The new capital of the state today bears the name of the First President: Nur-Sultan. Photo:

Guest article: From great difficulty to reform, development, good management

Nursultan Nazarbayev and establishing of independent Kazakhstan

Nursultan Nazarbayev played in the history of Kazakhstan the same large-scale role as such world-famous reformers as Ataturk in Turkey, Charles de Gaulle in France, Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Deng Xiaoping in China and others.
2. December 2020 15:20

Elected by the people to the highest state post on December 1, 1991, Nursultan Nazarbayev became the First President of the young state, which was actually at that time, in his words, “at the edge of the abyss”. It was a time when the Kazakh leader chose a national strategy adequate to the realities and created a capable model of public administration – they became a decisive factor in the effectiveness of Kazakhstan.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, independent Kazakhstan had to respond to a range of challenges to its development. It was necessary to start with the fact that the geographical position, squeezed in the centre of the continent between the major powers and the unstable south, determined the complex geopolitical situation and limited economic opportunities. The Republic has inherited an extremely difficult socio-demographic situation.

In a country that aspired to a market economy, archaic management mechanisms and organisation of state institutions were preserved. It was important to preserve peace and harmony in the multinational society, which consists of more than 130 nationalities, professing more than 30 religious beliefs. The task of building external relations with neighbours and large countries arose and it was necessary to look for one’s place in the world community.

Through all these thorns passed the young Kazakhstan under the leadership of the First President. Now that complex assortment of challenges and limitations of the first years looks different – many of them were transformed into opportunities for development. In retrospect it is obvious that in the period of uncertainty the Kazakhstan Leader of the Nation managed not only to make bold decisions for his time but also to unite the nation in the crisis period and bring it to a new level of development.

The Day of the First President is celebrated in Kazakhstan on December 1.   Photo:

Kazakhstan has never copied foreign development models – neither Asian, nor European, nor American. In principle this is impossible – different states, different political and economic conditions, different historical epochs. However, having independently isolated some universal principles of state building from the world experience, the Kazakh leader was able to skillfully impose them on the national context and form his own model of effective reforms, development and effective management.

In the beginning of the 1990s, Nursultan Nazarbayev was able to quickly develop his own program for reforming all spheres of state development and successfully implement national modernisation. He presented his own formula for development “first economy, then politics”, i.e. initially the country staked on economic development, and already on this basis, development of democratic institutions.

Today this experience is known as the “Nazarbayev Model” or the Kazakhstan way. It is based on thought-out and phased state construction, based on rational solution of priority tasks and aspiration for ambitious goals in the future. The efforts of the First President of Kazakhstan were focused on three key stages of reforms and development.

The first modernisation was in the early 1990s. This was a time when the task was to restructure the system of state administration, to form the basis of a market economy and to integrate into the world community. The second modernisation of Kazakhstan started in the third quarter of the 1990s and ended in the mid-2010s. During this period of organisational renewal, Kazakhstan began to reap the good rewards of its difficult reforms and efforts, and continued to move forward as part of the national development strategy.

The welfare of the society has improved: if in the beginning of the 1990s the GDP per capita was USD 700, by 2013 this figure had already reached USD 12,000. The quality of life has noticeably improved, as a result of which the World Bank has included Kazakhstan among the middle-income countries. The two global economic crises of 1998 and 2008-2009 saw independent Kazakhstan pass through without noticeable losses, which confirmed the strength of the young state, proving its viability.

A major successful achievement of the Republic at that time was the relocation and construction of the new capital of the state, which today bears the name of the First President: Nur-Sultan. The new capital has solved a whole complex of strategic tasks of state development and became a symbol of the new historical epoch of our country.

In 2012 Kazakhstan was ranked among the 50 most competitive countries in the world. In the same years, in the strategy “Kazakhstan-2050” Nursultan Nazarbayev presented a new ambitious development goal, namely within a few decades to take a place among the 30 advanced countries in the world. This benchmark, or target, outlined the contours of the national idea of Kazakhstan, which laid the new logic of state building for years to come.

Kazakhstan’s progressive movement towards this goal is ensured by the current Third modernisation, which the First President announced in 2017. Over the years, the country has already shown its growth potential. Thanks to the policy of Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s GDP grew from USD 22 billion to USD 184 billion. Efforts to develop conditions for business activity led to the fact that in the Doing Business rating of the World Bank the country rose from 86th place in 2005 to 25th position in 2019.

In the frame of this period, political reforms and economic transformations continue in the country. The future development is based on human capital and spiritual modernisation under the special program “Modernisation of Public Conscience”. The three modernisations, which do not coincide with each other in the current tasks, together constitute a holistic process of renewal and development with a single content and algorithm. A stable state system and a strong presidential power made it possible to carry out deep reforms in the country.

Kazakhstan’s position in the world arena should be noted separately. Over the years many of the ideas and initiatives of the First President have been implemented and are now consistently developing. Kazakhstan has become one of the key activists in the sphere of global nuclear security, achieving a number of results in peacekeeping policy and resolution of conflicts around Nagorno-Karabakh, Iran, Ukraine, Syria, etc. The Republic has launched and continues to develop global interreligious dialogue on the base of regular congresses of leaders of world and traditional religions in its capital.

Kazakhstan’s peace-loving policy contributed to the country’s election to chair the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2017-2019, and other international organisations. The Eurasian idea of Nursultan Nazarbayev was implemented in the established Eurasian Economic Union. Kazakhstan became a member of the World Trade Organisation, and through the implementation of major infrastructure projects became an operator of growing trade flows between East and West Eurasia, running along land corridors through our country.

In 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev again assumed historical responsibility. As part of the constitutional procedures he transferred power to his successor Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, who later in the national presidential elections gained the trust of the Kazakh people and now heads the republic. The policy of the second President of Kazakhstan in the history of the nation is based on continuity of the policy of the founder of sovereign Kazakhstan.

The Day of the First President is celebrated in Kazakhstan on December 1. It was on this day in 1991 that Nursultan Nazarbayev was elected President in the first national elections. The Day of the First President was established by the Parliament of Kazakhstan in 2011.


The author is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Hungary.

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