Following last week’s removal of Prime Minister Karim Massimov, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev yesterday announced that his daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva had moved from the post of Deputy Prime Minister to take up a role as deputy in the Senate. Although one of the other three Deputy PMs Bakytzhan Sagintayev has taken over as Prime Minister from Massimov, and despite the fact that Nazarbayeva’s new position leaves her with fewer formal powers, it nevertheless pushes her up the constitutional succession line that stipulates that the Senate’s chairman takes over from the president should Nazarbayev die in office. Nazarbayev’s long-term confidant Imangali Tasmagambetov now assumes Nazarbayeva’s previous role.
The moves comes after a rare wave of protests over new laws on land ownership and a (possibly unrelated) shootout between police and gunmen in the city of Aktobe that appears to have rattled Kazakhstan’s authoritarian government earlier this year. Massimov, long seen as as one of Kazakhstan’s most powerful figures, was relieved of his duties as prime minister and has now moved over to head up the security services.
Following Massimov’s dismissal, Nazarbayev appeared to acknowledge the growing tide of discontent in the country’s agricultural communities by calling on the government and regional authorities to “take measures for the organisation of cooperatives in rural areas, which should ensure the marketing and processing of agricultural products.”
Trouble has been brewing since March, when the then Minister of Economy Erbolat Dossayev announced plans to introduce a bill to extend the period for which organisations with under 50% foreign ownership could lease agricultural land from 10 to 25 years. The bill also proposed abolishing the leasing of agricultural land to Kazakh residents and replacing it with the konkurs, a mechanism similar to an auction which would allow them to purchase agricultural plots outright in a competitive bidding process.
Dossayev’s announcement took the country by surprise and was misinterpreted as a means of selling off land to interested parties from abroad, and demonstrations broke out in several towns and cities. The backlash ultimately forced Dossayev and Agricultural Minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov to resign.
With 43% of the population living in rural areas and 18% of the workforce employed in the agricultural sector, land reform is an extremely sensitive topic as modifications to the Land Code directly impact a significant portion of the population.