Kazakstan: Nazarbaev Faces Wrath of Former Loyalist

Ex-Nazarbaev ally denounces president after government reshuffle aimed at bolstering his leadership.

Kazakstan: Nazarbaev Faces Wrath of Former Loyalist

Ex-Nazarbaev ally denounces president after government reshuffle aimed at bolstering his leadership.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

President Nazarbaev’s decision this week to promote two of his most loyal lieutenants to the most important jobs in the country appears to have provoked a rebellion from the leader of a powerful government faction.


The March 10 appointment of Nurtai Abykaev as speaker of the upper house of parliament and Imangali Tasmagambetov as head of the presidential administration is believed to have prompted Emergencies Minister Zamanbek Nurkadilov - who heads one group of old-guard officials viewed as the president’s supporters - to launch a stinging rebuke of Nazarbaev, in which he effectively called for him to resign.


At a hastily organised press conference in Almaty on March 11, Nurkadilov issued a statement accusing the president of corruption, abuse of power and lambasted him for making unpopular political decisions and persecuting his opponents. Indeed, the emergencies minister said he believed that Nazarbaev long considered him one of the latter, “Lately my intuition tells me that you are trying to use a card against me – for how many years have you listed me among your ‘blood enemies’.”


The appointment of Abykaev and Tasmagambetov - whom the emergencies minister referred to obliquely as incompetent and disreputable - means that all key government posts belong to the Kazak leader’s closest allies, with the sole exception of the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Jarmakhan Tuyakbai, who has frequently criticised government policies.


Analysts say Nurkadilov’s outburst stemmed from a concern that Nazarbaev’s move was an attempt to buttress his leadership and stifle opposition to it. They say the president is trying to ensure that parliamentary elections later this year provide him a favourable result and pave the way for his re-election in the 2006 leadership contest.


Essentially, the move, it seems, is aimed at reining-in the Majilis, lower house of parliament, the principal legislative chamber, where opposition deputies have shown signs of growing assertiveness – a trend which will may be encouraged by the recent launch of the People’s Party-Democratic Choice for Kazakstan, the successor of the opposition movement of the same, which could become a significant force in parliament if the authorities agree to register it.


Some observers suggest the regime fears that its rivals may win a substantial number of seats in the Majilis in the autumn poll. To counter this, they say, Tasmagambetov is likely to mobilise the pro-presidential parties, while Abykaev is expected to try to neutralise the influence of the chamber should opposition parties fare well in the ballot.


There’s little doubt that the new appointees would be more than willing to fulfil such tasks, as the two are fiercely loyal to the president.


Abykaev, 57, and Tasmagambetov, 47, formerly the president’s chief of staff and secretary of state respectively, are very close to Nazarbaev. Abykaev has been a presidential aide for the last 14 years while Tasmagambetov, a much more recent Nazarbaev lieutenant, has nonetheless proved his loyalty on a number of occasions, most notably when he sought to persuade parliament that there was no truth in allegations of a corruption scandal implicating the top echelons of the Kazak leadership.


Analysts are in broad agreement that the two men will play key roles in trying to keep Nazarbaev in power for the foreseeable future.


Dosym Satpaev, director of the Assessment of Risk Group, said, “Abykaev is the president’s ‘big gun’, and his closest ally. His appointment certainly has a lot to do with the upcoming parliamentary elections, [and] the fact that many in the president’s circle fear the emergence of new, ambitious political players intent on winning a substantial portion of lower house seats. Abykaev was given the job in order to strengthen control over parliament, especially after the general election.


“It seems to me that Tasmagambetov’s job will be to rally pro-presidential forces, particularly, Otan, the Civil Party, and the Agrarian Party, and Asar. He will be supervising the whole campaign. Not being an independent politician, Tasmagambetov will simply do the president’s bidding.


“The latest appointments may indicate that the president is a little alarmed by the arrival of new political players. He is now poised to take action to neutralise them, but without transgressing the boundaries of legality. I mean this neutralisation will not degenerate into brutal, repressive actions. I think it’s all going to be a matter of electoral manoeuvring.”


Nikolai Kuzmin, of the Reputation analytical centre, said that the appointment of Abykaev as speaker of the upper house will reinforce Nazarbaev’s control over the lower house, because though legislation is made in the latter it has to be approved by the former, “ So political players set to win seats in the lower house have been sent a very clear message: by forming the majority they will not be able to control the parliament as a whole.”


Political commentator Nurbolat Masanov said, “Abykaev’s appointment may be interpreted to signify imminent major changes in the parliament. Some serious bills may be in the pipeline, and the president does not want to take chances. He wants a strong person in the upper house to counteract the influence of the lower house speaker, Tuyakbai. Abykaev is the kind of person who will have a lot of sway in the parliament. A strong player like him is eminently capable of advancing the president’s agenda.”


Karim Tanaev is the pseudonym for journalist in Astana. Ainur Adilbaeva is an independent journalist in Kazakstan.


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