This coming Sunday's election fascinates me. It's a sort of firsthand look at how democracy functions (or doesn't) in another part of the world. The particular aspects that are most compelling are whether the people here believe in the process. It's one thing for Americans to feel jaded about the democratic process with the influence of money that lobbyists and Super PACs bring, but it's something else entirely when this is just the second post-Soviet era presidential election. Not only does the country lack a tradition of democracy and regular elections, it also lacks free press and multiple political parties. Indeed, all eight of the official candidates are from the incumbent's party. One cannot help but believe that they are carefully chosen straw men to give the election the outward appearance of legitimacy.
I have been trying to chat up anyone I can about the subject, both local and expatriate employees. Inevitably, I end up talking with people who are disproportionately younger and more educated than the average Turkmen voter. Still, the sentiment amongst people I have spoken with is that the election is largely for show. It has multiple candidates, posters, and maybe even whistle-stop tours during this final week. However, it has not exactly inspired the electorate into a frenzy of patriotism and fervor for the democratic process.
One interesting aspect that is contrary to at least American elections is that if this is a fairly administered election, young people might vote at higher rates than older people. This is only plausible if the election is fully open. However, the polls might show near 100% turnout along with some zombies, erm, recently deceased also managing to cast ballots. It's possible, despite the people I have spoken with, that the youth might believe more in the process and want to affect change. Further, older people here do not have the same history of being able to vote like their American counterparts who turn out in droves. Of course, the youth might also be the most cynical about the process given their relative education and exposure to the rest of the world.
I will continue to chat people up about the election including afterwards once results are out. I am curious to know if people voted, who they voted for (if they are comfortable sharing that), what the polls were like, did they feel like their vote was able to be cast secretly, what did it take to register to vote, how efficiently run were the polls (though I already know the answer to this one based on how efficient everything else is), etc. If you're interested in the process, what else should I ply people for?
Jokingly, I have suggested that the expats start a pool on what percentage of the vote the President will capture in what we largely assume will be his inevitable reelection. Will it be a massive landslide (>90%) that demonstrates the unity of the country or will it be a more "modest" victory (60-70%) to give the election an air of legitimacy to outsiders? Anyone care to venture forth with a guess?