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President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Authoritarian power is all the rage across the continents. But one of the most practiced autocrats on the planet, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has just offered up an object lesson in how to elevate mere one-man power to something higher.

In an announcement yesterday, the 78-year-old Nazarbayev resigned after 3 decades in power. It was seemingly historic news — the exit of the last political survivor of the Soviet Union, for which he had served as vice president until its 1991 collapse.

That's what was surprising to those like me who have followed the exceedingly shrewd Nazarbayev. I was a Kazakhstan-based correspondent through the 1990s, and I profiled him as part of a history of the U.S.-Russian struggle for power on the Caspian Sea.

  • Renunciation of power seemed out of character in a region whose leaders typically conflate their own identity and the state itself. As Louis XIV put it, "l'état, c'est moi" — the state, it's me.

As it turns out, it was out of character: Through an entanglement of titles conferred by the supine Parliament, Nazarbayev is holding onto supreme power. And that's not all:

  • He got a big city named after himself: The loyalist new acting president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, yesterday renamed the national capital of Astana after Nazarbayev. It is now enshrined as Nursultan.
  • A possible dynasty was set in motion: Nazarbayev's eldest daughter, Dariga, became the second-most powerful official in the country with her appointment yesterday as president of the Senate. This positions her to run for president in 2020, when Tokayev's term will expire.

Be smart: Together, the moves resemble the long rule of Singaporean founder Lee Kuan Yew, a figure much respected in the former Soviet Union. Lee also served for 3 decades as his country's leader, then behind the scenes remained its most powerful figure for 21 years after that. He died in 2015.

  • Lee's son, Lee Hsien Loong, has been Singaporean prime minister since 2004.

Go deeper

11 mins ago - World

World leaders react to "new dawn in America" under Biden administration

President Biden reacts delivers his inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

World leaders have pledged to work with President Biden on issues including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, with many praising his move to begin the formal process for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

The big picture: Several leaders noted the swift shift from former President Trump's "America First" policy to Biden's action to re-engage with the world and rebuild alliances.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.