ALMATY Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev promoted his daughter Dariga and longtime confidant Imangali Tasmagambetov, two political heavyweights and strong succession candidates, in a fresh reshuffle on Tuesday.
Kazakhstan is the only nation among the 15 former Soviet republics that is still run by an ex-Communist boss and country-watchers are waiting for Nazarbayev, 76, to designate an heir - or a group who would split his sweeping powers between them.
The latest reshuffle in Astana follows the transition of power in neighbouring Uzbekistan where President Islam Karimov, also a Soviet-era leader, died this month aged 78 and Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev has emerged as a likely successor.
Dariga Nazarbayeva, 53, has served as deputy prime minister since last September, prompting speculation she could eventually take over from her father who has been in power since 1989.
While Nazarbayeva's new job as a deputy leaves her with fewer formal powers, it puts her closer to the emergency succession line spelled out in the constitution.
The Senate speaker, a position Nazarbayeva could now easily secure, becomes acting head of state if the president dies or is unfit to perform his duties. In his recent public and TV appearances, Nazarbayev has displayed no obvious signs of health problems.
Former defence minister Tasmagambetov, who replaced Nazarbayeva as deputy prime minister, is also viewed by many analysts as a strong contender for the successor role, having served at nearly every position of power in the oil-rich nation, including prime minister and president's chief of staff.
Displaying his loyalty to the veteran leader, Tasmagambetov has once described himself as "Nazarbayev's product" and named his only son Nursultan.
While he has kept a relatively low profile for the last few years, Tasmagambetov's son-in-law, Kenges Rakishev has at the same time emerged as a major player in the local business elite, becoming the main shareholder of Kazkommertsbank, the country's biggest lender by assets.
Nazarbayeva and Tasmagambetov's promotions follow last week's reshuffle in which Karim Masimov, another trusted ally of Nazarbayev, left his job as prime minister to run the KNB security service.
The new cabinet head, Bakytzhan Sagintaev, is also an experienced public servant, but with much lower political weight than his new deputy or Nazarbayev's daughter.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Vladimir Soldatkin and Alison Williams)