NUR-SULTAN, KAZAKHSTAN - Kazakhstan's ruling party will nominate its candidate for the June presidential election on Tuesday the first time since the ex-Soviet republic's independence not to feature national leader Nursultan Nazarbayev on the ballot.
Nazarbayev, 78, shocked the oil-rich nation in March by calling time on his three-decade presidency and allowing loyalist Jomart-Kassym Tokayev to succeed him, initially on an interim basis.
Tokayev subsequently announced a snap election for June 9 in a televised address to the nation earlier this month. He is widely tipped to receive the nomination from the Nur Otan party.
At his inauguration in March, Tokayev called for the country's capital, Astana, to be renamed Nur-Sultan after Nazarbayev.
The change has since gone into effect.
Nazarbayev still wields significant powers in Kazakhstan and is expected to preside over Tuesday's extraordinary congress of the Nur Otan party of which he is chairman.
He is also the lifelong chair of the powerful security council and is constitutionally designated as the country's 'Elbasy,' or 'Leader of the Nation.'
Tokayev's expanding role
While Tokayev has said Nazarbayev will retain a decisive say over domestic and foreign policy, the 65-year-old's own public profile has been growing in recent weeks.
Tokayev has visited Moscow for talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a close ally of Nazarbayev, as well as Uzbekistan, a key player in ex-Soviet Central Asia.
On Monday, he held talks with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
Tokayev's trips around the country have been widely covered by local media that has little freedom from government censorship.
One popular website featured 'rare' photographs from Tokayev's youth in what appears to be an attempt to build support for an understated political figure.
But Kazakhstan's regime faces a simmering protest mood as it prepares for what is likely to be an uncompetitive vote in an authoritarian country marked by deep inequalities.
Dozens of anti-government protesters were arrested in the days after Tokayev ascended to the presidency from the senate speaker post.
More recently, at a Sunday marathon event in Almaty, two protesters, Asya Tulesova and Beibarys Tolymbekov, were arrested and sentenced to 15 days in detention for staging a protest against the government.
The banner they unfurled at the government-run race read, 'You cannot run away from the truth. I have a choice.' Photographs of the banner were widely shared on social media.
Kazakhstan has never held a vote deemed competitive by international monitors and the victory of the ruling party's candidate is viewed as inevitable.
One likely challenger in the June vote, Mels Yelusizov, is famous for having cast his ballot for Nazarbayev, rather than himself, in a 2011 leadership contest the strongman won with 95 percent of the vote.
Nazarbayev's daughter, 55-year-old Dariga Nazarbayeva, was elected senate leader after Tokayev's inauguration and is viewed as a potential successor to Nazarbayev in the long-term.