MOSCOW (AP) -- The eldest daughter of Kazakhstan's outgoing long-time leader was appointed speaker of parliament on Wednesday, fueling speculation that she may succeed her father as president after next year's election.
Her appointment comes a day after her father, 78-year-old Nursultan Nazarbayev, surprised many by announcing he was resigning after nearly 30 years in office -- or all of Kazakhstan's time as an independent nation. Nazarbayev said it was time for a new generation to rule.
Though Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, speaker of the upper chamber of parliament, was officially sworn in as interim president on Wednesday, Nazarbayev will likely continue to wield considerable influence in the oil-rich country as he remains chairman of the security council and leader of the ruling party. The question who will succeed him is, however, still open.
Tokayev's suggestion at his swearing-in ceremony that the country's capital Astana be renamed Nursultan to honor the country's first and only president indicates that Nazarbayev will retain an unrivaled position as the national leader even after his resignation. The parliament promptly approved the name change.
That was further evidenced in the fact that the Kazakh Senate then voted to appoint Nazarbayev's eldest daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, as the new speaker, making her the second most senior official in the country.
Lawmaker Byrganym Aytimova, in comments on the Tengri News website, credited her for "an impeccable attitude to the law, democratization of our country and access to information."
Rumors about the resignation of Nazarbayev, who holds the honorary title of "Leader of the Nation," and a possible plan for succession have been swirling for years. Speculation was rife that the president might be grooming his daughter, who has served as deputy prime minister. Nazarbayev, however, has not indicated that he has a successor in mind.
The surprise vote to name 55-year-old Nazarbayeva, who kept a low profile after she left the government in 2016, speaker has led many to believe she is going to be a leading contender in the 2020 presidential election.
Independent Central Asia analyst Arkady Dubnov told The Associated Press that Nazarbayev "is sending everyone a message that his daughter is getting ready to run."
The eldest of Nazarbayev's three daughters, Dariga has faced several corruption scandals and a divorce, which is something that may raise eyebrows in traditionally minded Kazakhstan during a presidential campaign.
Her father took the helm in Kazakhstan in 1989 when he became the Communist Party chief of what was then a republic of the Soviet Union. He was first elected its president weeks before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that created a host of successor countries, including Russia and Ukraine.
He has been widely praised for maintaining stability and ethnic peace in Kazakhstan. Even though he has faced criticism for sidelining the political opposition and creating what is effectively a one-party state, the political regime that Nazarbayev has built is more liberal than the de-facto dictatorships in neighboring Central Asian countries.
Yet, Kazakhstan does not have a genuinely popular opposition movement, and whoever is nominated by the ruling party is likely to win.
Analyst Dubnov also suggested that the decision to promote his daughter can be seen as an attempt by Nazarbayev to secure the personal safety and business interests of his family.