When Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev put the finishing touches on his restructured government last week, he entrusted the country's future economic course to a person he has known for decades -- his youngest son.
Thirty-two-year-old Maksim Bakiev now heads the Central Agency for Development, Investment, and Innovation -- a newly formed agency that will essentially run the sluggish Kyrgyz economy.
During a press conference in Bishkek on November 2, the young Bakiev explained that a new approach was needed because the government, heavily burdened with running the country and making decisions on current issues, had little time to focus on the country's future economic course.
"As world experience and moreover the experience in our country has shown, the development sector, the development process, needs to be separated from the normal functions” of the government, he said.
The new agency's task is an important one for small, impoverished Kyrgyzstan, which has struggled for nearly two decades to spark its lagging economy.
Supporters of Maksim Bakiev have lauded him as the right man to turn things around, citing his law-school education, his roles as part owner of the British Blackpool Football Club and as head of Kyrgyzstan's Wrestling Federation, and positions in international companies.
But critics have cast doubt on Maksim Bakiev's qualifications, while noting the trend of nepotism that has placed numerous members of President Bakiev's family in state posts.
Little is known about the Latvian holding company Maval Avtivi, where Maksim is reported to have been in charge of strategic development. Nor is much known about his role as a member of a consultative council under the board of the British holding company BCB Solutions Ltd., a company that sells collators for printing books.
And while Maksim Bakiev's success as a businessman in Kyrgyzstan is beyond dispute, the fact that his fortune in the country's business world started to rise after his father was named acting president in 2005 has raised eyebrows.
Heading For High Office
On both sides of the fence, suggestions have been made the appointment is mostly aimed at grooming Maksim Bakiev for presidential elections in 2014.
Mars Sariev, a well-known Kyrgyz political analyst, called Maksim Bakiev's appointment a "positive step" because "it means that President Bakiev and his son are taking full responsibility for the course of reforms and the country's future."
"It makes Maksim Bakiev personally responsible for the economic affairs of Kyrgyzstan," Sariev said.
If developing business and attracting foreign investment are the main goals of the new agency, however, Maksim Bakiev faces a tremendous task.
Kyrgyzstan does have some gold, attracting foreign companies such as Canada's Cameco Corp., which is involved in a joint venture at the major Kumtor mine, to inject needed capital into the country. And Kyrgyzstan's vast hydropower potential has caught the eye of Russian and Chinese companies.
But even the most generous assessments of Kyrgyzstan's resource wealth note that the country's economy is -- and will remain for the foreseeable future -- based on agriculture. Well aware of this, Maksim Bakiev has listed the provision of aid and an improved loan procedure for farmers and residents of small villages as among his priorities.
Feliks Kulov, a former prime minister under President Bakiev and leader of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) political party, said Maksim Bakiev's new position "will give him an opportunity to openly demonstrate his abilities."
Kulov notes that President Bakiev intends to step down from office in 2014 and hinted, without elaborating, that "he intends to hand over power to trustworthy hands." Kulov adds that if Maksim were to fail in his new post, it would "cause irreparable damage" to the Bakiev family.
Former Security Council secretary Miroslav Niyazov echoed Kulov's comments about transition of leadership while noting that, for Central Asia, this is nothing new.
"More openly and visibly the question is raised about the probability of a transfer of power...from the current president to his son," Niyazov said.
Kyrgyzstan's opposition sees Maksim's appointment as simply a further step in President Bakiev's move to concentrate more power into his own hands.
When Bakiev became acting president in mid-2005, he vowed to implement constitutional reforms that would balance power between the three branches of government. Under Bakiev's predecessor, Askar Akaev, most of power was given to the executive branch of government.
Opposition groups now say that process is being repeated under President Bakiev's recent changes to the government's structure. The country's power ministries -- foreign, interior, defense, and the National Security Service -- are now subordinate to the president, not the parliament. New Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov said the changes "would require introducing amendments to the constitution, to 67 legal acts."
Tolekan Ismailova, the leader of the nongovernmental organization Citizens Against Corruption, called the restructuring "a decision by a small circle of people."
Azimbek Beknazarov, one of the leaders of the opposition United People's Movement, said the changes "concern only strengthening [President Bakiev's] power."
President Bakiev had previously included political opponents in the government, but his restructuring has brought more of his supporters, such as Daniyar Usenov, into the inner circle of power.
Now, according to Roza Otunbaeva -- a former Kyrgyz foreign minister who is now a leader in the opposition Social Democrat Party -- members of President Bakiev's family can be found everywhere in the government.
"Right now, in the [Kyrgyz] White House there are five Bakievs working in the upper echelons of power -- and that is not even mentioning the many relatives [of President Bakiev] who have occupied every floor of the White House," she said.
Maksim Bakiev's appointment means he joins his older brother, who serves in the National Security Service, and uncles in serving the state. President Bakiev's brother Janysh is head of the presidential guard; his brother Marat is Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to Germany; and another brother, Adyl, is an adviser to Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to China. His brother Jusupbek Bakiev died in February 2006, but the month before his death he briefly held, then voluntarily left, the post of deputy executive director of the Agency for Development and Investment -- a role similar to the one Maksim Bakiev now holds.
RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Director Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, Amirbek Usmanov of the Kyrgyz Service, and Mirzo Salimov of the Tajik Service contributed to this report.