On July 8 Rakhat Aliev, the son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was promoted from Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Austria to first deputy foreign minister. The move left analysts guessing about the hidden rationale behind this personnel change.
First, Aliev, husband of the president’s eldest daughter Dariga, has never been a professional diplomat. From 2000 to 2001 he was deputy chairman of Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee. He was demoted to president of the National Olympic Committee when his name was linked to scandals involving well-known bankers, representatives of foreign companies, and for conducting himself in a manner inappropriate for a member of the presidential family. Before his dispatch to Vienna as ambassador, a dubious appointment seen by many as a “political exile” for getting out of control, he served as the deputy head of the presidential guard.
Second, the rank of “first deputy foreign minister” is new to the structure of the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan. Aliev’s immediate predecessor, Alexei Volkov was one of six deputy foreign ministers. But all six of them held equal rank; none was elevated to the post of first deputy foreign minister. His new position places Aliev second only to Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev in the ministry’s hierarchy. Nikolai Kuzmin, Kazakh Ambassador to South Korea from 1997 to 2001, believes that Aliev’s diplomatic career in Vienna was part of Nazarbayev’s politically motivated chess game (Central Asia Monitor, July 15).
However, it is hard to expect that Aliev, an outsider — albeit a high-ranking outsider — would be able to make fundamental changes in the work of the Foreign Ministry. Yet on June 7, exactly one month before Aliev’s appointment, Nazarbayev addressed an extended session of the Foreign Ministry and outlined two national priorities: safeguarding Kazakhstan’s national interests in international affairs and recruiting young people for high diplomatic posts. Observers almost unanimously interpret Aliev’s sudden return to Astana as yet another of Nazarbayev’s maneuvers to drum up loyal supporters ahead of the approaching presidential elections.
All signs suggest that Aliev will be a stalking horse poised to attack Nazarbayev’s opponents in the pre-election campaign. But Aliev’s straightforward manner of dealing with opponents may be counterproductive, he may even frighten away some of the most devoted members of the presidential entourage: the mayor of Almaty, Imangaly Tasmagambetov, Timur Kulibayev, another presidential son-in-law, and parliamentary speaker Nurtay Abykaiev are not happy with Aliev’s return to Kazakhstan. This unpredictable and tempestuous son-in-law is not the best choice to counterbalance Nazarbayev’s opponents, but the president has no other reliable ally (Ak Zhol Kazakhstan, July 15).
Aliev’s new appointment indicates that Nazarbayev has opted to draw his family members close around him in anticipation of undesirable developments ahead of the election. He is growing suspicious of his own entourage, despite already gaining massive support for his political agenda by extensively touring nearly all of Kazakhstan’s regions in what was widely regarded as a pre-election campaign whistle-stop tour. (Azat, July 22).
In his capacity as first deputy foreign minister, Aliev has only limited power to influence domestic political processes. Nazarbayev may consider it in his best interest to keep his unpredictable son-in-law away from internal politics until the appropriate time comes. In the meantime, Aliev could be very useful for winning business people over to Nazarbayev’s side, a task not even his own willful daughter Dariga could manage.
On March 25, with active approval from the presidential administration, a group of businessmen created the “Atameken” (Land of Ancestors) national association of entrepreneurs and employers. Originally conceived as purely business organization, Atameken quickly evolved into a political party, despite Nazarbayev’s repeated warnings that politics and business should be kept strictly apart. In a political statement released on July 21, the leaders of the new party declared that their principal goal was to promote the creation of a democratic state that favors the development of entrepreneurship and civic society, and the equal participation of foreign and domestic investors in the national economy. The authors of the statement also accused the opposition movement of generating chaos and disorder in the country in the name of political liberalization in order to come to power and redistribute public wealth among themselves (Central Asia Monitor, July 29).
The creation of the pro-presidential party of entrepreneurs caused a dramatic split within the Atameken association. Some members of the association openly accused the Atameken party leaders of turning the organization of entrepreneurs and employers into a political tool in the hands of power structures (Megapolis, July 11). As the presidential election approaches, the confrontation between various forces is nearing a boiling point.
It remains unclear, however, when precisely elections will take place, in December this year, as announced earlier or at the end of the next year, as some parliament members argue. Neither the Central Election Committee nor the Constitutional Council has set the date. But that state of confusion also looks like one of the many tricks so often used by the authorities to confuse the opposition.