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Kazakhstan: Tasmagambetov Appointed New Prime Minister After Tokaev Resigns

Kazakhstan has a new prime minister after the sudden resignation of Qasymzhomart Toqaev and the prompt appointment of Imangali Tasmagambetov, a close ally of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. There was no immediate explanation of the reasons behind Tokaev's resignation, but he himself was quoted as saying the change in government is "a perfectly normal event, considering that the presidency is strong" in Kazakhstan.

Prague, 28 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In accordance with the Kazakh Constitution, the Central Asian nation today approved the nomination of a new prime minister just hours after his predecessor offered his resignation. The new prime minister, Imangali Tasmagambetov, was picked by President Nursultan Nazarbaev to take the post and is a close ally of the president. A former senior Communist official, Tasmagambetov is also a former prime minister. He now has 10 days to form a new cabinet.

The switch came as Kazakhstan's government stepped down earlier today following the resignation of Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev. Toqaev, prime minister for just over two years, announced his decision by saying it was time to make way for new people with new ideas. At a cabinet meeting today, Toqaev read a statement of resignation that was accepted by Nazarbaev.

"The time has come for me to give way to people who have new approaches. The time has come for me to give way to them. This is a natural decision considering that the presidency is immutable. Further to my resignation, I ask you, Nursultan Abishevich, to transfer me to the diplomatic corps."

Toqaev gave no further details about the reasons for his resignation, which has been the subject of rumors and speculation in Kazakh political circles for the past several months. Toqaev, one of the longest-serving members of the government, was appointed deputy foreign minister in 1992. He was foreign minister from 1994 and then prime minister from November 1999.

Dafne Ter-Sakarian is an analyst specializing in Central Asia for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. She tells RFE/RL that Toqaev's resignation is not a surprise given Kazakhstan's recent political crisis.

"It wasn't something you knew, or you could know, was going to happen for sure, but it's not a complete surprise given the last two months have seen quite a lot of unusual movement in Kazakh politics."

Last November, Toqaev threatened to resign unless Nazarbaev dismissed cabinet members he accused of working at cross-purposes with the government. Nazarbaev subsequently sacked several senior government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Uraz Djandosov and Deputy Defense Minister Zhannat Ertlesova, after they had participated in the formation of a reformist movement called Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DCK). Ter-Sakarian says: "The prime minister [Toqaev] seems to have survived that particular incident. However, the fact that he has now resigned -- I mean, nothing happens without it being the president's decision -- suggests that perhaps the president has had a second thought as to which side is the strongest. Having said that, I'm sure [Toqaev] will be reappointed elsewhere, which is usually what happens."

This latest political crisis is intertwined with a crisis unfolding within Nazarbaev's own family. In November, Nazarbaev's son-in-law, Rahat Aliev, resigned as deputy chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB), the successor agency to the KGB. At that time, several founders of DCK, were using media outlets under their control to warn against Aliev's monopolization of the media market.

Under the constitution, the whole government was forced to resign following Toqaev's announcement today. Nazarbaev is known to rotate his government officials on a regular basis in order to keep possible competitors in the political establishment from building up power bases of their own.

According to Ter-Sakarian, the dismissals of government members associated with the DCK indicate that Kazakhstan's president is reluctant to loosen his stranglehold on political power:

"I think the speculation is that Mr. Nazarbaev will bring in this Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, but I would be surprised because [they] want regional governments to be elected rather than appointed and that's not really something I can see Nazarbaev agreeing to. So I'm not sure [DCK] will be his next choice but it's hard to say. I haven't really seen one candidate that looks more likely than anyone else."

Nazarbaev became Kazakhstan's Communist Party boss in 1989. Some experts say that growing economic prosperity in Kazakhstan is a major factor in the increasing pressure on Nazarbaev to open up the political system in the country, where Nazarbaev and his family wield enormous influence. Kazakhstan achieved gross domestic product growth of 13.2 percent last year thanks to its vast oil and gas reserves around the Caspian Sea.

The founding of DCK is a sign that those accumulating wealth also seek a share of political power. DCK is considered a party of young reform-minded politicians and businessmen. They advocate judicial and electoral reforms, the direct election of regional governors and other civil society-related issues, while avoiding direct criticism of Nazarbaev.

Last month's merger of three opposition parties -- the National Congress, Azamat, and former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin's Republican Party of Kazakhstan -- into the United Democratic Party is another indicator of the demand for more political openness. The party's aim is the establishment of a parliamentary republic in Kazakhstan.