Young democracies need strong government heads

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June 13, 2015

Young democracies need strong government heads


Young democracies need strong government heads


Views and opinions are generally biased, more so when it concerns political opponents or systems that are different from the ones, one is used to.

Travelling to a new country, one tends to gather as much basic information about the people and traditions as also the rules and laws as possible through any means at disposal. In this world of internet, people choose to look up informative sites acting more like an encyclopedia, disseminating information which could, and often does, have political overtones.

A country could be projected as unsafe for travellers because of high incidence of crime, but such a report can upset travellers and deter them from changing their plans of travel.

There are official sites of some countries which on the basis of information of their intelligence reports categorize other nations as safe or unsafe; they are generally guided by their relations with the other country.

A recent experiment with such sites has proved fears that they are not objective and more often than not they tend to exaggerate incidents to make them look rather grave. While official advisories clearly suggest staying away from crises zones or nations affected by economic crisis or civil wars, people tend to take the encyclopedia information as more authentic which could only sully the image of a nation.

End March last, over 300 journalists were invited to Uzbekistan for witnessing the presidential election. Much before the scheduled date of departure, one from India who was travelling to this part of the world for the first time decided to have more information about the country from ‘independent sources on the internet.’

The first few paragraphs on the country drew a dismal picture of the people and society. Warnings of crime were in abundance. Travellers were advised to be careful when drinking water, which it was reported, contained heavy metals and was not fit for health. There were instructions not to carry the camera on a sling, not to have large sums of money on the person and to stay away from strangers who acted friendly.

Such warnings do create apprehensions in mind, but they are usually short-lived. Realities could be much different than the gloomy picture presented to the world.

The US Department of State states in its report on Uzbekistan : “Traffic safety is a major concern. Roads are poorly maintained with large pot holes everywhere, traffic lights frequently malfunction, street names are not marked, and local drivers exhibit a general lack of respect for traffic rules and regulations.

Secondary roads are rarely lit, and driving at night is not recommended. Local drivers disregard lane markings, make sudden lane changes without signalling, will pull over without warning to pick up passengers, and will often make turns from any lane. It is common for local drivers to drive at night without lights, especially outside of Tashkent. Drunk drivers are also a concern. U. S. Embassy Tashkent recommends drivers to stay alert and drive defensively.” The entire report on traffic seems unfounded. The first impression of traffic for one who has been there for the first time has to be appreciative of the traffic. From Tashkent airport to a hotel in city, it looked well-oiled traffic machinery. There were no jams, all traffic signals were functioning and the vehicular traffic moved as smoothly as in a European city. In fact the traffic movement was impressive though one could barely see cops controlling the streets. Modern buildings marked the road on both sides with row of trees. There were no blaring horns as one would expect in an Asian country. The entire traffic system, along with the roads was laid out scientifically with modern planning.

As far as drunken driving and driving without lights after dark is concerned, this information too proved wrong, at least within the city limits of Tashkent. One could not find a single pothole on the streets as reported by the US agency.

All international observers had the choice of being driven to a restaurant of their liking. The first evening, this journalist was taken by the guide and interpreter to a restaurant which seemed to be a favourite of the local residents. The restaurant was full of young men. A lady at the reception escorted guests to tables of their choice. The food served was primarily Uzbek preparations. Liquor was also being served. The hall was full with barely any table unoccupied. This showed that people have enough to spend for an evening meal and one cannot generalize making a statement that there is rampant poverty.

During the meals, the restaurant also had female Uzbek dancers performing on the floor. Having been overfed with Western disinformation, there were apprehensions that the scene could turn ugly with drunk young men misbehaving with the female dancers. However, nothing of the sort happened. Guests at the restaurant enjoyed the dance peacefully, no cat calls, no whistling. The entire show was very orderly. There was no indecency either from the dancers or the audience. After the meal, out on the street there appeared none who could be termed as anti-social or criminal element. The traffic on the roads was still as orderly as during the day.

The US State Department’s findings that ‘minor and moderate traffic accidents are frequent and are often resolved on the street by an exchange of cash by the offending party,’ turned out to be a cooked up version.

The charge that the “government blocks access to websites of opposition parties based outside of the country, independent media, and others critical of official government policy” appeared flimsy as this journalist accessed a website based in India in one the press centers in Tashkent. A BBC news ‘profile overview’ of 31 March 2015 says, “The country is one of the world’s biggest producers of cotton and is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas and gold. However, economic reform has been slow and poverty and unemployment are widespread.” The observation seems to be outdated or based on facts that are a decade old. Undoubtedly, there is poverty, but the same exists in any of the developed countries too. The United States cannot boast of the best law and order situation where people are mugged in a city like New York. It is out of wide economic differences that crime exists in developed nations too.

Most of the observations of the western agencies are based on outdated facts. If that was not so, why then did the European Union lift its embargo and the World Bank reverse its decision to suspend loans to Uzbekistan. Their warming up to the government of President Islam Karimov who has been in the key position ever since independence, proves the fact that the economic scenario has been improving over the years in Uzbekistan.

President Islam Karimov’s administration is blamed for “tightly controlling the media” and a “highly authoritarian political system.” Those criticising the Head of the State must understand the needs and necessities of a budding democracy. A loosely controlled new democracy can slip into chaos which will be much worse than a strict control. This phenomenon has been witnessed in several countries which broke free of conservative regimes and were unable to control the euphoria of freedom hurling them into deep chaos.

When the Western agencies claim that there is not effective opposition in Uzbekistan’s politics, they have to understand that it is normal in many democratic nations that a single leader, at times, holds all powers of decision-making and the ministerial Cabinet is merely a dispensation to feign approvals.

If President Islam Karimov is voted back to power, tenure after tenure, then one cannot call him authoritarian in the real sense of the word. Holding the office of the President, he has to be a strong person who can lead the nation to prosperity. Often such leaders round the globe have been labelled ‘authoritarian.’

When the Western agencies claim that the “human rights record (of Karimov government) are widely decried,” they must also not overlook that it is under his leadership that capital punishment was abolished. He is criticised for harsh acts against separatist and terrorist groups which is justified for any Head of State to provide protection to his people.

On the contrary, it appears that many in the West are upset by the growth of Uzbekistan under a strong President. Perhaps he disagreed to be a tool in their hands and has stuck to his own decisions when it came to national interests.

There is no denial of the fact that there can be regions in the country which may not have developed as fast as some others, but it takes time for a democracy to grow. However, one has to be watchful that the freedom coming out of democracy does not push the country into chaos.

Amit Mittal

(This editorial comes after THE BLUE MOON Editor visited Uzbekistan as one of the over 300 observers from different countries invited to witness the presidential election. It should not be seen as a promo write-up, but a first-hand narrative of his visit to this Central Asian nation.)