Fresh off his re-election victory, Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, reshuffled the government. The change that generated the most buzz in Astana, however, did not involve the cabinet.
Many familiar faces remain in the new cabinet, including Prime Minister Karim Masimov, who was appointed in January 2007 and is already Kazakhstan’s longest serving prime minister. Among the new additions is Kairat Kelimbetov, the former chairman of the Samruk-Kazyna sovereign wealth fund who was appointed April 11 as minister of economic development and trade.
Kelimbetov’s appointment opened the way for the promotion of Nazarbayev's billionaire son-in-law, Timur Kulibayev, to head the Samruk-Kazyna fund. Previously, Kulibayev had been Kelimbetov’s deputy. Political experts have tipped both men as potential successors to Nazarbayev, and their promotions suggest their career paths remain on an upward trajectory. The incumbent president has sent plenty of signals that he has no intention of leaving the political stage any time soon.
Kelimbetov replaces Zhanar Aytzhanova in a ministry whose functions Masimov has pledged to enhance. Kelimbetov – who served as minister of economics from 2002 to 2006 – seems set to exert considerable influence over the implementation of Nazarbayev’s agenda for the coming decade. Among the targets set by the president is a 33 percent rise in GDP by 2020 and Kazakhstan’s accession to the World Trade Organization. In addition, Nazarbayev has expressed a desire to reduce unemployment and ease poverty.
Kulibayev steps into Kelimbetov’s shoes at Samruk-Kazyna, which wields vast influence over swathes of the economy through its ownership stakes in major state companies, including oil and gas giant KazMunayGaz; nuclear firm Kazatomprom; telecoms company Kazakhtelekom; and railroad operator Kazakstan Temir Zholy. Formally presenting Kulibayev to Samruk-Kazyna staff on April 12, Masimov described the organization’s role in Kazakhstan’s industrialization program and efforts to diversify the economy away from reliance on the energy sector as vital.
While prominent in the economic sphere, Kulibayev – who features on the Forbes rich list along with his wife, the president’s daughter Dinara Kulibayeva, with fortunes of $1.3 billion each – has, until now, maintained a low political profile.
His promotion comes amid suggestions that he may soon launch a political career. Presidential adviser Yermukhamet Yertysbayev sparked a round of speculation with a suggestion that an entrepreneurs’ association headed by Kulibayev, the Atameken Union, should be transformed into a political party.
The cabinet reshuffle produced a new foreign minister, as Yerzhan Kazykhanov was promoted from deputy minister, replacing Kanat Saudabayev. Saudabayev, a long-time Nazarbayev loyalist who oversaw Astana’s chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) last year, was re-appointed to a post he held in tandem with the ministerial portfolio, state secretary.
In addition, there was a change made at the Interior Ministry, where Kalmukhanbet Kasymov stepped up from his position as deputy interior minister to replace Serik Baymaganbetov as minister. The other new appointees were Talgat Yermegiyev as tourism and sport minister, Berik Kamaliyev with the transport portfolio, and Asylzhan Mamytbekov at the Agriculture Ministry.
Most other ministers kept their jobs, including Defense Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov; Oil and Gas Minister Sauat Mynbayev; Finance Minister Bolat Zhamishev, Information Minister Askar Zhumagaliyev and Education Minister Bakytzhan Zhumagulov.
Also re-appointed were three powerful deputy prime ministers: Umirzak Shukeyev, Yerbol Orynbayev and Aset Isekeshev. Isekeshev retains the parallel portfolio of ministry of industry and new technologies.
Dean C.K. Cox is the photo editor for EurasiaNet. Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.