Monday, July 11, 2005

The election passes quietly

Yesterday was election day and all was quiet. Though Nigora says the real results will come in a week, “once the winner has been announced and those who didn’t win try to rally their people and contest the results.”

It seems unlikely to me that there will be a real contestation though. I still haven’t met anyone who voted for somebody other than Bakiev – including Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Russians.

I accompanied Nigora to the polls, held in the school near our home. Brightly colored flags were draped over the entrance to the peeling school. The voters at that time were mostly women, draped in long Uzbek dresses and headscarves, crowded together at the entrance. Several men relaxed on Uzbek tables out front, and small stands were set up to sell candy and fruit juice, and Shoro, the popular summer drink sold in glasses that tastes like sour sand.

Kyrgyz national opera music emerged from loudspeakers, giving the area a pleasant and festive atmosphere. Nigora cast her vote and emerged from the exit. “In any case, I don’t expect to see big changes,” Nigora said, as we walked down the hill toward the government administration building. She and Faruh had agreed to accompany me to a lake on the city outskirts.

“We’ll still live the same. The Kyrgyz have a strong clan system and they give their relatives the green light to do what they want and they bring them into office around them. Maybe for the first five years it will be OK, but within 10 to 15 years, it will be just like Akaev. Alaev also started out as a good person. We need to get a new person in after five years. A new person always tries hard, while people who have been in office too long just sit.”

She thinks that someone from outside the Kyrgyz clan system would be better, but she and Shavkat agree that an Uzbek could never be President. “If that happened, the Kyrgyz would say, this is Kyrgyzstan. We need a Kyrgyz President,” Shavkat said.

I asked her why she chose Bakiev from the six candidates.

“Among the candidates offered, I think he’s the best,” she said. “I’m sure there are many better than him, but they didn’t place themselves as candidates. When I read his goals in the newspaper, I liked what he had to say. And I like that he’s not on TV all the time, saying that we have to choose him. And when they told him he’d have to leave office to run for President, he said he left for one day and things were a mess. He thought it was more important to maintain stability than to run for President and I liked that.”

She told me that one of the candidates came across as very intelligent, but that he was associated with the events in Andijon and that he wants an Islamic state. “If he wins, it would be bad for stability,” she said. “He is smart, but he would make Kyrgyzstan a friend of Al Qaeda and it would be dangerous. Other than him, the other candidates are OK.”

From there, we walked across town, caught a minivan-bus and rode it to the edge of Osh, where we found a pool filled with fresh river water and a lake with paddleboats. So for me, the images I have of election day are of two small boys taking a break from selling candy, chasing each other with plastic water guns, of families carting watermelons and food to picnic grounds, of browned, half-naked bodies lining river, canal, pool and lake edges and of a woman holding onto a metal wire as she stood on the steep canal bank and held her aluminum bucket into the rushing turquoise water, passing in on to her son on the rebound, who brought it to the nearby field.

In the evening, the family ate an entire watermelon, which seems to be becoming a nightly ritual. We sat out on the porch, overlooking the exploding colors of flowers in the garden. At midnight, Nigora and Shavkat were still there. They had returned from buying tomatoes and green peppers from a neighbor. They sat near each other at the low table enjoying the cool evening air, the darkness, and each other’s company.

No comments: