A senior security official may eventually succeed Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev in a deal similar to Vladimir Putin's rise to power in Russia, a political analyst said in a rare public comment on Friday.
Nazarbayev, 69, has ruled Central Asia's biggest economy for 20 years and can run for an unlimited number of terms, but succession is a hot issue among country-watchers, although it is rarely discussed by officials in Kazakhstan.
In an interview published by Respublika weekly newspaper which is often critical of the government, Berik Abdygaliyev, the head of the presidential foundation for the development of the Kazakh language, said any successor's main task would be to protect Nazarbayev.
"I do not rule this out," Abdygaliyev said when asked about the possibility of a so-called "Putin scheme".
Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy, was handpicked by Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin as successor in 1999 in what analysts saw as a deal which included protection for Yeltsin, his family and their assets.
"One must take into account that one of the second president's main tasks will be ... maintaining the balance of power and providing security guarantees for the first president when and if he is accused of corruption and other wrongdoings," Abdygaliyev said.
He said a senior officer of the KNB, the Kazakh successor to the KGB security service, with no close links to any of the major elite groups could be fit for such a role, but did not name any candidates.
"I think they (the KNB) don't know themselves yet who they would nominate," Abdygaliyev said.
Nazarbayev, whose term expires in 2012, has not hinted at any potential successors.
His former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev has said he had fallen out with the veteran leader after telling him about his own presidential ambitions.
Aliyev lives in Austria and has been sentenced in absentia at home to 40 years in prison on charges of planning a state coup and running a criminal gang. He denies any wrongdoing.