A theme song for Turkmenistan’s presidential election on February 12 could be Aretha Franklin’s classic “Who’s Zoomin’ Who.” On the surface, the election offers citizens a choice of eight candidates, including the incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. But experts say Berdymukhamedov is merely using the electoral process as a smokescreen to gauge the level of discontent with his authoritarian regime.
Berdymukhamedov presides over what various watchdog groups characterize as one of the most repressive states on earth. Since coming to power in late 2006, he has kept a tight lid on Turkmen society. And in a manner befitting a world-class despot, he has adopted an honorific title – Arkadag, a Turkmen term for “protector.”
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Justin Burke is the managing editor of Eurasianet.org. David Trilling contributed to the reporting of this story.