Shocked by terrorist attacks in Kazakhstan, the leadership of the most stable Central Asian country is being forced to respond to rising socio-economic challenges, whilst also being confronted with the issue of leadership transition following the death of Islam Karimov in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
 
The most recent decision made by President Nazarbayev to reshuffle the cabinet responsible for overseeing the country’s security apparatus, while keeping the rest of the cabinet intact, should be viewed as a penultimate step towards consolidating and tightening how power rests in Kazakhstan in the lead up to any future political transition.

The most important political development in Kazakhstan in September was the removal of Karim Massimov from his position as Prime Minister (Reuters, 09.09.2016). While some commentators have interpreted his dismissal as part of a move to decrease intra-elite hierarchy, his appointment as the new chairman of the National Security Committee (KNB) re-confirms that Massimov remains a trusted ally of the President. It could be suggested, in fact, that his new role potentially affords him more influence. In Nazarbayev’s own statement of this shuffle, he highlighted that his decision to move Massimov was because he was confident that the former Prime Minister could deal with security issues (Forbes, 09.09.2016). Vladimir Zhumakamov, the former KNB head, has been appointed secretary to Massimov.

Other recent moves include the appointment of Imangali Tasmagambetov as a vice-Prime Minister to Bakhtyzan Sagintaev, who will be replacing Massimov; and the replacement of Berik Imashev with Marat Beketaev as the new Minister of Justice. Beketaev is believed to be part of the Presidents’ inner circle.

At the same time, it is worth noting that Imashev has been appointed as the new head to the Central Election Commission.  Given that Aida Aliyeva, the eldest daughter of Imashev, is married to Nurali Aliyev, the president’s grandson, it is evident that Nazarbayev intends to maintain tight family control over this specific institution in the light of any upcoming transition.

The dismissal of Dariga Nazarbayeva from the government by sending her to the Senate - which can be read as moving her to the sideline - is a sign that Nazarbayev continues to be patient with regards to making his choice of successor obvious. However, her recent election as the head of the Foreign Affairs Commission in the upper chamber can also be interpreted as preparing her to become the head of the Senate, a position that, according to the Kazakh constitution, is obliged to take charge if the President becomes unable to perform his responsibilities.

In addition to these new appointments, the creation of a new ministry – the  “Ministry of Religion and Civil Society affairs” - shows that Astana is keen to combat the emergence of religious extremism. That former Secretary to the Security Council, Nurlan Yermekbayev, will take charge of this new Ministry suggests that Nazarbayev may approve a more authoritarian counter-terrorist course over the coming months.