Early April brought the most significant political news of the past several months in Kazakhstan when Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov tendered his resignation, triggering a reshuffle that affected the top leadership in the executive and legislative branches of power.
The prime minister is the head of the government, so Akhmetov’s resignation on April 2 automatically meant the resignation of the country’s entire government.
Upon Akhmetov’s resignation, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the cabinet had been successfully fulfilling its tasks and thanked officials for their hard work. The President then emphasised that new approaches were needed to achieve ambitious goals set in the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy against the background of the complicated situation in the world’s economy.
He then moved quickly to nominate former Prime Minister Karim Massimov to again lead the government. Massimov is Nazarbayev’s former chief of staff and already the longest-serving prime minister in Kazakh history thanks to Massimov’s work in that position from 2007 to 2012.
“[The Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy] goals aimed at getting Kazakhstan into the top 30 most-developed countries of the world require advanced solutions. Amid the global financial and economic crisis, we may also face some difficulties. We need to cooperate with international financial institutions and attract investments into our country. We need an experienced leader who knows the field to do this job. Karim Massimov possesses the needed experience and knowledge,” Nazarbayev said, introducing him to the Mazhilis (lower house) of Parliament, which has the constitutional authority to approve nominations for the head of government.
In turn, Mazhilis Speaker Nurlan Nigmatulin expressed support for the candidacy put forward by the President. He reminded that Karim Massimov had already served as prime minister before and had proven himself an effective manager during the time of the global financial crisis.
Massimov’s candidacy was quickly approved by an overwhelming vote and the President signed the decree on his appointment immediately while still at the parliament.
By April 4, all the appointments in the new government had been made by two presidential decrees: one appointing Serik Akhmetov as the new defence minister and the other reappointing all other members of the cabinet.
Meeting with the top brass of the Ministry of Defence, President Nazarbayev announced the appointment of Akhmetov as defence minister, emphasising his managerial experience: “I believe he is the most appropriate candidate to fill the position. We have deliberately chosen a civilian for the position. We should be further developing defence industry enterprises, equipping the army with advanced weapons and ensuring public money is used effectively.”
Adilbek Dzhaksybekov, the former defence minister, has moved up and was appointed secretary of state, a position Massimov had concurrently held since January when Marat Tazhin was relieved of his duties.
Mazhilis Speaker Nigmatulin, himself, also changed jobs in the reshuffle as he was appointed by presidential decree head the presidential administration, replacing Massimov. Nigmatulin had served as deputy chief of staff to the president, akim (governor) of the Karaganda Region and deputy chair of the ruling Nur Otan party. As an erstwhile campaign chief for the President during the 2011 presidential election, he is also widely believed to be a strong organiser who ensured smooth and efficient operations of the entities he ran.
Following Nigmatulin’s departure, the Mazhilis overwhelmingly elected former Vice Speaker Kabibulla Dzhakupov the new Speaker of the Mazhilis. Dariga Nazarbayeva, the former chair of the Mazhilis’s Committee for Socio-Cultural Development was elected Mazhilis Vice Speaker. Sergey Diyachenko retained his position as Vice Speaker as well.
The chain of top-level appointments in the Kazakhstan government were long expected and are widely seen as an effort to give a new boost to the economic work of the government and to the overall managerial work of the presidential administration. Ministers in Akhmetov’s cabinet were heavily criticised for mishandling the pension reform last year, including by the President himself, and had to face a lot of public questioning following the 19 percent depreciation of the tenge versus dollar exchange rate in February, even though that move was done by the National Bank. In recent months, there were also a lot of public discussions about the lack of information regarding Eurasian economic integration processes, necessitating the need for a better communications strategy in this area too.
The return of Karim Massimov, who is widely credited for helping steer Kazakhstan clear off recession during the 2007-09 global economic slowdown, can also be seen as a preventive measure in the face of the potential deterioration of the international situation in connection with recent events in and around Ukraine. It can also be viewed as a step into another stage of modernising its national economy and strengthening its social development.
Pundits in Kazakhstan and elsewhere seem to agree on key reasons for Akhmetov’s resignation and the ensuing reshuffle.
Kazakh political analyst Yerlan Karin said the weakness of Akhmetov’s management lay in the absence of a clear strategy to implement the President’s state-of-the-nation addresses and the goals set forth in the Kazakhstan 2050 Strategy. “It seems to me, the previous government of Akhmetov did not provide adequate pace and dynamism into the realisation of this strategy,” Karin said in comments to the media. “For example, during the crisis period of 2008-2009, the previous cabinet of Massimov developed a new programme for implementation of anti-crisis measures. Just as well, Akhmetov’s government had to develop its own plan, its concept of realisation of these objectives.”
Yuriy Solobozov of the Russian think tank Institute for the National Strategy echoed Karin, saying that Massimov, with his pronounced managerial skills and well-developed relations with leaders in Russia and China, is far better positioned for the prime minister’s role.
Experts also emphasised the importance of international factors, such as changes in the global market where new emerging risks had an effect on the change of the prime minister.
President Nazarbayev, speaking on the appointment of the new prime minister, also stressed the importance of cooperation with international institutions and foreign investors. In this respect, according to Karin, Massimov is better suited for the job, since he is widely known to foreign business leaders, representatives of international financial and economic institutions.
The speed of changes at the top also indicates President Nazarbayev maintains a clear vision of where he wants to take the country and which people are best suited for specific tasks. With a newly revamped cabinet, presidential administration and Mazhilis, and given the changes that took place last fall with the return of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as Speaker of the Senate and the return of Kairat Mami as Chairman of the Supreme Court, the power structures in Kazakhstan seem well adjusted to meet the challenges the outside world is setting in front of the country and to reach the country’s socio-economic development goals, while ensuring the stability and effectiveness of the power.