Kassym-Jomart Tokayev was sworn in Wednesday as Kazakhstan's interim president after longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev's surprise resignation on Tuesday. Nazarbayev, 78, has led Kazakhstan since 1989, two years before it became an independent nation after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Tokayev, a 65-year-old former diplomat who was previously the speaker of the Kazakh Senate, will serve out the rest of Nazarbayev's term until 2020.
After being sworn in, Tokayev immediately proposed changing the name of the capital, Astana, to Nursultan in honor of Nazarbayev, and he appointed Nazarbayev's oldest daughter, Dariga, as Senate speaker, putting her first in line for the presidency. It is unclear if either Tokayev or Dariga Nazarbayeva will run for president in the next election, but there has been speculation for years that Nazarbayev was grooming his daughter to take his place.
The younger "Nazarbayeva, a 55-year-old mother of three, has in the past led Kazakhstan's main television station and served as a deputy prime minister, while also devoting time to her passion for opera — which she has performed publicly," Reuters notes.
Her father, meanwhile, isn't giving up power. Last year, with assent from Parliament and the constitutional court, Nazarbayev became leader-for-life of the powerful Security Council, and he will also remain head of the ruling party. "Nazarbayev is not stepping down; he is stepping up," said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
Nazarbayev "has been widely praised for maintaining stability and ethnic peace in Kazakhstan, a large, oil-rich nation south of Russia and west of China," The Associated Press reports. "Even though he has faced criticism for marginalizing the political opposition and creating what is effectively a one-party state, the political regime that Nazarbayev has built is more liberal than those in the de-facto dictatorships in the neighboring Central Asian countries."