Kazakh President Replaces Energy Minister as Premier Returns

  • Nazarbayev names regional governor to replace Shkolnik
  • Karim Massimov continues as premier after parliament vote

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev replaced Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik with a regional governor as the government was reappointed after parliamentary elections amid an economic crisis sparked by the slide in oil prices.

The new parliament voted 96-4 with seven abstentions to confirm Prime Minister Karim Massimov’s government on Friday, the state-owned Kazinform news service reported. The presidential office later announced in website statements that Shkolnik had been released from his post and replaced by Kanat Bozumbayev, 47, who was head of the Pavlodar region of northern Kazakhstan close to the border with Russia.

“I want to stress that I was, am and remain a faithful assistant to the president. Thank you for your trust,” Massimov told deputies after the vote, according to Kazinform. Nazarbayev said during Sunday’s elections that the current government “must be allowed” to complete institutional reforms and anti-crisis measures.

The president’s Nur Otan party retained its overwhelming majority in parliament in the snap elections called after he warned that central Asia’s largest oil producer faced a “real crisis’ following the slump in crude prices to a 13-year low. The tenge has fallen about 45 percent against the dollar since the central bank switched to a free float in August to defend reserves amid devaluations in Russia and China. The currency’s decline has hurt living standards and sent inflation spiking to 15.2 percent in February, the fastest since 2008.

Succession Question

Nur Otan has 84 out of 98 elected seats in the 107-member parliament, which has nine appointed delegates, with the Ak Zhol and Communist parties holding seven each. Voters lacked “genuine political choice” and the elections were marred by “serious procedural flaws,” observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement on Monday.

Flush with cash when crude was $100 a barrel, Kazakhstan must adjust to an “era of cheap oil” that may last five to seven years, Massimov said in a Jan. 22 interview. Oil accounts for more than 50 percent of the former Soviet republic’s budget revenue, according to Standard and Poor’s, which warned in October that Kazakhstan faces “deteriorating economic conditions.”

Amid uncertainty over a potential successor, Nazarbayev, 75, who’s ruled Kazakhstan since 1989, has pledged to devolve greater power to parliament as part of a political transition promised after he won a fifth term in snap presidential elections last April.

The “situation in the economy, in the world and in the country” must be taken into account in deciding when to “redistribute power between president, parliament and government,” Nazarbayev said on Sunday, Kazinform reported. He’s demanded extensive reforms, including privatizing all state-run companies, to attract foreign investment and spur Kazakhstan’s recovery.

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