In this investigation 36 individuals were questioned who are considered to be highly-qualified experts in the study of political and socio-economic processes within the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK). In December 2013 the research bureau rating.kz conducted an expert poll aimed at making the most objective possible assessment of the key professional and business attributes of the leaders of the Government of Kazakhstan since the time that the country gained independence.
In the poll, 36 highly-qualified academics in the field of political and socio-economic processes in the RK were questioned. The study took account of 11 principal criteria that were selected for evaluating the professional and business capabilities of the senior members of the RK Government. Evaluations were made using a 7-point system with rankings from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest).
The results of the poll were processed using SPSS predictive statistics software, employing descriptive statistics and a method of calculating mean scores. To calculate the overall rating indicator, arithmetic operations were performed on the results of the research. This procedure was tested with the use of 'weightings' and by a process of summation and inference of arithmetic mean scores.
According to the results of the poll, the levels of professional competence among the individuals examined were ranked as follows:
According to the experts' assessments, the following group of three leaders became apparent:
— Imangali Tasmagambetov (3.20 points).
— Akezhan Kazhegeldin (2.83 points).
— Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (2.82 points).
In first place with a small margin is the current 'akim' (head of local executive government) of Astana, Imangali Tasmagambetov. It should be pointed out that Tasmagambetov's position in the ranking did not result particularly from what he achieved as prime minister as such, since his term was the shortest of any of the other prime ministers. It is possible that had he been in this post for longer, Imangali Tasmagambetov might in fact have earned a more significantly negative image.
Rather, the high score is the result of several more significant factors:
— To date, Imangali Tasmagambetov remains one of the most influential members of the elite in Astana.
— The high level of public trust in Tasmagambetov does not take into account the subsequent involvement of Tasmagambetovа in various scandals.
— Experts are impressed by Tasmagambetov's rigidity in asserting his position, and also his ability to assume responsibility for decisions being taken (which ultimately cost him the position as prime minister).
In aggregate, these factors have prompted the experts to place Tasmagambetov as the politician with the greatest future prospects from the heavyweights examined in the study. However, this expert opinion does not take account of the fact that it is common in Kazakhstan for the most promising politician to also be the primary candidate for political 'liquidation'. This is particularly so given that talk of Tasmagambetov as the presidential successor is widespread on social networks and in the media.
Kazhegeldin's margin over Kassym-Jomart Tokayev borders on the limits of statistical error. A significant influence over Kazhegeldin's overall rating is the low estimation of his future prospects. Still, if we took this criterion out of the investigation, Akezhan Kazhegeldin would be the most successful of all of Kazakhstan's prime ministers.
The experts rated Kazhegeldin the leader for nominations such as 'contribution to development of the national economy', 'abilities in anti-crisis government', 'organisation of the work of the Government' and 'level of openness' – i.e. exactly those criteria that also determine the success of high-ranking government leaders.
In the view of the experts it was Akezhan Kazhegeldin who presented the outline of the current socio-economic successes of the Republic of Kazakhstan and carried out a whole series of vitally important economic and social reforms, many of which were innovations within the post-Soviet space. In fact, Kazhegeldin's success has also acted against him, in that it has made him into the only plausible rival to the current President.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in contrast, is one of the three leaders thanks primarily to the evaluations of his current prospects. As the chairman of the Senate, he is the formal successor to Nursultan Nazarbaev, which also demonstrates the high level of personal trust placed in him by the current President.
Prime Minister Tokayev was remembered by the experts as a highly mediocre administrator, and not insignificantly, is suspected of corruption. For his involvement in various scandals he received the lowest negative points of all the politicians included in the study (with the exception of Serik Akhmetov, whom we will discuss below).
Tokayev's diplomacy and tactfulness and the absence of any major economic interests have given him the image of being the most approachable figure, and the one most amenable to compromise within the elite of Kazakhstan, and thus ideal for the role of Nursultan Nazarbaev's official successor.
Additionally, as the instigator of the 'multivector foreign policy strategy' for Kazakhstan, and as the potential presidential successor, Tokayev arouses the least of any 'allergic reactions' among the key geopolitical players.
Karim Masimov, despite serving the longest period in the post of prime minister, received a somewhat modest appraisal from the experts. To a large extent this was caused by his attempts to avoid potentially charged questions. Masimov is second to last on the list in terms of ability to take responsibility for the decisions being taken. It is interesting to note that the lack of this quality actually increases the level of Masimov's prospects as a politician.
