Analysis of Kazakhstan government reshuffling - September 2012 Overview

31 октября 2012, 19:59

September saw the beginning of a new political season that escalated conflicts of influence groups in Kazakhstan. Reshuffling in the government was the key event of the month:

- Aslan Mussin was relieved of his position of Head of the Presidential Administration and appointed chief of the Accounts Committee for Control over Execution of State Budget;

- Karim Massimov was released from his Prime-Minister’s post and appointed Head of the Presidential Administration;

- Serik Akhmetov was appointed the new Prime-Minister and brought in a number of new figures into the Government of Kazakhstan.

The reshuffling was an important step towards stabilization of relationships among groups of Kazakhstan elite. But its main goal, most likely, was to channel President Nazarbayev’s plan to reinstate his Administration as a dominating player of the domestic policy field.

Political analysts of Kazakhstan widely believed that promotion to Serik Akhmetov to the position of Vice-Prime-Minister in January 2012 after the early parliamentary elections was the last step before his appointment Prime-Minster. However, his appointment as Prime-Minister was delayed by an escalation of competition among groups of elite in Kazakhstan. 

Serik Akhmetov

Serik Akhmetov. Photo courtesy of Kazakhstan Government Press-Service

Other appointments in the Government showed that President Nazarbayev pursued conservative staff policies. Only one of the expected dismissals actually took place: Gulshara Abdykalikova was relieved from her position of Minister of Labor and Social Protection and replaced by Serik Abenov. All the other “troubled” ministers (Ministry of Interior Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Healthcare) retained their positions. It may be that Nursultan Nazarbayev believed that there were not enough reasons for the layoffs or he maybe waiting for a more favorable opportunity.

As a result of the changes in the Government a new unofficial balance was formed in the government: Serik Akhmetov is balanced with two Vice-Prime-Ministers (Kairat Kelimbetov and Asset Issekeshev) who have long been working together and constitute a different elite group from that of Akhmetov. At the same time the trio created the much needed functional diversity: Akhmetov who sets himself up as an experienced traditional manager is matched with the young technocrat managers. Besides all else, this combination inspires an intergeneration competition between groups in the Government.

Vice-Prime-Minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Kelimbetov. Photo courtesy of

Asset Issekeshev

Vice-Prime-Minister of Kazakhstan Asset Issekeshev. Photo courtesy of

The third Vice-Prime-Minister - Krymbek Kusherbayev – is another figure counterbalancing Serik Akhmetov and can even potentially replace the latter. Krymbek Kusherbayev is an experienced manager who suffered a severe hit to his reputation when Zhanaozen events started unfolding. Nevertheless he still enjoys President Nazarbayev’s confidence. It is widely believed that he has long been supposed to become Vice-Prime-Minister, but Zahanozen tragedy prevented him from joining the Cabinet in February after the early parliamentary elections.  

Krymbek Kusherbayev

Krymbek Kusherbayev. Photo courtesy of

Interaction of the new Cabinet with other branches of the government, especially the Parliament, is also important. Serik Akhmetov – Nurlan Nigmatulin link plays a decisive role in this matter. Some experts even believe that it is the start of a new group of Kazakhstan elite based on political figures originating from Karaganda oblast.

The reshuffling indicated that Nursultan Nazarbayev aims to further increase fragmentation of the elite and multiply the number of influence groups to set up a more stable system of mutual deterrence.

What concerns Karim Massimov, his appointment Head of the Presidential Administration has long been awaited. It testifies that he has retained trust of President Nazarbayev and that his work as Prime-Minister was highly appreciated. This new appointment is a sort of a run-in test for his administrative and managerial skills rather than his economic capabilities. President Nazarbayev is testing Massimov’s efficiency at the unofficial level of power and politics.

Karim Massimov

Head of the Presidential Administration Karim Massimov. Photo courtesy of

The new appointment of Aslan Mussin is a political downgrading for him in essence, but nevertheless it does not indicate that he lost the President’s confidence, because the position gives Mussin a good leverage to exert pressure on the Government. President is not interested in weakening of Mussin’s group.

Aslan Mussin

Aslan Mussin. Photo courtesy of

Another notable event in Kazakhstan’s political life is related to Gregory Marchenko, Governor of the National Bank. President Nazarbayev instructed Marchenko to develop proposals for reforming Kazakhstan’s pension system. This is a potentially risky direction of reforms that Nazarbyaev chose to assign to Marchenko. Here are the likely reasons:

- Draw criticism away from the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and the Government in general;

- Use popular Marchenko to channel an unpopular reform before his possible release as chief of the National Bank.

Gregory Marchenko

Governor of the National Bank of Kazakhstan Gregory Marchenko. ©Yaroslav Radlovskiy

This way the lion’s share of criticism of the pension reform will be focused on the governor of the central bank. A protest against raise of pension age for women headlined “Stop Marchenko!” has been the first confirmation of this version. Besides, this is not the first time when Marchenko is used by the President to represent unpopular moves – he was the face of devaluation of tenge in 2009.


Forecasts and risks:

The resignations and reappointments disturbed the balance of influence of unofficial groups of elite in Kazakhstan. President Nazarbayev’s efforts in the nearest months will be focused on forming new checks and balances inside the inner-elite standoff. It is likely that Nursultan Nazarbayev is interested in strengthening of several influence groups in Kazakhstan. Judging by the recent events, Akhmetov’s Karaganda group has been a priority.

Emergence of several groups of elite vested with certain powers by the President will doubtlessly trigger them into escalating their competition. It is not unlikely that a struggle between the Presidential Administration and the Parliament over control functions will unfold shortly.


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