitutional amendment which allowed the incumbent president—himself—to run for an unlimited number of five-year terms. This amendment applied specifically and only to Nazarbayev: the original constitution's prescribed maximum of two five-year terms will still apply to all future presidents of Kazakhstan.
That same year in August, legislative elections
were held from which the Nur Otan
won all the contested seats in the Mazhilis
, eliminating any form of opposition which sparked controversy and criticism from international organizations and groups within the country.
In response, Kazakhstan introduced an amendment by allowing for a two-party system
since any party that wins 2nd place in race–regardless or not if it passes the 7% electoral threshold
–would be guaranteed to have representation in the Parliament.
Nazarbayev has always emphasized the role of education in the nation's social development. In order to make education affordable, on 13 January 2009, he introduced educational grant "Orken" for the talented youth of Kazakhstan. This decree was amended on 23 September 2016.
In 2009, former UK Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aitken
released a biography of the Kazakh leader entitled Nazarbayev and the Making of Kazakhstan
. The book took a generally pro-Nazarbayev stance, asserting in the introduction that he is mostly responsible for the success of modern Kazakhstan.
In April 2011, Nazarbayev ran for a fourth term
, winning 95.5% of the vote with virtually no opposition candidates. Following his victory, he announced the need in finding an "optimal way of empowering parliament, increasing the government's responsibility and improving the electoral process."
On 11 June 2011, Daniel Witt, Vice Chairman of the Eurasia Foundation, acknowledged the role of Nazarbayev and his political reforms:
"[President] Nazarbayev has led Kazakhstan through difficult times and into an era of prosperity and growth. He has demonstrated that he values his U.S. and Western alliances and is committed to achieving democratic governance."
In December 2011, opponents of Nazarbayev rioted in Mangystau
, described by the BBC
as the biggest opposition movement of his time in power.
On 16 December 2011, demonstrations in the oil town of Zhanaozen
clashed with police on the country's Independence Day.
Fifteen people were shot dead by security forces
and almost 100 people were injured. Protests quickly spread to other cities but then died down. The subsequent trial of demonstrators uncovered mass abuse and torture
In 2014, Nazarbayev suggested that Kazakhstan should change its name to "Kazakh Eli" ("Country of the Kazakhs"), for the country to attract better and more foreign investment, since "Kazakhstan" by its name is associated with other "-stan
" countries. Nazarbayev noted Mongolia
receives more investment than Kazakhstan because it is not a "-stan" country, even though it is in the same neighborhood, and not as stable as Kazakhstan. However, he noted that decision should be decided by the people on whether the country should change its name.[clarification needed]
2015–2019: Fifth and final term
Nazarbayev for the last time ran again in the 2015 presidential election
for the fifth term. From there, he gathered 97.7% of the vote share, making it the largest contrary to other candidates in Kazakhstan's history.
In his victory speech, he empathized the top priority in Nurly Zhol
stimulus package that was designed in softening the social blow caused by an economic troubles.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
criticized the election as falling short of international democratic standards.
In early 2016, it was announced that 1.7 million hectares of agricultural land would be sold at auction. This sparked rare protests around the country
which called for Nazarbayev to stop the momentum on land sales and solve the nation's problems as well. In response to the fears of the lands being sold to foreigners especially Chinese, Nazarbayev fired back at claims, calling them "groundless" and warned that any provocateur would be punished.
On 1 May 2016, at the Kazakhstan People's Unity Day
, Nazarbayev warned that without unity and stability, a crisis similarly in Ukraine
In June 2016, armed attacks in Aktobe
took place resulting in deaths of 25 people. Nazarbayev called the incident as terrorist attacks which were orchestrated from abroad to destabilize the country similarly in a colour revolution
to which he accused of being infiltrated by the ISIS
On 8 September 2016, Nazarbayev appointed Karim Massimov
as the National Security Committee
Chairman and Bakhytzhan Sagintayev
to the post of the PM.
Days later on 13 September, Nazarbayev's daughter Dariga
was appointed as the member of the Senate
. This suggested that Nazarbayev was preparing for his succession to be taken over by Dariga as the cabinet reshuffling had occurred after Uzbek President Islam Karimov
's death which created political uncertainty in the neighboring country.
Nazarbayev dismissed the claims of hereditary succession in an interview to the Bloomberg News
in November 2016, saying that the "transfer of power is spelled out by the Constitution."
