Throughout his political career, he has privileged loyalty to personal ambitions. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, elected president of Kazakhstan on Sunday, moved to the head of the Central Asian country with the promise to continue the path traced by his mentor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
At the age of 66, Mr Tokayev replaced the indestructible Nazarbayev as interim head of this vast country in March after the surprise announcement of his resignation after three decades in power. The then president of the Senate immediately convened an early presidential election.
Invested soon after as a candidate with the support of his mentor, he had little doubt that he would be the new president of a country that has not experienced any elections deemed free or fair by international observers.
“I am sure he will be a worthy leader,” Nazarbayev said in April at the ruling Nur-Otan party congress in nodding his successor. President Tokayev will certainly not have a purely symbolic role, but Nazarbayev will remain a key figure in Kazakh politics, where he has retained key functions.
A veteran diplomat, Mr. Tokayev was born in Kazakhstan in 1953 into a family of the Soviet intelligentsia. In 1975, he graduated from the prestigious State Institute of International Relations of Moscow (MGIMO).
He then began a diplomatic career that would make him a prominent political figure after Kazakhstan’s independence in 1991. He was twice appointed Foreign Minister and Prime Minister from 1999 to 2002.
But it is his position as President of the Senate that best expresses the trust that Nursultan Nazarbayev attaches to him. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev held this position twice, from 2007 to 2011 and from 2013 until the departure of Nursultan Nazarbayev.
According to the Kazakh Constitution, it is then up to him to act as interim representative for the succession of the head of state.
- – Shadow Man –
Mastering Chinese and English, in addition to Russian and Kazakh, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was also Director General of the United Nations Office in Geneva between 2011 and 2013, becoming the first Kazakh citizen to hold such a high position. in an international organization.
In recent years, he has tried to correct his image as a shadow man little known to the general public, for example by becoming an active user of the social network Twitter. One of his recent tweets showed him, for example, shaking hands with a popular Kazakh singer.
Since his arrival as head of state in March, he has also sought to build a public image of a leader, hosting for example the South Korean President Moon Jae-in or meeting in Moscow his ally Vladimir Putin. His travels across the country enjoy wide coverage of the state media.
His repeated expressions of loyalty to former President Nazarbayev and his solemn attitude have earned him criticism for his lack of charisma.
The exiled opponent and former Energy Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, convicted of embezzlement in Kazakhstan, had once compared Mr Tokayev to a piece of furniture, which “squeaks when moved”.
But Mr Tokayev is undoubtedly the man best informed of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s wishes. Last June, he had estimated in an interview for the BBC that the strong man of Kazakhstan would not seek re-election, which alerted observers to a possible succession.