Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan took office on May 3rd as the new Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) after resigning his position as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced the appointment of Tokayev in March, before elections which returned Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev to office on April 3rd with 95.5% of the vote.  The OCSE and other international election monitors criticized the election, saying it failed to meet international democratic standards.

Tokayev has the honor of being the first representative of a former Soviet state to head the OSCE and also the first Asian to head the UN Office in Geneva.  Tokayev was cleared for the top post at the OSCE after giving a ‘pledge’ that Kazakhstan would protect the OSCE’s election-monitoring body, whose role Russia had proposed altering.

The oil rich Central Asian state has made it clear that holding such prestigious international posts is important symbolically to show the world that Kazakhstan is joining the world community.  Critics however continue to point to contradictions between Kazakhastan’s weak record on free elections and human rights and promises to uphold democratic values.

In an opinion article for the Washington Post in March, President Nazarbayev argued that economic prosperity should come before democracy.  “Wihout such strength, as we have seen repeatedly around the world, stability is put at risk and democratic reform can founder,” he said.