Kazakhstan’s president unexpectedly ends his nearly-30-year-long reign over the country, naming an ally to finish off his term.
Nursultan Nazarbayev made the announcement on Tuesday, saying the country needed "a new generation of leaders."
The 78-year-old has been in power since 1991. Last time, he won a fifth term in office in 2015 after a landslide victory in elections, which saw a record voter turnout.
The previous election was held a year ahead of schedule after Kazakhstan People’s Assembly, a national political body, said the president needed “a new mandate of people’s trust to ensure the country can withstand the period of global hardship.”
At the time, the oil-dependent Central Asian nation was struggling with low crude prices, while tensions were unfolding in its backyard in Ukraine.
Nazarbayev is credited with magnetizing investors towards the country’s oil industry, and increasing its oil output more than threefold.
Nazarbayev said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, speaker of the upper house of the parliament, who has formerly served as prime minister and foreign minister, will take over as Kazakhstan's acting president for the remainder of the current term.
The current presidential tenure will last until April 2020.
The outgoing president, however, said he would continue to chair the Security Council and remain leader of the Nur Otan party, which dominates the parliament.
The surprise resignation comes as Nazarbayev's government has pushed through a number of popular policies in recent months, including raising public-sector salaries and forcing utilities to cut and freeze tariffs, giving rise to speculations that the president could be considering another presidential term.