Kazakhstan unveiled plans Tuesday to honor its former Communist Party boss with the newly created title of People's Hero, adding to the state-sponsored adulation showered upon the country's only post-independence leader.
Nursultan Nazarbayev is already officially recognized as Elbasy, or "leader of the nation," a status that gives him the right to approve important policies after he retires and grants him lifetime immunity from prosecution. Over the past year, the 71-year old leader's life and career have been celebrated in a movie, a play and children's fairy tales.
The proposal to award Nazarbayev the title of Khalyk Kakharmany, Kazakh for People's Hero, came from Prime Minister Karim Masimov. "Dear members of the government, I am now signing this document, which is probably the most important document I have ever signed in my life," Masimov was quoted by local media as saying Tuesday.
Parliament, in which only the pro-government Nur Otan party sits, is expected to rubber-stamp the decision.
Creation of the honorific comes as Kazakhstan prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary of independence, a period that has been dominated entirely by Nazarbayev's firm-handed rule.
While the adulation reserved for Nazarbayev falls short of the bizarre personality cults of countries such as North Korea and Turkmenistan, the increasingly elaborate displays of praise appear to underline his determination to remain in power for the foreseeable future.
The government has tirelessly quashed opposition to Nazarbayev's rule and maintains a tight grip over the political system and the media.
While opposition politicians complain of a lack of democratic freedoms, most Kazakhs _ and foreign investors _ are reasonably content with the status quo.
Despite attempts by the authorities to create an air of permanence around the president, rumors circulating over the summer that Nazarbayev was undergoing medical treatment for a prostate condition sparked discussions of potential successors.
Wealth and power in Central Asian nations are commonly concentrated in the hands of ruling families, prompting observers to speculate whether Kazakhstan will eventually opt for a dynastic transition.
Many pundits favor the eventual ascent of Nazarbayev's son-in-law Timur Kulibayev, a 45-year-old banking and energy magnate whose worth has been estimated at $1.3 billion by Forbes magazine.
Dariga Nazarbayeva, 48, the oldest of the president's three daughters _ like Kulibayev, worth $1.3 billion, according to Forbes _ was also once touted as a possible successor. Her prospects were severely dented after her ex-husband, Rakhat Aliyev, fled the country and was then accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
In a sign of her return to favor, however, she was last week included in the Nur Otan party list for parliamentary elections due to be held on Jan. 15.