Kazakstan: Masimov May Signal New Reform Priorities

Appointment of new prime minister could represent a shift from economic to political reforms, say analysts.

Kazakstan: Masimov May Signal New Reform Priorities

Appointment of new prime minister could represent a shift from economic to political reforms, say analysts.

The new Kazak premier, Karim Masimov, may be asked by the president to accelerate political reforms, but is unlikely to wield any more influence over government policy than his predecessors.

Parliament on January 10 approved Masimov, 41, as the successor to Danial Akhmetov, the longest serving premier in Kazak history who resigned unexpectedly earlier this week.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev said a changing of the guard, bringing new energy and ideas, is essential if Kazakstan is to meet the challenges ahead. The president praised his new prime minister in a speech to parliament.

“He has a clear understanding and a plan of action in all directions. I am sure that Karim Kajimkanovich Masimov has enough experience and knowledge and the new cabinet will present a programme that will strengthen and improve Kazakstan’s achievements,” he said.

Masimov, the former deputy prime minister, speaks an impressive array of languages including English, Arabic and Chinese. China, in particular, has become an important strategic partner for Kazakstan in recent years and the two countries are working closely together to develop Kazakstan’s energy resources.

Masimov studied in China and worked in Hong Kong where he headed Kazak trading operations. He has also made numerous visits to Russia - another key partner for Kazakstan - and is thought to be well connected within the Kremlin.

An ethnic Uighur, he seems less traditional than previous prime ministers and even has his own website, unusual for Central Asian leaders at his level.

Anton Morozov, a research fellow from the internal policies department at the Kazakstan Institute of Strategic Studies, believes the new cabinet headed by Masimov will accelerate political reforms.

“Each prime minister had his own task. [Nurlan] Balgimbaev’s mission was to develop the oil sector. [Akejan] Kajegeldin was responsible for privatisation. Akhmetov’s task was to achieve macroeconomic stability. The new head of the cabinet will represent the shift from economic reforms to political ones,” he said.

Along with shepherding Kazakstan towards WTO membership and the chair of the OSCE, Masimov’s main priority will be to maintain economic stability in order to implement these political reforms, says Morozov.

Analysts say the new premier will, like his predecessors, be largely restricted to doing the president’s bidding.

Yerlan Karin, a political scientist, believes the only difference will be in how Masimov, ten years younger than the former premier, approaches the job.

“Every prime minister brings some changes in the style, dynamics and pace of work of the cabinet. Some are more energetic like Masimov, others are more relaxed and orderly like Akhmetov,” he said.

Oraz Jandosov, a leading opposition member and a co-chair of the True Ak Jol party, said prime ministers will only be their own men once the country becomes more democratic.

“Ninety per cent of what the cabinet does or does not do depends on the president. There is only ten per cent of independence in which to manoeuvre. To have any significant changes, we need to have a more open political system,” said Zhandosov.

Many observers attribute his surprise departure to an unwritten rule that the prime minister and his cabinet must resign after a certain period in office. Akhmetov had perhaps outstayed his welcome after more than three years.

Analysts say he hung on as prime minister for so long with the help of the powerful Eurasian Industrial Association - an elite group that controls much of the country’s metallurgy and energy business. Akhmetov is considered to be the protégé of the Eurasian group’s leader Alexander Mashkevich.

But despite his differences with Akhmetov, many experts are confident that sooner or later he too will resign. This is how the system works, they say. The only thing unclear to them is whether he will beat Akhmetov’s record and become the premier who stayed the longest.

Abdujalil Abdurasulov is an independent journalist based in Almaty.

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