In January 2017, Nazarbayev proposed constitutional reforms, which would allow for the Parliament
to have greater role in decision making, calling it "a consistent and logical step in the development of the state".
The Parliament approved several amendments to the Constitution
on 5 March 2017, making the president no longer able to override parliamentary votes of no-confidence, while giving the legislative branch to form a government cabinet, implementing state programs and policies. The move was seen as way by Nazarbayev to ensure the potential of a peaceful transfer of power.
Nazarbayev, along with seventeen heads of state and government from around the world, which included Felipe VI of Spain
and leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
member countries, consisting of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India, attended the opening ceremony of Expo 2017
which was held in Astana
An estimated 3.86 million people visited the site with Nazarbayev at the closing ceremony on 10 September 2017 calling it as "Kazakhstan's most brilliant achievements since its independence."
Senate Chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
, in an interview to BBC News
in June 2018, suggested that Nazarbayev's term presidential from 2015 was in fact, the last one as he hinted the possibility that Nazarbayev would not run for re-election which was scheduled for 2020.
Minister of Information and Communications Dauren Abaev
responded to Tokayev's statements claiming that "there's still a lot of time" for Nazarbayev to decide on whether to run for re-election pointing out that the decision will be primarily based on his. He also added that the country would only benefit if Nazarbayev chooses to run for sixth term.
On 19 March 2019, following unusually persistent protests
in cities across the country,
Nazarbayev announced his resignation as President of Kazakhstan, citing the need for "a new generation of leaders".
The announcement was broadcast in a televised address in Astana
after which he signed a decree ending his powers from 20 March 2019. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
, speaker of the upper house of parliament, was appointed as president
of the country until the end of the presidential term.
His resignation as president notwithstanding, he continues to head the ruling Nur Otan
party, remains a member of the Constitutional Council
, and keeps his lifetime post as chairman of the Security Council
. In his televised address Nazarbayev pointed out that he had been granted the honorary status of elbasy
(leader of the nation, leader of the people[note 2]
), the title bestowed upon him by parliament in 2010.
Allegations of corruption
Over the course of Nazarbayev's presidency, an increasing number of accusations of corruption and favoritism have been directed against Nazarbayev and his circle. Critics say that the country's government has come to resemble a clan system.
According to The New Yorker
, in 1999 Swiss banking officials discovered $85,000,000 in an account apparently belonging to Nazarbayev; the money, intended for the Kazakh treasury, had in part been transferred through accounts linked to James Giffen
Subsequently, Nazarbayev successfully pushed for a parliamentary bill granting him legal immunity, as well as another designed to legalise money laundering, angering critics further.
When Kazakh opposition newspaper Respublika
reported in 2002 that Nazarbayev had in the mid-1990s secretly stashed away $1,000,000,000 of state oil revenue in Swiss bank accounts, the decapitated carcass of a dog was left outside the newspaper's offices, with a warning reading "There won't be a next time"; the dog's head later turned up outside editor Irina Petrushova
's apartment, with a warning reading "There will be no last time."
The newspaper was firebombed as well.
In May 2007, the Parliament of Kazakhstan
approved a constitutional amendment which would allow Nazarbayev to seek re-election as many times as he wishes. This amendment applies specifically and only to Nazarbayev, since it states that the first president will have no limits on how many times he can run for office, but subsequent presidents will be restricted to a five-year term.
As of 2015, Kazakhstan has never held an election meeting international standards.
In May 2018, the Parliament of Kazakhstan passed a constitutional amendment allowing Nazarbayev to serve as Chairman of the Security Council
for life. These reforms, which were approved by the Constitutional Council on 28 June, also expanded the powers of the Security Council, granting it the status of a constitutional body. The amendment states that, "The decisions of the security council and the chairman of the security council are mandatory and are subject to strict execution by state bodies, organisations and officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan."
In December 2020, according to an investigative report by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
, it was identified at least $785 million in European and U.S. real estate purchases made by Nazarbaev's family members and their in-laws in six countries over a 20-year span. This figure includes a handful of properties that have since been sold, including multimillion-dollar apartments in the United States bought by Nazarbaev's brother, Bolat. It does not include a sprawling Spanish estate owned by Kulibaev, for which a purchase price could not be found.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan faced mass unemployment and emigration.
Nazarbayev was viewed to have followed Russia's economic reforms starting with price liberalisations.
