Kazakhstan’s ruling party nominated Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as its candidate for a snap presidential vote in June after he was backed by the country’s founding leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, setting the stage for a smooth handover of power in the Central Asian nation.
Tokayev’s candidacy received unanimous backing from 600 delegates of the ruling Nur Otan party, which is loyal to 78-year-old Nazarbayev, at a conference in the capital Nur-Sultan, newly named for the former leader.
Speaking at the conference on Tuesday, Nazarbayev, who stunned the oil-rich country by suddenly resigning last month, proposed Tokayev, the current interim president, as candidate at the polls.
Sixty-five-year-old Tokayev is now all but certain to win the June 9 vote, marking a rare handover of power in ex-Soviet Central Asia where local leaders usually hold on to office until death.
A seamless transition will reassure foreign investors who have pumped money into the country’s energy sector but frustrate those calling for democratic reforms in the authoritarian state.
“I ask everyone to support his candidacy,” Nazarbayev said at the conference in the capital Nur-Sultan, renamed from Astana in his honour following his resignation.
“I am sure he will be a worthy leader,” said Nazarbayev, who retains significant powers and said he would still play a role in shaping policy.
“People need stability and confidence in tomorrow. I will continue to work in the interests of the people of Kazakhstan.”
Tokayev had announced the snap election in a televised address to the nation after taking his acting role as president.
Nazarbayev remains the lifelong chair of Kazakhstan’s powerful security council and is constitutionally designated as the country’s “Elbasy”, or “Leader of the Nation”.
However, Tokayev’s own public profile has been growing in recent weeks.
He has visited Moscow for talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a close ally of Nazarbayev, as well as Uzbekistan, a key regional player.
On Monday he met with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s regime faces a mood of simmering protest as it prepares for what is likely to be an uncompetitive vote in a country marked by deep inequalities.
Dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested in the days after Tokayev ascended to the presidency from the senate speaker post.
Kazakhstan has never held a vote deemed competitive by international monitors and the victory of the ruling party’s candidate is viewed as inevitable.
One likely challenger in the June vote, Mels Yelusizov, is famous for having cast his ballot for Nazarbayev, rather than himself, in a 2011 leadership contest the strongman won with 95 percent of the vote.
Nazarbayev’s daughter, 55-year-old Dariga Nazarbayeva, was elected senate leader after Tokayev’s inauguration and is viewed as a potential future president.