When First President’s Day was celebrated across Kazakhstan last December, the country had no idea of the historic events which lay just ahead. Just more than three months later, Kazakhstan’s First President, Nursultan Nazarbayev announced he was stepping down from a post he had held ever since the country gained its independence. His decision was a major moment for a country that had known no other leader since independence, a turning point which outside observers had warned was a potential threat to Kazakhstan’s hard-won stability and progress.
With hindsight, the announcement can be seen as another example of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s sound judgement as the country sailed through what might have been a stormy time. To his list of achievements can be added the seamless and successful transition to a new democratically-elected President who, in a short period, has already demonstrated his own leadership qualities and determination to build on his predecessor’s legacy.
And this legacy, seen in the quality of life of Kazakh citizens and the country’s standing in the world, has been remarkable.As we have said before, Kazakhstan has come so far come under its First President’s guiding hand that it is easy to forget from where the country started in 1991 and the obstacles it had to overcome.
These challenges – a landlocked country surrounded by more powerful neighbours, an ethnically diverse population which could have been a recipe for tensions and run-down industry and public services seriously starved of investment – left many to question Kazakhstan’s future. But thanks to Nazarbayev’s leadership together with the hard work of the Kazakh people, such questions have long been answered.
Three decades later, Kazakhstan is not only by far the largest economy in Central Asia but is now among the top 50 developed countries in the world. Its flourishing open market economy continues to attract investment and business partners from every continent, which will provide a powerful springboard for continued growth and prosperity.
It is a record of sustained success which has been shared by the Kazakh people. Unemployment is low and the numbers in poverty have been slashed. Living standards and public services, such as health and education have been transformed. The new generation of Kazakhs on which the future rests are the best educated and most entrepreneurial in the country’s history.
Under Nursultan Nazarbayev’s leadership, too, what had sometimes been viewed as weaknesses have been turned into positives. Kazakhstan may be landlocked but, through major investment in modern road and rail routes, it now successfully links markets to the east and west, north and south. Our diverse population has turned out to be a strength at home and helped Kazakhstan bolster friendships across the world as well as providing an example of a tolerant, healthy society.
Kazakhstan’s growing economic strength has been matched by its increased global influence and stature. The First President’s staunch personal commitment to peace, dialogue and international co-operation has helped foster close relationships with neighbours and countries in every continent. Just as Kazakhstan’s territory is proving an essential bridge between trading blocs so it is helping ease tensions and bring countries together. Thanks largely to Nursultan Nazarbayev, the country is seen as a force for good in the world as the historic election to the UN Security Council underlined.
For all these reasons – and many more – Kazakhstan is rightly grateful to its First President. Without his vision and tireless efforts over three decades, it is hard to believe the country would be as stable, prosperous or have such a strong voice in the world. As we said last year, the Day of the First President is a chance for all Kazakh citizens to celebrate his remarkable role and, in doing so, to reflect on the modern, successful and forward-looking country they have built together. There can hardly be a better reason for this national holiday.