Irksome to Prez, Kazakh PM Still Loved by His People
The Kazakh premier has had a tough few weeks, with cabinet ministers falling like dominoes and the omnipotent president targeting the government with public criticism over spending. All this has sparked rumors that the days of Karim Masimov – Kazakhstan’s longest serving premier ever – as prime minister are numbered.At last, though, in comes some good news – whatever troubles he may face on the political front, Masimov remains popular with the public, a new opinion poll shows.The study by the Almaty-based Strategiya Center for Social and Political Research indicates that Masimov enjoys an approval rating of 62 percent, higher than that of the government overall, which stands at 56 percent. Evidently, the public likes the affable, relaxed style projected by Masimov, in stark contrast to some of his buttoned-up predecessors.The PM’s approval rating remains far lower than that of his boss, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, which stands at just under 90 percent – but that’s probably just as well, since the unrivaled Leader of the Nation tolerates no threat to his own popularity. Nazarbayev, whose ratings regularly hover around the 90-percent mark in opinion polls, has in the past moved to curb the power of any public figure whose star rises too high.And Masimov’s star may have been doing just that, at least in Nazarbayev’s eyes. In late September the Megapolis newspaper got wind of rumors that the president wasn’t too happy with Masimov’s high public profile. “It turned out that Masimov and his team are never off the pages of the press or the television screens,” the broadsheet remarked. That’s perhaps not surprising since Masimov is the prime minister and part of his job is be accountable to the public he governs, but it seemed, according to the newspaper, that Nazarbayev thought there was “more talk than action” emanating from the cabinet.In a further indication that the president isn’t altogether happy with the government, this week he complained to Masimov that “huge state funds are being used ineffectively.” In remarks quoted by the Ekspress K tabloid, Masimov said Nazarbayev had bluntly told him that “we need to build not palaces but facilities for the needs of the people and of children.”In the past month Masimov has also had to face down the loss of two members of his cabinet. The head of the health minister, Zhaksylyk Doskaliyev, rolled as he was arrested on corruption charges, and the education minister, Zhanseit Tuymebayev, was replaced amid a row over the operation of one of Kazakhstan’s elite English-language higher education institutions.The clouds have been gathering over his head, but Masimov may yet weather the storm. He certainly has political staying power – a record four years in office. But as he seeks to shore up his position and make sure he doesn’t incur the president’s wrath, he might make sure he doesn’t become too popular for his own good.