Nursultan Nazarbaev, pictured here with his mother, has led Kazakhstan for 20 years. - The future president, born in 1940, was the son of a shepherd.
Nazarbaev (front left) began his rise through the Communist Party while working in a steel plant in northern Kazakhstan.
He became the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan in 1989, and was elected president a year later. - Nazarbaev (second from left) was a member of the inner circle of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (right). He was also a critic of former communist boss Dinmuhamed Kunaev (left) because of Kunaev's lengthy stay in office -- something Nazarbaev himself would later be criticized for.
Nazarbaev and Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin in 1990 - During his first term, Nazarbaev sought to extend the length of the presidential term in office. He later succeeded in eliminating term limits altogether.
Nazarbaev visits a farmer's fields in 1992. - Despite Nazarbaev's autocratic hold on the presidency, he has remained popular with Kazakhs, many of whom credit him with the country's prosperity, stability, and rising living standards.
The new Presidential Palace in Astana has become a symbol of Kazakhstan's wealth under Nazarbaev's rule.
A gold-plated statuette is inscribed with the Nazarbaev family tree. - The president's legacy is preserved at the Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
And his personality cult is enshrined in a statue -- one of many throughout Kazakhstan --on the shore of lake Issyk-Kul.
An undated portrait of the president
Nazarbaev meets with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rakhmon in Astana in 2008. - Nazarbaev's reluctance to cede power is similar to that of other Central Asian leaders, like Emomali Rakhmon, who has also ruled without interruption since before the Soviet collapse.
Nazarbaev celebrates his reelection in December 2005. - While rights groups decry the Kazakh leader's strangle-hold on the press and the democratic process, there are millions of Kazakhs who support him - as long as economic opportunities remain open to them.