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Kazakh capital returns to its old name

The Kazakh capital of Astana was renamed to Nur-Sultan in 2019 to honour the outgoing president Nursultan Nazarbayev. But authoritarian leaders rarely get to enjoy their political retirement in peace, and as he fell out of grace with his former protege and successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, that honour too was revoked.

Astana was originally called Akmola, then Akmolinsk and Tselinograd. It briefly returned to its original name, but it was changed to Astana in 1998, soon after the Kazakh capital was transferred there from Almaty in late 1997. The stated reason for the change was Astana’s more central location, and being the second-largest city, it made for a natural choice.

The country’s vast oil resources helped turn the former Soviet city into a sprawling, planned metropolis of glass and steel. And when on March 20, 2019, when Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had been the country’s first President and ruled it since 1991, left office, the capital was renamed in his honour by the succeeding Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who was Acting President until he was elected to the office in June.

Nazarbayev remained the Chief of the Security Council and he and his relatives retained numerous official and honorary posts in the Central Asian republic.

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Until he had a falling out with the new President after violent street protests over fuel prices in January, which prompted Russian armed forces to enter the country on Tokayev’s invitation to prop up his government.

Earlier this week, Tokayev announced that he intends to restore the previous name of the capital. The parliament ratified this decision in a vote on Friday, September 17.

And at the same time voted to change the constitution. Previously, the presidential term lasted five years, and the president could be re-elected once. Now the president will only be able to serve one term, but this has been extended to seven years.

However, since Tokayev was elected under the old constitution, the one-term limit will only apply from this election onwards. And with independent observers having reported ballot box stuffing and other violations, the chances that in 2024 Tokayev repeats his sweeping 2019 electoral victory (71 pct. of the vote at a 77.5 pct. turnout) are quite good.

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