On 3 January 1992, he signed a decree "On measures to liberalise prices", an attempt to stabilise the country's socio-economic situation and form a market economy
This resulted in a rapid inflation of goods, causing discontent amongst citizens, thus forcing Nazarbayev on 12 January to sign a "On additional measures for social protection of the population in the context of price liberalisation" which established partial state-regulated prices on bread, bakery products and flour.
Throughout the 1990s, privatisation and banking reforms took place in Kazakhstan. In June 1994, Nazarbayev amended the Parliament
's Economic Memorandum for the next three years, which has been defined as an economic strategy. It included strict measures to reform the economy and establish macroeconomic stability and set the task of carrying out rapid and vigorous privatization. During the introduction of the National Bank of Kazakhstan
in December 1993, significant changes were made in which all specialized banks were transformed into a joint stock company, and the National Bank was granted a number of powers. In March 1995, Nazarbayev signed decree setting the National Bank as an independent entity that is accountable only for the head of state.
Kazakhstan managed to avoid full impact from the 1997 Asian financial crisis
and 1998 Russian financial crisis
, due to lack of high liquid investments. Nazarbayev pledged for to continue in advancing for an "independent, open and free market economy."
Starting from early 2000's, the Kazakh economy faced huge growth thanks to its development in energy sector and high oil prices. Nazarbayev published his manifesto: Prosperity, Security and the Ever-Growing Welfare of all Kazakhstanis
in 2000, where he wrote that "today we are building a new state, a new market economy and a new democracy, and this–at the very time when many other independent states have already trodden that path similar enough."
Following the Financial crisis of 2007–2008
, Nazarbayev assured the nation in October 2008 that it would deal with the crisis by introducing a rescue package amounted to 10% of the country's GDP, of which was funded thanks in part to the national sovereign wealth fund.
In his state of address on 6 March 2009, he announced 350,000 jobs for workers in the spheres of infrastructure projects as well as the creation of the Eurasian Land Bridge
Since 2014, Nazarbayev has set strategic priority in Kazakhstan for economic diversification which would maintain the country's stability by avoiding the effects from its oil export reliance that would affect the economy through its constant price downfalls.
Eurasian Economic Union
In 1994, Nazarbayev suggested the idea of creating a "Eurasian Union" during a speech at Moscow State University
On 29 May 2014, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed a treaty to create a Eurasian Economic Union
which created a single economic space of 170,000,000 people and came into effect in January 2015.
Nazarbayev said shortly after the treaty was signed, "We see this as an open space and a new bridge between the growing economies of Europe and Asia."
Nazarbayev named Honorary Chairman of Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in May 2019.
Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy
Nazarbayev unveiled in his 2012 State of the Nation the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy
, a long-term strategy to ensure future growth prospects of Kazakhstan, and position Kazakhstan as one of the top 30 most developed nations in the world.
President Nazarbayev unveiled in 2014 a multibillion-dollar domestic modernization and reformation plan called Nurly Zhol - The Path to the Future
It was officially approved by the Decree of the President on 6 April 2015. The goal of the plan was for development and improvement of tourist, industrial and housing infrastructure, create 395,500 new jobs, and increase the GDP growth rate 15.7 by 2019.
In March 2019, it was announced that the program would be extended to 2025 with its new agenda being focused on developing road infrastructure.
According to Minister of Infrastructure and Development Beibut Atamkulov
, it is planned that 27,000 kilometres of local roads will be repaired, with 21,000 kilometers of national roads being reconstructed and repaired.
President Nazarbayev unveiled this technological modernization initiative to increase Kazakhstan's economic competitiveness through the digital ecosystem development.
In his 1998 autobiography, Nazarbayev wrote that "The shrinking of the Aral Sea
, because of its scope, is one of the most serious ecological disasters being faced by our planet today. It is not an exaggeration to put it on the same level as the destruction of the Amazon rainforest
He called on Uzbekistan
, and the wider world to do more to reverse the environmental damage done during the Soviet era.
Kazakhstan inherited from the Soviet Union the world's fourth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. Within four years of independence, Kazakhstan possessed zero nuclear weapons.
In one of the new government's first major decisions, Nazarbayev closed the Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk (Semei), where 456 nuclear tests had been conducted by the Soviet military.
During the Soviet era, over 500 military experiments with nuclear weapons were conducted by scientists in the Kazakhstan region, mostly at the Semipalatinsk Test Site
, causing radiation sickness and birth defects.
