The career diplomat who is a shoo-in to become only the second president of ex-Soviet Kazakhstan since its independence has always appeared to prize loyalty over political ambition.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 65, on Tuesday won the backing of the party of Kazakhstan’s former ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev, making it all but certain he will win a presidential election set for June.
Yet with his 78-year-old predecessor continuing to pull the strings despite a shock retirement in March, Tokayev looks set to be that rare phenomenon in ex-Soviet Central Asia -- a president content to play second fiddle.
The ruling Nur Otan party that nominated Tokayev is still chaired by Nazarbayev, who spent almost three decades as Kazakhstan’s head of state.
Nazarbayev has also received the honorary title of “Leader of the Nation,” or Elbasy in Kazakh, and is the lifelong chief of the powerful security council.
But when he signed off from his presidential role with a surprise speech on national television in March, he gave a ringing endorsement to Tokayev, who as senate speaker automatically became the interim leader.
“Tokayev is precisely the person we can trust to manage Kazakhstan. He is an honest, responsible and dependable person,” Nazarbayev said.
Tokayev, a long-time diplomat, was born in 1953 to a family of Soviet intelligentsia in 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 speaker of the senate was more indicative of Nazarbayev’s personal trust in him. Tokayev filled the position twice, from 2007 to 2011, and from 2013 until his swearing-in as interim leader in March.