An Uyghur May Become Kazakhstan's Next Prime Minister

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January 08, 2007 22 01GMT


Kazakh Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov resigned Jan. 8. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is expected to appoint a successor to Akhmetov ahead of the Central Asian nation's Jan. 10 joint session of Parliament; he probably will pick another loyal functionary. Kazakhstan's prime minister is not an independent actor in the nation's policymaking, so the change will have a limited effect on Kazakhstan's strategy toward the outside world.


Kazakh Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov resigned Jan. 8. Under the Central Asian nation's constitution, the prime minister's resignation means the nation's entire Cabinet of Ministers must resign, too.

Given the pattern in former Soviet states, most of the Cabinet is expected to return to their posts. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will replace Akhmetov with Parliament's consent; a joint session of both houses of Parliament is scheduled for Jan. 10 to consider the president's nomination. Since Kazakhstan is a republic with a strong presidency, a change in prime ministers probably will not trigger a fundamental policy shift.

Kazakh prime ministers generally do not remain in office long. Customarily, they play the role of scapegoat for the nation's mismanagement and failings. Talk of Akhmetov's imminent departure has surfaced before in Kazakhstan's media, meaning his resignation was not entirely unexpected. A Nazarbayev loyalist with strong ties to the country's business community, Akhmetov has been blamed for corruption, overspending and creating an unstable financial system. His removal indicates Kazakhstan's longest-serving prime minister has served his purpose.

According to some media reports, Nazarbayev is planning to replace Akhmetov with Karim Masimov, an ethnic Uighur, an economist educated in China and a strong supporter of the president. Masimov is currently a deputy prime minister. His portfolio includes much of the strategic planning, de facto giving him as much -- if not more -- control over the country as the prime minister enjoys. He also reportedly helped extricate Nazarbayev from a bribery scandal, meaning his potential nomination would be seen as a reward. If Nazarbayev feels indebted to Masimov, the latter potentially would enjoy unusual staying power for a prime minister.

Kazakhstan's shuffle comes as Central Asian geopolitical forces in Central Asia are also in flux, and the resignation could be connected to recent regional events. In the wake of the death of neighboring Turkmenistan's president for life, Saparmurat Niyazov, Russia is looking to increase its influence in the region. The choice of Chinese-educated Masimov as prime minister could suggest Kazakhstan is hedging its geopolitical bets.

Astana has followed a policy of remaining politically loyal to Moscow while seeking economic ties with Russian, Chinese and other Western and Asian partners. If Russia attempts to use its increasing presence in Central Asia to impinge on Kazakhstan's sovereignty, Astana could play the Beijing card. This might involve expanded economic relations or other bilateral ties.

Even so, Kazakhstan is vital to Russia as a buffer state and for its energy and mineral supplies. Conversely, Kazakhstan, which has a long history of Russian domination, depends on Russian goodwill for its continued existence. Since the two nations, which share a long and porous border, both need each other, both will have to perform a delicate balancing act regarding bilateral ties. Both will also develop alternative options should something not go according to plan.

Ultimately, the president of Kazakhstan is a very powerful figure in his country, while the prime minister is able to exert only limited influence on policymaking. So though the change in staff could indicate the government securing another option for itself, it should not be viewed as a fundamental change of state strategy.

(c) Strategic Forecasting, Inc.