“The State is for Man”
Editor’s note: Is Turkmenistan’s upcoming presidential election really just a totalitarian ploy for false legitimacy, or is it something much more… pitiful? neweurasia’s Annasoltan gives her thoughts.
Speaking as a Turkmen, this upcoming presidential election makes no sense. Really, it doesn’t. I’ve been trying to think: maybe Berdimuhammedov wants to project an image of “modernization” to both international and domestic audiences? The Registan’s Joshua Foust has written:
The only real question [is]: By what margin will tyrant Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov rig the vote? [...] Inexplicably, Berdimuhamedov seems determined to proceed with the trappings of a normal election no one will acknowledge as such. At this point, the only question is what percentage of the vote he will choose to accept. Other Central Asian dictators have not shied away from impossible margins, such as Nursultan Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan (95 percent) and Islom Karimov in Uzbekistan (88 percent). Will Berdimuhamedov meet or beat his 89 percent from 2007? Will he go higher, to lend the appearance of inevitability to his oppressive regime? Or will he go lower, to try to create the false sense of political dynamism?
Foust’s a sharp thinker, and earlier in January, I also had the same logic as him, but now I’m not so certain. That’s because — and it’s hard to describe why — there’s something crazy about this election.
My countrymen may have almost no understanding of democracy, but they aren’t fooled, and a lot of them are thinking that this is just a waste of time. And yeah, one could think in really scary totalitarian terms. It could be as Foust says, that this is all just a way of squashing people’s sense of autonomy with “inevitability”, but that’s not what’s happening. Some people are already squashed, so why squash them any more? Everyone else is trying to squirm their way to some kind of freedom, as I’m seeing more and more of everyday on the Turkmenet, but also in their private lives, their jobs, their thoughts.
Or, maybe it’s mafia-style bullying somehow. Back when the elections were announced in the summer and Berdimuhammedov invited exiles back home, neweurasia‘s Schwartz felt it was a thinly-veiled ploy to capture and kill opponents of the regime. It’s true that over the subsequent autumn and winter, the Turkmenet has seen a lot of weird hacking incidents, but this has been directed mostly at the general population of Internet users. In terms of arrests, these have been focused on ex-candidates from the 2007 sham election.
What’s really going on? As I reported earlier this week, there are seven candidates running besides the president himself, all of whom support Berdimuhammedov’s policies, and anyway, he’s the only one whose campaign advertisements and speeches are appearing in the media and on the streets. And actually, it seems that at first he did not know how to even stage this sham, initially allowing all and sundry to register as candidates, then suddenly stopping that, only two months before the election, as though he couldn’t make up his mind or was negatively surprised by some people’s enthusiasm. I don’t mean to be rude, but it gives me the feeling of a little boy who’s made up his own game and is ambivalent about letting other people play, because a game without other players is not a game, but a game with players means giving up control.
My God, I’m afraid that there’s no real logic behind this election, sinister or otherwise. I’m afraid that it’s just an exercise in megalomaniac ego re-confirmation. Berdimuhammedov is running on a really creepy campaign slogan: “Dowlet adam ucindir” = “The State is for Man”. It officially means the state is at the service of the people, but in reality it means the opposite: all the people serve one man. Really, that’s how absurd this may all really be, that my people have been reduced to being funhouse mirrors for their “Arkadag” (“Protector”). If I’m right, it’s so, so pitiful.