Kazakhstan: Graft-Provoked Reshuffle Reveals Nazarbayev Favorites
A reshuffle sparked by a corruption scandal in Astana has shed some light on the political preferences of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the veteran leader of Kazakhstan.
High-ranking appointments are closely followed by Astana-watchers for clues as to who might eventually succeed Nazarbayev, 75, who has ruled for a quarter of a century.
Akhmetzhan Yesimov, a trusted lieutenant who had been mayor of Almaty, the country’s financial hub, for over seven years, will now head up the organization of the corruption-engulfed EXPO-17.
The choice of Yesimov to clean up the mess at EXPO-17 following embarrassing revelations that officials had been siphoning off millions from funds intended to organize the international fair suggests he still enjoys Nazarbayev’s confidence. That suggests the 64-year-old former mayor is still a frontrunner to succeed Nazarbayev when a transition of power eventually takes place.
Yesimov’s replacement as mayor of the country’s largest and richest city has been named as Baurzhan Baybek, a top official in the ruling Nur Otan party.
The president was full of praise for Yesimov as he introduced Baybek as his successor in Almaty on August 9. The hundreds of people whose homes were damaged in a mudslide that hit the city last month without early-warning procedures being activated might not be so effusive.
Baybek’s appointment marks him as an up-and-coming politician whose movements will be closely tracked as he climbs the political ladder.
Yesimov is a politician of the older generation — a member of a group nicknamed the Old Guard, Nazarbayev confidants who have served the president loyally for decades.
Baybek, 42, is of the younger generation that came of age in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. A graduate of the elite Bolashak scholarship program under which the state has funded studies abroad for the country’s brightest young minds, Baybek is an English- and German-speaker who has held diplomatic postings in Germany. More recently, he has held influential positions in the presidential administration and the ruling Nur Otan party.
Before this latest appointment, Baybek served as first deputy leader of Nur Otan, an important position which made him responsible for the day-to-day management of a party that is led by Nazarbayev himself.
Baybek has substituted in that post by Askar Myrzakhmetov, the former governor of South Kazakhstan Region.
Baybek may not wield the political clout of Yesimov — but his family are certainly well-connected to Nazarbayev, who went to school with the new mayor’s father. Those ties swiftly sparked a caustic Internet meme asking: “My dad studied with the president, and what have you achieved?”
Like any other reshuffle in Kazakhstan, the latest appointments have given crystal-ball gazers a fresh opportunity to examine who is up and who is down in the corridors of power in Astana, and fuel predictions about who might eventually succeed Nazarbayev.
But a political transition is not expected any time soon. In April, Nazarbayev won a new term of office with a landslide, reasserting his grip on power for another five years.