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April Reshuffles: Stability plus Renewal plus Balance
Appointments and resignations in the government, the presidential administration and among the regional akims and, more precisely, rumours about those, are some of the most popular topics in Kazakhstan’s political circles. The moment one or another official takes office, the talk of how soon he will step down or be promoted or even become a heir apparent starts immediately.
Reshuffles in the higher echelons of power in the wake of the early presidential election on April 3 gave rise to much talk, many speculations, articles and interviews. It seems that Nursultan Nazarbayev has reformatted his team to bolster up his new presidential term according to the formula “stability plus renewal plus balance”.
Stability lies in that the president retained key executive officials in their posts. First, there were no prerequisites for serious rotations in principle: ministers, governors and mayors were coping with their main task of providing political stability, economic and social development. Therefore, the reappointment of the chief of staff to the President, Aslan Mussin, of the secretary of state, Kanat Saudabayev, of the prime minister, Karim Massimov and all three of his deputies, and of 11 ministers out of the 16 (62.5%), as well as 15 of 16 governors (94%), and leaders of the National Security Committe, Foreign Intelligence and the Republican Guard was quite logical.
In particular, the President retained First Deputy Prime Minister Umirzak Shukeyev, Deputy Prime Minister Erbol Orynbayev, and Aset Issekeshev in his dual roles of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and New Technologies. Minister of Healthcare Salidat Kairbekova; Minister of Culture Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed; Minister of Defence Adilbek Zhaksybekov; Minister of Education and Science Bakhytzhan Zhumagulov; Minister of Environmental Protection Nurgali Ashim; Minister of Labour and Social Protection Gulshara Abdykalikova; Minister of Finance Bolat Zhamishev; Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Bozhko; Minister of Justice Rashid Tusupbekov; Minister of Communications and Information Askar Zhumagaliev; and Minister of Oil and Gas Sauat Mynbayev kept their jobs, too. Zhanar Aitzhanova, who was dismissed as minister for economic development and trade, later in the week became a minister without portfolio for economic integration.
The replacement of the CEOs of national governing holdings Samruk-Kazyna and KazAgro did not produce any revolutions, either. The new head of the National Welfare Fund, Timur Kulibayev had been leading a group of national companies such as KazMunaiGas, KazAtomProm, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, Samruk-Energo, KEGOC, Kazakhtelecom, the development of which will now be the holding’s priority. Banks that were nationalized during the financial crisis will now form a separate company and development institutions are transferred into trust management to relevant ministries. The new leader of KazAgro holding, Berik Beysengaliev, previously served as deputy chairman of the board, thus, the continuity of business is preserved.
Renewal is embodied by the six new ministers, a new regional governor, the new Prosecutor General and the new chairman of the Supreme Court. It may seem like a “radical” step, but only at first glance. Yerzhan Kazykhanov, Talgat Yermegiyaev, Anzar Musakhanov used to be deputy ministers or a deputy governor before promotion. Kairat Kelimbetov and Asylzhan Mamytbekov led special state holdings. The new interior minister, Kalmukhanbet Kassymov, is also experienced, and for many years he has been working as deputy minister of internal affairs. A dark horse, to some extent, is a new minister of transport and communications, Berik Kamaliev, but he also used to work in this ministry. Prosecutor General Askhat Daulbaev worked in the prosecution and in business, in the justice ministry and as a people’s deputy. During the past 10 years he was a deputy prosecutor of the country. The new chairman of the Supreme Court Bektas Beknazarov chaired four regional courts and for several years sat in the main court of the country. On the one hand, all new appointees are veteran managers with extensive experience of work in central and regional authorities, on the other, most of them are new people in such high and independent decision-making positions. Having appointed them, the President updated the “old pack”, which is the opposition’s pet topic, and showed that the times when high-level posts were given to “young reformers and geniuses” or random people are gone.
Dismissed ministers of tourism and sport, the 62-year-old Temirkhan Dosmuhambetov, and of transport and communications , the 59-year-old Abelgazy Kussainov, as well as the 61-year-old Sarybai Kalmurzaev, who was in charge of the President’s affairs, are representatives of the “older generation” of domestic politicians, and their stepping down was required to give way to younger civil servants. The ministries of agriculture and interior affairs will no longer be headed by Akhylbek Kurishbaev and Serik Baimaganbetov, but given the traditions of human resources policy and no grave failures in their past work, they are likely to get minor executive positions.
Structural changes in the government after the election also fit the pattern. This is first of all true in the abolition of the Agencies for regulation and supervision of financial markets and financial organizations (AFS) and for regulation of the Regional Financial Centre of Almaty (RFCA) and in the transfer of their powers to the National Bank. In the past years, financiers and experts have been long discussing the need for an independent financial regulator, but it must be admitted that the issue is not fundamental. All the more so, since functions of a financial centre for a long time have been performed by the National Bank, whereas the AFS failed to prove mettle during the financial crisis a few years ago. The same is true about the RFCA.
The status quo with the development institutions, including the Development Bank, Investment Fund, Corporation KazExportGarant, JSC Kazyna Capital Management, Entrepreneurship Development Fund “Damu”, was restored through their transfer from Samruk-Kazyna under the management of the ministries of industry and new technologies and of economic development and trade. It was to these ministries that the National Innovation Fund, the Fund of Distressed Assets, the Centre for Marketing and Analytical Research, now renamed “Kaznex Invest”, were transferred earlier. All the development institutions were originally set up under the ministries and their return allows for more active involvement of the executive branch in the investment policy within ongoing state programmes. That all investment institutions were roofed under one structure, first under the Kazyna Fund, then under Samruk-Kazyna, was an experiment that failed and it must be admitted. National companies are independent institutions with well-developed management, whereas the Investment Fund, Development Bank, etc., are, primarily, tools for implementing the state investment policy.
Finally, balance is seen in the following. The President nominated the 56-year-old Kairat Mami as the Senate speaker. Kairat Mami is a doctor of law, a professor, a judge of higher qualification class, Colonel General of Justice with extensive experience in the judiciary, prosecution and the presidential administration, as well as an experienced manager and politician, who is entirely consistent with the basic criteria for what is basically a position of a vice president [According to the Constitution, the speaker of the Senate takes over the presidency if the incumbent dies or is unable to perform his function.] As is known, Nursultan Nazarbayev selects candidates for the post of the speaker of the Senate based on such qualities as (1) ability, if necessary, to lead the country, (2) loyalty to the pursued course and the President, and (3) absence of excessive ambitions, which includes sufficient level of statesmanship and prudence to focus on the functions of the speaker, not on positioning himself as a “vice president”. It is known, too, that political ambitions of certain, now former, high-ranking officials and businessmen, who started to aggressively position themselves as “potential leaders of the nation”, conducting information warfare against political stability in the country, ended up sadly enough.
The reshuffled team is facing a lot of hard work ahead to meet presidential tasks contained in his state-of-the-nation address and the post-election speeches. However, modern Kazakhstan’s political traditions show that Nursultan Nazarbayev never opted for considerable reshuffles in the higher echelons of power, pointing thereby that the victory in the election is not his alone, but his entire team’s, too. And these same traditions indicate that the main reshuffle takes place six months after the election. On the other hand, that’s what the rumours, which mostly do not come true as a rule, say, too.
The author is the editor-in-chief of Kazakhstan’s biographical encyclopedia, “Who is Who in Kazakhstan”.
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