Olzhas Bektenov is Kazakhstan’s new prime minister, but he will work with a similar ministerial team as his predecessor, according to the appointments that followed.
The ruling Amanat party proposed Bektenov after President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev fired the government on February 5, ahead of a plenary government session in parliament.
Bektenov, 43, has had a long experience in the country’s judicial system, having worked in the ministry of justice as well as in the anti-corruption agency. Most recently, since April 2023, he had served as head of the presidential administration, a powerful position in Kazakhstan’s president-centered political system.
Alongside Bektenov, only four ministers changed, despite earlier rumors that there would be a major reshuffle.
Madi Takiyev was appointed to head the Ministry of Finance, Akmaral Alnazarova became the new minister of health, Chingiz Arinov became the new minister of emergency situations, and Nurlan Baibazarov was appointed to lead the Ministry of Economy.
Kazakhstan’s parliament approved the names of the appointed bureaucrats without questions. The whole process of approving the cabinet of ministers is in fact a rubber-stamping of decisions made from above.
What was different compared to previous reshufflings is the timing of the announcement, just before a plenary session with parliament, when the new government is likely to lay out its plan for reforms and policies for the rest of the year.
In earlier instances, especially during former President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s rule, ministers were named and shamed before being sacked. The routine represented a way for the president to show that any shortcomings were to be blamed on the work of his ministers and that he ultimately had full control of the situation.
This time, Tokayev chose to accelerate the process, making it rather emotionless.
While Kazakhstan is clearly showing signs of economic resurgence, with inflation curbed below 10 percent and increased foreign direct investment, former Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov could not keep his post and went out gracefully. In a Facebook post, Smailov thanked Tokayev for his trust in this “very difficult time.”
Analysts said he is likely to return to a government position in the near future.
Questions of the energy transition, with an upcoming referendum on a nuclear power plant, as well as economic growth and regional cooperation are all on Bektenov’s agenda. His appointment, however, seems to be focused inward.
Political analyst Gaziz Abishev said the nomination of Bektenov was geared toward a “clean-up.”
“There’s an obvious agenda: To more decisively transfer [illegally withdrawn] assets back and to carry out a massive anti-corruption purge,” Abishev said.
Corruption is still pervasive in Kazakhstan, as shown in the latest report by Transparency International, which said that Kazakhstan retained the status of a highly corrupt country. In their ranking, Transparency International noted “a lack of transparency in government actions, a lack of full independence of the judiciary, and the use of influence by political elites for their narrow economic interests.”
Given the loud arrests and sentences against several top-level members of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s closest circles, as well as some of his family members, it is clear that the “clean-up” will continue from there.