As the influence of the Soviet Union waned, Nazarbayev closed the site.
He later claimed that he had encouraged Olzhas Suleimenov
's anti-nuclear movement in Kazakhstan
, and was always fully committed to the group's goals.
In what was dubbed "Project Sapphire
", the Kazakhstan and United States governments worked closely together to dismantle former Soviet weapons stored in the country, with the Americans agreeing to fund over $800,000,000
in transportation and "compensation" costs.
In March 2016, Nazarbayev released his "Manifesto: The World. The 21st century."
In this manifest he called for expanding and replicating existing nuclear-weapon-free zones and stressed the need to modernise existing international disarmament treaties.
Nazarbayev put forward the initiative of holding a forum of world and traditional religions in Astana
. Earlier the organisers of similar events were only representatives of leading religions and denominations. Among other similar events aimed at establishing interdenominational dialogue were the meetings of representatives of world religions and denominations held in Assisi
, in October 1986 and January 2002.
The first Congress of World and Traditional Religions which gathered in 2003 allowed the leaders of all major religions to develop prospects for mutual cooperation.
Nazarbayev initially espoused anti-religious
views during the Soviet era;
he later made attempts to support Muslim
heritage by performing the Hajj
and supporting mosque renovations.
Under the leadership of Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan enacted some degrees of multiculturalism in order to retain and attract talents from diverse ethnic groups among its citizenry, and even from nations that are developing ties of cooperation with the country, in order to coordinate human resources onto the state-guided path of global market economic participation. This principle of the Kazakh leadership has earned it the name "Singapore of the Steppes".
However, in 2012, Nazarbayev proposed reforms, which were later enacted by the parliament, imposing stringent restrictions on religious practices.
Religious groups were required to re-register, or face closure.
The initiative was explained as an attempt to combat extremism. However, under the new law, many minority religious groups are deemed illegal. In order to exist on a local level, a group must have more than 50 members: more than 500 on a regional level, and more than 5,000 on the national level.
Nazarbayev made critical remarks against the veil, choosing to highlight Turkic traditions over Islam
by claiming that "We are Turks, not Arabs" in an open reference to the Turkic
heritage while attacking Arab
In February 2018, Reuters reported that "Kazakhstan further loosened cultural ties with its former political masters in Moscow ... when a ban on speaking Russian
in cabinet meetings took effect ... [Nazarbayev] has also ordered all parliamentary hearings to be held in Kazakh
, saying those who are not fluent must be provided with simultaneous translations."
Human rights record
Kazakhstan's human rights situation under Nazarbayev is uniformly described as poor by independent observers. Human Rights Watch
says that "Kazakhstan heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion. In 2014, authorities closed newspapers, jailed or fined dozens of people after peaceful but unsanctioned protests, and fined or detained worshippers for practicing religion outside state controls. Government critics, including opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov
, remained in detention after unfair trials. In mid-2014, Kazakhstan adopted new criminal, criminal executive, criminal procedural, and administrative codes, and a new law on trade unions, which contain articles restricting fundamental freedoms and are incompatible with international standards. Torture remains common in places of detention."
Rule of law
According to a US government report released in 2014, in Kazakhstan:
The law does not require police to inform detainees that they have the right to an attorney, and police did not do so. Human rights observers alleged that law enforcement officials dissuaded detainees from seeing an attorney, gathered evidence through preliminary questioning before a detainee’s attorney arrived, and in some cases used corrupt defense attorneys to gather evidence. [...] The law does not adequately provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and had the authority to suspend court decisions. Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors alleged that judges, prosecutors, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in the majority of criminal cases.
Kazakhstan's global rank in the World Justice Project
's 2015 Rule of Law Index was 65 out of 102; the country scored well on "Order and Security" (global rank 32/102), and poorly on "Constraints on Government Powers" (global rank 93/102), "Open Government" (85/102) and "Fundamental Rights" (84/102, with a downward trend marking a deterioration in conditions).Kazakhstan's global rank
in the World Justice Project
's 2020 Rule of Law Index rose and was 62 out 128. Its global rank on "Order and Security" remained high (39/128) and low on "Constraints on Government Powers" (102/128), "Open Government" (81/128) and "Fundamental Rights" (100/128).
