Power play in Kazakhstan

Reasons behind resignation of Karim Massimov, ex-Soviet nation’s longest serving prime minister, are unclear.

Karim Masimov was Kazakhstan’s longest serving prime minister. A skilled technocrat and economist he has ferried Central Asia’s hydrocarbon powerhouse through the stormy global downturn.

Now he looks set to take on a more senior albeit less transparent role – as head of the presidential administration.

According to one insider, Karim Masimov’s departure from the post of prime minister had been known about since January.

But he’ll be leaving with a good credit history. He is widely respected both at home and abroad and is considered a very loyal lieutenant to President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Becoming chief of staff puts him in a potentially closer position of influence with Papa (as the president is known), and Papa, whether you’re a fan of his or not, holds all the cards in Kazakhstan.

The previous head of the presidential administration Aslan Musin has been linked to a corruption scandal in the west of the country and is now out of the inner circle.

President Nazarbayev has to be an astute chess player because there are a lot of sharks out there jockeying for power. There are different factions within the political elite, from different Kazakh clans.

Astana watchers agree that Masimov is a guy Nazarbayev can trust because he’s not ethnically Kazakh. This limits his political career even if he had ambitions.

The man who’s tipped to become the new premier, former Deputy PM Serik Akhmetov, is considered a safe pair of hands. He’s also from the centre of the country – the middle clan. His choice is considered a sensible move politically.

Remember that Kazakhstan is a major oil producer. International investors and geopolitical players pay attention when political shuffling is going on here.

Moreover, everyone wants to know who will replace Nazarbayev. Although he’d probably like too he can’t live forever. He’s 72 and there’ve been rumours about his health.

As trusted lieutenant, Karim Masimov might be the king-maker.

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