Kazakhstan after Nazarbayev: 1. Keep it in the Family

29 Jul

Kazakhstan has long adhered to the principle of ‘one man, one vote’ but what happens if that one man – President Nursultan Nazarbayev – is unable to perform his duties? With rumours whirling around in the last week about the health of Kazakhstan’s long-time president, the focus has once again turned to succession scenarios in Astana.

Having been awarded the title of Leader of the Nation in 2010, the stage has been set for the incumbent to move aside but still control the reins of power. Could we see a situation where he takes everyone by surprise and does a ‘Boris Yeltsin’ and personally anoints his successor? At least he’ll be safe in the knowledge that the new president will not wield any real power while he’s still alive. Whatever he decides, he’s got the job until at least 2016, and with the history of longevity in his family who knows how long he’ll go on.

Kazaxia has decided to gaze into its crystal ball and look at some of the possible frontrunners should the Leader of the Nation decide to call it a day.  Kazaxia will be assessing their chances over the next few days – here’s the first instalment:

1. Keep it in the Family

Timur Kulibayev (Image taken from http://www.samruk-kazyna.kz website)

Current hot favourite is Timur Kulibayev – the ‘keep it in the family’ option. Kulibayev has risen high in the business world of Kazakhstan, possibly with the help of his powerful father-in-law – he’s married to Dinara, Nazarbayev’s middle daughter, and has three children with her. He comes across as a clean-cut family guy (see more on this below) who leads a sporty lifestyle with his passion for golf, skiing and football.

Kulibayev has carved a name for himself in Kazakhstan’s oil and gas industry and has held top positions in many of the state’s big players such as KazMunaiGas.  He is thought to be worth $1.3 billion on the Forbes rich list.

He is currently Chief Executive Officer of Kazakhstan’s powerful Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk-Kazyna, which controls all state investments and holdings. Click here for a full biography of Kulibayev.

Remarks made recently by presidential advisor Yermukhamet Yertysbayev were interpreted as tipping Kulibayev as a suitable candidate to succeed Nazarbayev to the top job. Both Kulibayev and Yertysbayev were quick to downplay the report, but the fact remains that he would make a good candidate for the ruling family and allow it to keep pulling the strings.

The main obstacles to Kulibayev becoming president are his lack of political experience, his background is strictly business, and his Kazakh language skills – he rarely, if ever speaks in Kazakh in public so there are doubts about his fluency.  It is one thing to pass the language test given to prospective candidates for the presidency, but convincing the electorate is entirely another matter.

A candidate who struggles with the state language would not be popular with the nation’s increasingly influential Kazakh language lobby. This is an issue that is likely to come more to the fore after the current president moves on.

He also has some skeletons  in the cupboard that may not play well with the electorate. He had a long-term affair with Goga Ashkenazi and had a son with her, according to international media outlets. This involvement with Ashkenazi, a Kazakh socialite and businesswoman, doesn’t fit too well with the clean-cut family guy image. There have been accusations of money-laundering and corruption, but the Kazakh financial police cleared him of any wrongdoing.

All-in-all, though, Kulibayev still makes a good candidate. He has time to gain the necessary political skills and brush up his Kazakh. The lovechild may not be too much of a hindrance as this is not known about in Kazakskhstan. Kulibayev can still be regarded as the current favourite.

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