A government reshuffle took place in Kazakhstan this week and – this time being no exception – occasions like this are a great chance to get a rare glimpse behind the scenes of intra-elite power-brokering Kazakh style.
According to Kazakhstan specialist Daniel Kimmage of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, real Kazakh politics takes place in the shadow – i.e. competing interest groups rather than clans or kinship networks are vying for control, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev tries to hold everything together by carefully balancing at-times conflicting interests.
8 January 2007 saw the resignation of prime minister Daniyel Akhmetov. In turn, the entire government stepped down, an act customary in Kazakhstani politics. KZBlog reported on Tuesday that the rumour had been around for a while and usually surfaced around each December of Akhmetov's more than three year long tenure.
Trying to make sense of this far-reaching political event, the press interpreted the move as towards accomodating Western investors’ interest in the region. Daniyel Akhmetov's name was often brought into connection with business legislation allegedly disadvantageous to foreign investors.
The English-language blogosphere, however, adds some wider context to the story. KZBlog, which followed the events in Astana right from the start, reported on the speculation that marked the period between the resignation and the announcement that Karim Masimov would from now on hold the reins as the new prime minister.
Sean Roberts, Georgetown Fellow of Central Asian studies and blogger on his Roberts Report, suggested early on that Timur Kulibayev, the President's son-in-law and head of one of the major four main interest groups, is set to benefit from the new prime minister:
Masimov, on the other hand, is seen as a progressive young reformer and allegedly as a client of President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law Timur Kulibayev. Furthermore, he is rumored to be an ethnic Uyghur despite being registered in his passport as a Kazakh. Thus, he would be the first Prime Minister of Kazakhstan to be neither Kazakh nor Russian and the first non-Kazakh since the early 1990s.
All in all, Roberts notes, the new government, whose composition was being announced yesterday, seems to resemble a careful balancing act between all competing interest groups:
All in all, Nazarbayev has succeeded in forming yet another balance of power groups – with people known to be close to Timur Kulibayev, Dariga Nazarbayev and Rakhat Aliyev, and Alexander Mashkevich all in high positions.