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Kazakhstan: Reshuffling the Government

Categories: Central Asia & Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Politics

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 [1] – i.e. competing interest groups rather than clans or kinship networks are vying for control, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev [2] tries to hold everything together by carefully balancing at-times conflicting interests.

8 January 2007 saw the resignation of prime minister Daniyel Akhmetov [3]. In turn, the entire government stepped down, an act customary in Kazakhstani politics. KZBlog [4] 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 [5] 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 [6].

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 [7] that marked the period between the resignation and the announcement that Karim Masimov [8] would from now on hold the reins as the new prime minister [9].

Sean Roberts, Georgetown Fellow of Central Asian studies and blogger on his Roberts Report [10], suggested [11] 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 [12], 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.