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Asia Minute: Rare Presidential Transition for Kazakhstan

President of Russia

One of the most powerful rulers in Asia is resigning. He has led the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan for nearly three decades — and what comes next is not clear.

Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since it was part of the Soviet Union. Practically speaking, political opposition has not been a factor in Kazakhstan for decades — in the last presidential election, Nazarbayev took nearly 98-percent of the vote.

He’s long welcomed investment from energy companies around the world to his central Asian country. That included Exxon’s development of the Tengiz oil fields in a deal signed shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Rex Tillerson was a familiar figure — both as the head of Exxon-Mobil and later as Secretary of State. Tillerson praised Nazerbayev at the United Nations for giving up a large arsenal of nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Human Rights Watch has been highly critical of Kazakhstan under Nazarbayev saying activists, union officials and journalists have been “wrongfully imprisoned,” and that “impunity for torture and ill-treatment in detention persist.”

Energy resources have been the key to Kazakhstan’s economy — hurt in recent years by falling oil prices and sanctions against Russia which remains its largest trading partner.

Just last month, the 78-year old Nazarbayev fired his entire cabinet.

The resigning president told a national broadcast audience that he will be succeeded by the chairman of the Senate — a long-time political ally.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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