The indifference of Masimov as prime minister to questions of manpower policy raised particular concern. His efforts to please all internal elite groups and to avoid aggravating relations with political rivals at all costs have also led to the current knot of problems in the Government's work and in the imbalance of interests of the various departments.
It is interesting to note that Karim Masimov also maintains this behavioural tactic in the position of head of the presidential administration. What is more, in this non-public role that tactic seems to fit more harmoniously and has gained him increased political leverage.
The current Prime Minister, Serik Akhmetov, falls significantly behind the rating leaders, however, unlike them, he still has the possibility of influencing the quality of work of the Cabinet. The experts assessed the Akhmetov's organisation of Government work as the worst in the last 20 years.
The staffing policy pursued by Serik Akhmetov is aimed at minimising conflicts, and for this reason it does not touch upon the more problematic ministers. At the same time he has been able to considerably widen his influence in the economic bloc, though at the expense of advancing his men to the important technical positions.
One of the distinguishing features of Serik Akhmetovа's work is a relatively low level of openness and also the inability to take on responsibility for failures in the work of the Cabinet. Consequently, Prime Minster Akhmetov has proven incapable of accepting some of the criticism for the economic policy being implemented. This burden continues to be borne by the President.
Serik Akhmetov has also responded inadequately to criticism from the President himself. For example, his decision in November to delay raising the duty on alcohol until 2015 was interpreted by the President as an action driven by outright corruption. However, a suitable response by the Government was not forthcoming.
The concentration of poor image problems of the Government, particularly in the social sphere, is the cause of the low assessment of Serik Akhmetov's prospects. A raft of unpopular welfare decisions and poorly thought-out initiatives in other areas of the Cabinet's activities are gradually turning Akhmetov into the perfect scapegoat. The previous rotation of vice prime ministers in charge of the social bloc has in fact turned out to be a pointless swapping. A strong public figure is essential for this position, one that will travel out to the regions and communicate with the trade unions. The current vice-premier Gulshara Abdykhalikova does not possess such skills, and consequently the 'slump' of the social welfare bloc is dragging all of Serik Akhmetov's government down with it.
A significant point in this respect was the information attack on Serik Akhmetov's government last November, carried out by the state media and approved by the President. Not one of the former Prime Ministers had ever encountered such a turn of events.
At the same time, the experts do not currently consider the total number of failures of Serik Akhmetovа's Government as critical; the current prime minister thus still has time to correct his mistakes.
Other candidates for the rating 'outsiders' were Nurlan Balgimbayev, Daniyal Akhmetov and Sergey Tereshchenko. Yet these figures had already left active Kazakh politics: Daniyal Akhmetov, after a protracted period of disgrace, gained a reasonably important position in the Eurasian Economic Commission, while Nurlan Balgimbayev and Сергей Sergey Tereshchenko had long moved on to business activities.
It should be underlined that the expert appraisals concerning Sergey Tereshchenko and Nurlan Balgimbayev were formed to a significant extent by the complex economic conditions in which they had to act. Daniyal Akhmetov, on the other hand, was examined through the prism of the explosion in world oil prices and the simultaneous expansion of its extraction in Kazakhstan.
For some time Nurlan Balgimbayev made efforts to position himself as one of the political leaders of the western Kazakhstan elites, but he gradually lost his position to heavyweights such as Imangali Tasmagambetov and Aslan Musin. An example of the weakening of the options available to Nurlan Balgimbayev was his failure in lobbying for the Caspian 'energy hub' project at Aktau that was intended to provide oil-industry services to major extraction companies.
In addition to high-profile personal corruption scandals, Daniyal Akhmetov's weakening position has been caused by the reduced level of influence of the 'Eurasian Group' which in fact carried out work on exiting from the Kazakhstan economy.
The modest options open to Sergey Tereshchenko became apparent during the crisis at the Bioethanol company factory (of which he owned 30% of shares) belonging to Aleksandr Sutyaginsky.
The company could easily have been rescued by being restructured into a producer of potable alcohol; however, the previous owners were unable to lobby for this decision. This then leads to the conclusion that Sergey Tereshchenko had not only fallen out of the country's elite but that even in the business sector he has only highly limited lobbying influence.
The main conclusion is that not one of the leading figures of the RK Government could attract even half of the maximum available points (3.5 out of 7). This in itself is evidence of the highly critical view taken by the expert community of the results of their political activities in the second most important position in the state government.