Kazakh Leader Sends Daughter to Senate, Sparks Succession Talk

  • Nazarbayev may be readying dynastic transition, analyst says
  • Constitution says senate head is first in line after president

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who’s ruled central Asia’s largest energy producer since 1989, appointed his daughter to the Senate, sparking speculation that she may be in line to succeed him.

Dariga Nazarbayeva’s move to senator from deputy prime minister in a government shuffle brings her closer to the succession set out in the Kazakh constitution, which states that the chairman of the senate becomes head of state if the president dies or leaves office early.

“Unnerved by recent events in Uzbekistan, where the constitution was de jure violated when the prime minister, not the head of senate, was named as acting president, Nazarbayev is eager to put his house in order before leaving his post,” Kate Mallinson, a partner at London-based political risk advisory GPW & Co., said by phone. “Nazarbayev has always been keen to appear as an international statesman and would like to make the transition proceed in a constitutional manner, albeit a dynastic succession.”

Nazarbayev, 76, is the last leader of a former Soviet republic who’s kept power since independence, following Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s death this month. He moved long-serving premier Karim Massimov to be head of the Kazakh National Security Committee last week, on the same day the Uzbek parliament named Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev as acting president when the senate chairman, who was in line to take the post under the constitution, stood aside.

Social Tensions

While he hasn’t said when he may step down, Nazarbayev said there’ll be a transition from his rule after he won a fifth term as president in April 2015. At the same time, he’s grappling with the consequences of the collapse of oil prices, which forced Kazakhstan to devalue its currency by 46 percent last year, spurring inflation to the fastest since 2008 and contributing to rising social tensions that included land protests in the spring.

Kazakhstan’s present Senate chairman, Kassymzhomart Tokayev, a former prime minister, has held the position since 2013. The president nominates a candidate for the position and senate members vote to confirm the appointment.

“If Dariga indeed becomes chairman of the Senate, (and then ultimately president) she will have her ally, the new Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, at her side,” Mallinson said. “This explains Massimov’s sudden departure from the premiership.”

Nazarbayeva, 53, became deputy prime minister in September last year. She was named deputy speaker of parliament’s lower house, the Majilis, and leader of her father’s party faction in the chamber in 2014. That appointment marked her political comeback after she fell out of favor when her former husband Rakhat Aliyev, now deceased, fled the country and was charged with organizing the kidnapping of two bank executives.

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