June 07, 2019

An Aging Autocrat's Lesson for His Fellow Dictators

Featuring Andrea Kendall-Taylor

Source: The Atlantic

Journalist Reid Standish

Looking around Kazakhstan’s glitzy capital, you’d be forgiven for not realizing that the country is on the verge of one of its most meaningful political moments since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s autocratic president who held power for nearly 30 years, resigned in March and tapped Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, a trusted ally, to follow him as interim president before snap elections were called. Yet apart from the odd billboard and poster set up around the bulky boulevards and bizarre architecture here, the campaign has largely been background noise in the oil-rich Central Asian country.

That’s because the June 9 election is already a fait accompli, with Tokayev’s victory assured. Like the capital, a display of gaudy opulence built on the Eurasian Steppe in the 1990s and 2000s on Nazarbayev’s orders, the upcoming vote is a product of the Kazakh leader’s vision. Nazarbayev made the decision to leave his post while still alive, a rarity among autocrats, who instead tend to die in office, exile, or prison, but he has not retreated from power. Through a parallel power structure, Nazarbayev can still shape domestic and foreign policy and is in charge of his own succession. To bring this point home, Tokayev’s first act in office was to rename the capital from Astana to honor Nazarbayev.

Read the full article and more in The Atlantic.


  • Andrea Kendall-Taylor

    Senior Fellow and Director, Transatlantic Security Program

    Andrea Kendall-Taylor is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Transatlantic Security Program at CNAS. She works on national security challenges facing the United States and Eur...