The National plan "100 concrete steps" introduced by President Nazarbayev included measures to reform the court system of Kazakhstan, including the introduction of mandatory jury trials for certain categories of crimes (Step 21)
and the creation of local police service (Step 30).
The implementation of the national plan resulted in Kazakhstan's transition from a five-tier judicial system to a three-tier one in early 2016 yet it severely restricted access to the cassation review of cases by the Supreme Court.
However, the expansion of jury trials has not been implemented. Furthermore, Nazarbayev abolished the local police service in 2018 following the public outrage over the murder of Denis Ten
in downtown Almaty
During Nazarbayev's presidency the main principle of Kazakhstan's international relations
was multi-vector foreign policy, which was based on initiatives to establish friendly relations with foreign partners.
His government's policies were considered moderate by maintaining a balance between the world powers of United States
From 1990 to 1994, Nazarbayev paid official visits to the United States
, United Kingdom
and other nations. By 1996, 120 nations had recognized Kazakhstan, and it had established diplomatic relations with 92 countries. The first major diplomatic initiatives by Nazarbayev were dealing with strategic issues, such as obtaining international security guarantees in the aftermath of nuclear disarmament
as a result of pressure from Western nations.
Nazarbayev called on Russia
, the United States
, and China
to conclude a non-aggression pact
with Kazakhstan that would also guarantee the country's sovereignty. On 5 December 1994, Russia, U.S., and U.K. signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances
to Kazakhstan based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Later, the governments of China and France added their signatures to the Memorandum.
In January 2019, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa
conducted a state visit to Astana
to meet with Nazarbayev, in the first visit by an African leader to the country in years. This would be the last foreign head of state that Nazarbayev would receive while in office.
Nazarbayev's last state visit to a foreign country took place five days prior to his resignation, visiting the United Arab Emirates
to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed
Diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and China were established in January 1992, with Chinese Premiere Li Peng
visiting the country in April 1994 where he met with Nazarbayev. From there, both nations signed boundary agreement on 26 April and then later during Peng's second visit to Almaty
, an additional agreement on the border between two countries was signed on 24 September 1997.
In December 2002, during Nazarbayev's visit to China, an agreement "On good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation between China and Kazakhstan" and "On cooperation between the two countries to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism" were signed.
In a speech given in December 2006 marking the fifteenth anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence, Nazarbayev stated he wished to join with Iran in support of a single currency for all Central Asian states and intended to push the idea forward with the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
, on an upcoming visit. In one of his speeches however, Nazarbayev criticised Iran as one of the countries that provides support for terrorism. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry however, released a statement on 19 December, saying his remarks were not "what he really meant," and his comments were "mistakes."
During an announcement of a railway link in 2007, Nazarbayev expressed a religious solidarity with Iran, as he was quoted as saying, "Today I will pay a visit to Turkmenistan where we will agree on the construction of a railway through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan
to Iran with access to the Persian Gulf
. This will bring us closer to our Muslim
Notwithstanding Kazakhstan's membership in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
), under Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan had good relations with Israel
. Diplomatic relations were established in 1992 and Nazarbayev paid official visits to Israel in 1995 and 2000.
Bilateral trade between the two countries amounted to $724 million in 2005.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
conducted his first ever visit to Kazakhstan in mid-December 2016, when he met with Nazarbayev. The two countries signed agreements on research and development, aviation, civil service commissions and agricultural cooperation, as well as a declaration on establishing an agricultural consortium.
Nazarbayev made his first state visit to the United States
on 18–20 May 1992 where he met with U.S. President George H. W. Bush
Both sides have expressed interests to develop friendly, cooperative relations and for both countries to strengthen international peace and stability with an early ratification of the START II
In order to gain investments to Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev, during his visit, signed an agreement with Chevron Corporation
which obliged to develop the Tengiz Field
that would extract 700,000 barrels of oil per day with a revenue of more than $5 billion a year.
In September 2006, he met with President George W. Bush
in the White House
where Nazarbayev received praise from Dubya Bush for his support during the U.S. led Iraq War
and Kazakhstan's an important oil supplier for the U.S. Nazarbayev proclaimed that "in economics, in energy partnership, in policy, in war on terror, we truly become close partners.", referring to U.S. support for Kazakhstan's independence. He also challenged for Bush and other world leaders to follow the country's suit and make their nations nuclear-free
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump
lauded Nazabayev's leadership and called Kazakhstan's achievements under his presidency a "miracle" during their phone call on 30 November 2016.
