China Kazakhstan
China Kazakhstan

ASTANA - Veteran Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, elected for a new five-year term over the weekend, on Wednesday reappointed loyalist Karim Masimov as prime minister, at a time when growth in the oil-fueled economy is slowing down.

Nazarbayev, 74, has ruled the Central Asian nation with sweeping powers and little tolerance of dissent since 1989, when he became its Communist Party boss.

On April 26, he won a new five-year term in a snap election, receiving 97.75 percent of the vote. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe said there was a lack of credible opposition and voters had no genuine choice in the vote.

Nazarbayev has promoted market reforms and attracted $200 billion in foreign direct investment, turning his steppe nation of 17 million into the second-largest economy in the former Soviet Union and No. 2 post-Soviet oil producer after Russia.

"I believe we have to preserve the continuity of the government's work," Nazarbayev said in parliament, proposing Masimov's reappointment, the presidential press service said.

"Karim Masimov is coping well with his work, he has potential and relevant knowledge, and we can trust him to continue his current work."

Unanimous vote

The parliament's lower house, dominated by Nazarbayev's ruling Nur Otan party, unanimously voted for Masimov.

Masimov, a 49-year-old economist fluent in several languages including Mandarin, had been Nazarbayev's chief of staff for two years before he was appointed prime minister in April last year.

Nazarbayev called the election more than a year before his term was due to end, averting the risk that another year of economic pain could develop into a more serious challenge to his leadership.

His re-election also takes the question of a possible successor - a key issue for investors - off the table for now.

Masimov, popular with foreign investors and who led Kazakhstan's economy through the global financial crisis in his previous stint as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, will now deal with a new slowdown.

Hit by low oil prices and a crisis in sanctions-hit key trade partner Russia, Kazakhstan's economic growth is forecast to slow to 1.5 percent this year from 4.3 percent in 2014.

The gross domestic product could even shrink if oil prices fall below $50 per barrel, Kazakh officials have said.

Last November Nazarbayev ordered the government to allocate $3 billion from the National Fund, which collects windfall oil export revenues, every year from 2015 to 2017 to bolster growth by developing infrastructure projects and creating new jobs.

This money, along with another $6 billion already provided by the fund for private businesses and loans from international lenders, means total investment in various Kazakh projects will reach $24 billion in three years, he said at the time.