Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has appointed his eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva to the Senate, prompting fresh speculation she could eventually take over from her father, who has been in power since 1989.
In the light of Uzbekistan strongman Islam Karimov’s death earlier this month, Nazarbayev’s decision to promote his daughter could be seen as an act of reassurance for the country’s elite that he has prepared a successor to prevent the instability seen in neighbouring Uzbekistan infecting Kazakhstan. Following Karimov’s death, Nazarbayev becomes the only leader of a former Soviet republic who has kept power since independence.
Nazarbayeva, 53, who has been deputy prime minister since last September, will be replaced by Agriculture Minister Askar Myrzakhmetov, the presidential office said on September 13. While this may look like a demotion at first glance for Dariga, her new post actually puts her closer to the succession line set out in the Kazakh constitution. The Senate speaker becomes acting head of state if the president dies or is deemed unfit to perform his duties. Dariga’s move to the Senate is therefore seen as an attempt by Nazarbayev to prepare the shortest route for his successor, so as not to leave the country without a successor like Karimov did.
Under Kazakh legislation, the president nominates a candidate for the position of Senate speaker and Senate members vote to confirm the appointment. Former prime minister Kassymzhomart Tokayev has been Senate speaker since 2013.
Last week, Nazarbayev appointed Bakhytzhan Sagintayev, a longtime ally of Dariga, as the country’s new prime minister. Sagintayev succeeded Karim Massimov, who was made head of the Kazakh security forces (KNB).
In Kazakhstan, commentators speculated that Sagintayev’s appointment as prime minister could smooth Dariga’s transmission to power in the event of the president’s death. The demotion of Massimov, however, does not rule him out of the succession race, others say. His subsequent appointment as the head of the KNB certainly implies that Nazarbayev has not lost trust in him.
Nazarbayev, 76, is one of the oldest leaders in the region and has repeatedly said he would serve as president “for as long as people trust me”. He has not named a successor, fearing irrelevance when elites, investors and foreign powers start courting the future leader. Nazarbayev was designated the “Leader of the Nation” in 2010 and had the two-term limit abolished for himself in 2011 allowing him to stand for presidency indefinitely.