Nazarbayev visited Washington, D.C.
in January 2018 where he met Trump at the Oval Office
From there, Trump praised Kazakhstan as "a valued partner in our efforts to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons... and prevent the North Korean regime from threatening the world with nuclear devastation" and noted the country's crucial support for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and preventing a safe haven for terrorists.
According to The Economist
, despite his resignation, he is still behind the leadership of the country.
His resignation is considered by The Moscow Times
to be an attempt to turn him into a Lee Kuan Yew
type of public figure.
In the month since his resignation, he had met with South Korean President Moon Jae In
and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
during their visit to Kazakhstan. Notably, their meetings with Nazarbayev took place separately from their meetings with President Tokayev, who is the de jure head of state
. Two days after leaving office, he attended the Nauryz
celebrations where he was greeted by the civilian population.
In regard to accommodations as the first president, it is known that his personal office (now known as Kökorda
) has been moved to a different location in the capital from the presidential palace. It was also reported in late April 2019 that Nazarbayev also maintains a private jet for official and private visits.
He has embarked on two foreign visits since leaving office, to Beijing
. The former visit took place during the second Belt and Road Forum
while the latter took place during the 2019 Moscow Victory Day Parade
In late-May, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
announced the naming of Nazarbayev as the Honorary President of the Turkic Council
On 7 September, he visited Moscow
once again to attend the Moscow City Day
celebrations on the VDNKh
and to open his pavilion at the trade show
During a visit to the Azerbaijani
capital of Baku
, he told the hosting President Ilham Aliyev
that his father, former President Heydar Aliyev
, would be "very delighted" with the development of the capital.
In late October, he attended the Enthronement of Japanese emperor Naruhito
as the representative of Kazakhstan.
During this visit, he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
, during which he congratulated him on his election victory
and was invited by Zelensky to visit Kyiv
Nazarbayev met with Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal
during his visit to Kazakhstan for a charity tennis match
. During his meeting with Nadal, he personally called former Spanish King Juan Carlos I
In October 2019, it was announced that all potential ministerial candidates needed the approval of Nazarbayev before being appointed by Tokayev, with the exception of Minister of Defence, Interior Minister and Foreign Minister.
On 29 November 2019, Nazarbayev was named the Honorary Chair of Central Asian Consultative Meeting. It was announced at the second Consultative Meeting of the Heads of State of Central Asia in Tashkent
At the 29th Session of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan
(QHA) held on 28 April 2021, Nazarbayev announced his intention to step down as the QHA Chairman and have President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
to succeed his role, describing it as an emotional "serious step".
However from there, Tokayev suggested for Nazarbayev to be named as an "Honorary Chairman" by the QHA to which his statements received applause. Nazarbayev accepted the offer, promising to continue to work with the Assembly.
Nazarbayev created the Biz Birgemiz ("We are Together" in Kazakh) Fund in March 2020 "to fight the pandemic COVID-19
effectively while supporting the economy".
As of June 2020, the fund gathered over 28 billion tenge ($69.3 million) to provide financial aid to more than 470,000 families in 23 cities as part of the fund's three waves of assistance.
Upon his diagnosis with COVID-19 in mid-June, he received calls and telegrams of support from world leaders, including Vladimir Putin
and King Abdullah II of Jordan
as well as former President of Croatia Stjepan Mesić
2021 legislative campaign
As Chairman of Nur Otan
, Nazarbayev signed a decree in the preparation of the 2021 legislative elections
on 4 June 2020 setting the date of closed primaries would be held within the party "for open and political competition, promote civic engagement in the political process, and empower women and the youth of the country" to which he instructed for the party to include 30% of women and 20% of people under the age of 35 in its list
The primaries were held from 17 August to 3 October 2020 where Nazarbayev himself voted online.
At the 20th Nur Otan Extraordinary Congress held on 25 November 2020, the Nur Otan revealed its list of party candidates as well as electoral platforms which were approved by the delegates. Nazarbayev at the congress spoke saying:
"The party's program announced by our President [Kassym-Jomart Tokayev] today is ambitious and at the same time calculated, supported by financial and human resources. It is a logical extension of our reforms. Throughout the years of independence, I have always set clear goals, and I have said that it is necessary to work hard and hard to achieve them. And now it's the same. I support this program proposed by the President and our common task is to rally around it and work together. You have to believe in yourself, love your homeland and do everything possible for progress."
