A reshuffle in Kazakhstan has brought a veteran insider back to lead the government amid fears of trouble on the domestic and international fronts. President Nursultan Nazarbayev reappointed former Prime Minister Karim Masimov late on April 2. In a swift sequence of events, Prime Minister Serik Akhmetov resigned, Nazarbayev nominated Masimov, and Kazakhstan's rubber-stamp parliament unanimously approved the move.
The affable and charismatic Masimov previously served as head of government for nearly six years, making him Kazakhstan's longest-serving prime minister since independence. Nazarbayev replaced Masimov in fall 2012 with the colorless technocrat Akhmetov.
The reshuffle comes as no surprise: Nazarbayev had hinted on several occasions that he was not happy with Akhmetov and in February, after a currency devaluation that caused an economic shock to many in the country, he threatened to sack the entire government.
Presenting Masimov as his candidate to parliament, Nazarbayev thanked the outgoing Akhmetov but also damned him with faint praise, noting that his government had not "permitted any particular failure" and had "worked in the measure of its experience and possibilities."
Hinting that he wants the economy in a safe pair of hands as Kazakhstan copes with the consequences of the devaluation of the tenge by around 20 percent, Nazarbayev noted that Masimov had successfully steered Kazakhstan through the global credit crunch in 2007-2009. Nazarbayev did not mention it, but Masimov was at the helm at the time of the last currency devaluation in 2009, which passed more smoothly for the administration than the latest one, which was followed by a series of protests.
Nazarbayev may also want a strong character in charge as Kazakhstan tries to steer a middle ground between supporting its close ally Russia amid the crisis over Ukraine and Russia's annexation of Crimea, and safeguarding Astana's own national interests.
Since his removal as prime minister, Masimov had been the influential, but back-stage, head of the presidential administration. His return to the top job will spark a new round of crystal ball gazing over the presidential succession, with renewed speculation that Masimov may be a favored candidate to succeed Nazarbayev when the 73-year-old president leaves office.