On 2 April the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Serik Akhmetov, resigned. He had managed Central Asia’s largest economy since September 2012. According to national legislation, the resignation of the Prime Minister means the resignation of the whole government. Last Friday, President Nazarbayev signed the decree nominating the ministers of the new government led by Karim Massimov, the new Prime Minister. Massimov’s candidacy was announced in a statement on the presidential website after Nazarbayev held consultations with parliamentary factions. The Parliament, where Nazarbayev’s ruling Nur Otan party controls more than 80% of the seats, voted unanimously to approve the president’s choice.
Akhmetov’s resignation was not backed by any official explanation. Akhmetov, who is 55 years old, is a devoted loyalist of Nazarbayev. He started his career at the same steel plant in Temirtau as the president and later rose through the ranks of the Soviet Communist party. However, earlier in February Nazarbayev heavily criticised the Cabinet for its inability to attract foreign investment. Despite being eventually ‘fired’, Akhmetov has however been nominated as the new Defence Minister.
The reasons behind Akhmetov’s resignation and Massimov’s nomination as new Prime Minister are however quite evident if we consider the recent economic crisis in Kazakhstan – recently, the government devalued the national currency by nearly 20% in the hope of ensuring economic growth of 6% this year – and the role that the country plans to play when it comes to the future of economic development in Central Asia. The new Prime Minister will face the challenge of preparing Kazakhstan’s integration into the Eurasian Economic Union, which will be established in Astana in May and will unite Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. The union, to be formed by 2015, is widely seen as a regional counterbalance to the European Union. Massimov is considered to be the right man for this job. He has indeed already served as Prime Minister between 2007 and 2012, studied in Moscow, is considered to be an expert on China, and is believed to have high-level connections with the Kremlin. But, more importantly, president Nazarbayev trusts him.
The other question is whether Massimov’s return to a dominant position in the government hinders his ambition of succeeding Nazarbayev. Although it would be difficult for him to become president because of his Uighur ethnicity, his nomination shakes the balance of power among the many players who seek to control the issue of succession. It could indeed indicate Nazarbayev’s willingness to counterbalance the growing power of Astana mayor, Imangali Tasmagambetov, or an attempt to weaken Timur Kulibayev’s influence, his son-in-law, another likely candidate for succession. Nevertheless, the 73-year old president has consistently avoided indicating any preference.
Among the most relevant ministers, Nazarbayev agreed to appoint the following individuals: Bakhyt Sultanov, as Minister of Finance; Berik Imashev, as Minister of Justice; Uzakbai Karabalin as Minister of Oil and Gas; Yerlan Idrissov as Minister of Foreign Affairs; Zhanar Aitzhanova as Minister of Economic Integration; Kalmukhanbet Kassymov, as Minister of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan; and Yerbolat Dossayev as Minister of Economy and Budget Planning.