PM quits in Kazakh political reshuffle

By bne IntelliNews September 24, 2012

Clare Nuttall in Aktau -

Kazakhstan's longest-serving Prime Minister Karim Massimov resigned on September 24 after five and a half years in office. Shunted to head the presidential administration, the move appears to be an attempt to balance rival groups within the top levels of government.

Massimov, who held the position of Prime Minister since January 2007, did not say why he is quitting, while a statement on the presidential Twitter feed simply says that the PM has been released from his duties. Parliament has approved the appointment of First Deputy Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov as Massimov's replacement on the recommendation of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. According to the presidential press service, MPs backed Akhmetov's appointment unanimously.

In another step in what is emerging as a top-level reshuffle, former presidential administration head Aslan Musin, has been moved to chair the government's audit committee. It is not yet known if other changes will be made, however, Oil and Gas Minister Sauat Mynbayev and Timur Kulibayev - former head of sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna and Nazarbayev's son-in-law - have cancelled appearances at a conference in Aktau, having been recalled to Astana.

Akhmetov had been Massimov's deputy since January 2012. He was previously Minister of Transport and Communications from 2006 to 2012, while earlier positions included a term as the deputy mayor of Kazakhstan's capital Astana. Like Nazarbayev, 54-year-old Akhmetov worked in the metals industry before entering politics, starting out at the Karaganda Metallurgical Combine.

Massimov is widely credited with shepherding the Kazakh economy through the international economic crisis, which first hit the country in mid 2007, just six months after his appointment. His government introduced a massive stimulus package for the economy in late 2008, followed by a large-scale industrialisation programme in 2010.

Under his stewardship, Kazakhstan has shot up on the World Bank's Doing Business index - from 71st place on the 2008 index to 47th in 2012. He is generally seen as business-friendly, and has worked to improve the environment for foreign and local investors.

The departing PM has also been seen as a potential successor to 72-year-old Nazarbayev, who has carefully avoided endorsing any single candidate to succeed him. It is, however, unclear whether the Kazakh population would accept Massimov, an ethnic Uighur, as president. At the same time, his independence from the powerful regional Kazakh clans has also helped his political career by advancing his image as a neutral candidate.

Another potential candidate to succeed the president, Kulibayev, was sacked from Samruk-Kazyna in December when he was made the highest level scapegoat for the industrial unrest that resulted in the shooting of 16 striking oil workers in Zhanaozen. Other figures mentioned as possibles for the post include Astana mayor Imangaldi Tasmagambetov and former prime minister Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev.

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