President and Leader of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan, 1991 - Present
Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev was born
on July 6, 1940 in Chemolgan, located in the Kaskelen District of the Almaty region in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (Kazakh SSR). Although he had the opportunity to attend university, he decided
not to immediately upon graduation from high school and instead learned a trade. He attended
a technical school in Dneprodzerzhinsk, Ukraine, in 1960 and the technical school of the Karaganda Metallurgical Works in Kazakhstan, from which he earned
a degree in metallurgy in 1967. He later attended
the Higher Party School in Moscow where he pursued training in economics, receiving an advanced degree for his efforts.
Nazarbayev's first job
was as a blast-furnace worker at the Karaganda Metallurgical Works steel plant where he was trained as a metal worker. In 1968, he took over as second secretary of the Temirtau city Communist Party Committee and was put in charge of the heavy industry department and construction. In 1970, he was appointed
deputy to the first secretary of the Temirtau city Party Committee. From 1973 to 1977, he was the secretary
of the Party Committee at the Karaganda steel plant. From 1977 through 1979, he served as secretary and then second secretary of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party in Karaganda. in December 1979 he was promoted
to the Secretariat of the Communist Party of the Kazakh SSR as secretary and was responsible for industry and the economy. In March 1984, Nazarbayev became the chairman of the Kazakh Council of Ministers and served in that role for five years.
Nazarbayev has led
Kazakhstan since 1989 when he took over the post of first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan following rioting in the town of Novy Uzen (now Zhanaozen) that saw the previous first secretary, Gennadiy Kolbin, transferred back to Moscow. The riots over high prices and claims of discrimination against ethnic Kazakhs left
five people dead and 118 injured.
The republic's Supreme Soviet elected Nazarbayev president of the Kazakh SSR on April 24, 1990. On December 1, 1991, the republic's first national presidential election was held. Nursultan Nazarbayev won 98.7
percent of the vote in the uncontested election.
As the Soviet Union was unraveling, Nazarbayev favored
the formation of some form of union that linked the former Soviet republics together because he believed they would not survive individually. However, he tried to prepare for eventual separation by taking control of the republic's economy and mineral assets. When Communist hard-liners attempted a coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, he publicly remained silent and behind the scenes helped Boris Yeltsin avoid arrest. Nazarbayev gained further prominence in the coup's aftermath by backing Gorbachev in return for an announcement of a new
political and economic arrangement with the union republics.
Kazakhstan declared independence from the Soviet Union on December 16, 1991, becoming the last union republic to do so. On April 29, 1995, a national referendum extended
Nazarbayev's term to the end of 1999. In August of the same year, Kazakhstan adopted a new constitution that, as in all other Central Asian states, made the president the focus of the political system and made the parliament into a consultative body. In October 1998, the parliament passed
constitutional amendments that changed the president’s term of office from five to seven years, eliminated the age limit of sixty-five for the president, and removed the requirement that voter turnout be 50 percent in order for an election to be valid. It also moved the presidential election up by almost two years, from December 2000 to January 10, 1999. Nazarbayev received 79.78 percent
of the vote in an election criticized
by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers.
Nazarbayev won another early election on December 4, 2005 with 91.15 percent
of the vote in an election that saw the country's first ever televised
presidential debate—granted, the president did not participate, as was his right. Although there were multiple candidates, none constituted serious competition for the incumbent president. On May 16, 2007, Nazarbayev presented
parliament with amendments
that would change the country from a presidential republic to a presidential-parliamentary republic, increasing the powers of parliament and elevating the role of political parties. The president also proposed shortening
the length of the presidential term from seven to five years at the end of his term in 2012. The parliament approved
the changes and added
a clause eliminating term limits, but solely for the country’s founding president.
On January 6, 2011, parliament petitioned
the president to hold a new referendum that would extend his term until 2020, but the president refused. On January 14, both chambers of parliament overrode
the president's veto and passed changes to the constitution that would provide the legal basis for holding another referendum. The president referred the matter to the Constitutional Council, which ruled the changes unconstitutional. The president then proposed early presidential elections for April 2011, which he won with 95.54 percent of the vote
In May 2010, several deputies of the Mazhilis (the lower house of parliament) proposed naming Nazarbayev the "Leader of the Nation" (Elbasy). Parliament approved
changes in the law that made
the "Leader of the Nation" as well as his assets immune to criminal investigation and prosecution, equated attempts on the president's life with terrorist acts, and made
insults to his honor and dignity or attacks on them in the media punishable by up to three years in prison. The president did not sign the changes into law, but he did not veto them either. According to the constitution of Kazakhstan, any bill that the president does not return to parliament has the force of law
Nazarbayev embraced the free market and privatization when the country became independent. He pushed through market reforms and created a national fund with the proceeds from Kazakhstan’s thriving oil and natural gas industries, which he later used to help the country weather both the 1998 and 2008 economic crashes. His reforms, foreign investment, and Kazakhstan's rich oil and gas resources have made
Kazakhstan a regional success story. Kazakhstan's standard of living is the highest in Central Asia.
The president’s pursuit of nuclear disarmament has been a signature policy in the country’s international relations. On August 29, 1991, he closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing range, and in May 1992, he voluntarily gave up his entire nuclear arsenal, the fourth largest in the world, returning the weapons to Russia. Kazakhstan also joined
the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. President Nazarbayev continues
for all countries to renounce
In what he terms Kazakhstan’s multi-vectored foreign policy, Nazarbayev has tried to balance
relations with both the East and West, building strong ties with China and Russia while also working with the United States to supply its operations in Afghanistan.