Nazarbayev, at the congress, accused the United States
of "double standards" over its conduct of the 2020 presidential elections
, telling "what is there to talk about now in the United States of America, the OSCE was not allowed in the elections at all. The Democrats did not allow Republican observers and so on. It is not in order to criticize a big state, but if we are criticized, then why are there such disorders?". In his response to the Belarusian protests
against President Alexander Lukashenko
, Nazarbayev criticized the protestors, saying “they've been fucking Belarus for a whole month," and noted the Bulgarian protests
in which Nazarbayev claimed that it received a lack of international attention in contrast with Belarus.
To conclude the Nur Otan
congress, Nazarbayev proposed Bauyrjan Baibek
to be the head of the party's campaign headquarters, a decision that was unanimously supported by the Nur Otan delegates.
In the following aftermath of the elections to the Mazhilis
which were held on 10 January 2021, the ruling Nur Otan
swept a comfortable majority of 76 seats despite a loss eight seats in contrary to the 2016 election
. Nazarbayev congratulated the party's victory in the election saying "Kazakhstanis associate the further development of our country, improvement of welfare with our party."
Nazarbayev is married to Sara Alpysqyzy Nazarbayeva
. They have three daughters: Dariga
. Aliya's first marriage was notably to Aidar Akayev
, the eldest son of former President of Kyrgyzstan Askar Akayev
, which for a short period in time, made the two Central Asian
Having grown up in the USSR
, Nazarbayev is fluent in Russian
as well as Kazakh
and understands English
He has two brothers, Satybaldy (1947–1980) and Bolat (born 1953),
as well as one sister named Anip.
On 16 August 2020, Nazarbayev's grandson, Aisultan
, reportedly died from cardiac arrest
. Prior to that, Aisultan made several public statements on social media that Nazarbayev was his father and that his life was constantly threatened.
He also accused his grandfather's associates of plotting and scheming.
On 18 June 2020, it was reported that Nazarbayev had tested positive for COVID-19
; a spokesman stated that Nazarbayev would go into isolation and work remotely.
On 3 July 2020, Nazarbayev had recovered and was "back on his feet" three weeks after testing positive.
Nazarbayev, a devout Muslim
, has described his spirituality as being based on the words from Abai Qunanbaiuly
, a Kazakh
poet whose philosophy is based on an enlightened Islam
. According to Nazarbayev, Abai's "Words of Wisdom" aided him in attempting to build a modern Kazakhstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Postage stamp with Nazarbayev
Nursultan Nazarbayev street, Amman
In popular culture
Nazarbayev is portrayed by Romanian actor
Dani Popescu in the 2020 film Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
, in which he is depicted as a leader who apparently wants to be part of Donald Trump
's "strongman club" alongside the likes of Vladimir Putin
and Kenneth West
, recruiting the titular Borat Sagdiyev
(Sacha Baron Cohen
) to return to the United States
to bribe Mikhael Pence
with a gift of the country's beloved Jonny the Monkey, who is thereafter eaten by Borat's stowaway
daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova
), after which point Nazarbayev faxes Borat to have him present Tutar as a bride
to Pence on his suggestion, later to Rudy Giuliani
when Borat proves unable to. After Borat and Tutar return to Kazakhstan awaiting execution
after failing to fulfill Nazarbayev's wishes, Nazarbayev instead states that "everyone makes mistakes" and offers Borat vodka
before leaving, immediately after which point Borat and Tutar discover from looking at the walls of Nazarbayev's that Nazarbayev had masterminded the COVID-19 pandemic
by injecting Borat himself with the original strain
so that he would serve as an asymptomatic carrier and index case
in his travels across the world en route to the Americas. Confronting Nazarbayev, who reveals his motivation for having spread the virus to be routed from how the world treated Kazakhstan after the release of the first film Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
fourteen years previously, Borat and Tutar record his confession
on a smartphone
, coercing him into overturning the country's various sexist
laws and making it a feminist
nation, and replacing the previously abandoned much-beloved "Running of the Jew
with the "Running of the Yankee
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Nazarbayev, Nursultan (1998), Nursultan Nazarbayev: My Life, My Times and My Future...
, Pilkington Press, ISBN 1899044191
Last edited on 17 June 2021, at 11:23
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