Nursultan Nazarbayev, 78, resigned late on Tuesday in what appeared to be the first step in a choreographed political transition that will see him retain considerable sway.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland May 11, 2011.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland May 11, 2011. (Reuters)

The political insider who replaced long-reigning Nursultan Nazarbayev as president of Kazakhstan on Wednesday is a somewhat unusual figure in Kazakhstan's elite.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 65, will serve out the rest of Nazarbayev's mandate until elections next year. The former president meanwhile retains significant powers in the country he ruled for nearly three decades before his shock resignation on Tuesday.

Tokayev, a long-time diplomat, was born in 1953 to an intelligentsia family in then Soviet-ruled Kazakhstan. He graduated from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1975.

He then began a career as a diplomat that would see him become a force in Kazakhstan's independence-era foreign ministry. He served as foreign minister twice and was appointed prime minister from 1999 to 2002.

But his role as chairman of the senate was more indicative of Nazarbayev's trust in him. Tokayev filled the position twice, from 2007 to 2011, and from 2013 until his swearing in on Wednesday as president.

The role positions him as next in line to the presidency according to the constitution.

First Kazakh in high international office 

Tokayev also served as Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, becoming the first Kazakh to hold such high office in an international organisation.

In recent years, he tried to boost his low key public profile, regularly taking to Twitter to inform the country of his daily meetings.

In one tweet from 2017 he unleashed a surprisingly barbed attack on neighbouring Kyrgyzstan's President Almazbek Atambayev, after the latter assailed Nazarbayev in a fiery speech.

In it he wished Atambayev a "speedy recovery" from alleged alcohol and psychological problems.

If the public demonstration of loyalty to the 78-year-old Nazarbayev was typical of Tokayev, the forray into controversy was not.

Tokayev's even mannered nature has sometimes seen him accused of lacking charisma.

Nazarbayev's foreign-based political nemesis Mukhtar Ablyazov once memorably likened Tokayev to furniture, which "emits a squeak when it is moved around."

Ablyazov, a fugitive banker committed to the overthrow of the Nazarbayev regime crowed on Facebook on Tuesday that Nazarbayev had "put the furniture in charge of the presidency."

"But not for long!" he added.

Tokayev, however, may know more about Nazarbayev's plans for Kazakhstan's future than anybody else bar the man himself.

In June last year, he predicted Nazarbayev would not seek another term in an interview with the BBC that alerted observers to the potential imminence of a succession move.

"Speaking frankly, I don't think that President Nazarbayev will go to the 2020 election," Tokayev said at the time.

He turned out to be right and Kazakhs now wait to see if he will run himself.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies