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Bogus Twitter Account Makes Mockery Of Uzbek Presidential Campaign


Working together to build a "new Uzbekistan"
Working together to build a "new Uzbekistan"

When it comes to campaign promises ahead of next month's presidential election in authoritarian Uzbekistan, one outsider's Twitter account takes the cake.

There are enticements like a teahouse on every street or free plov on Mondays and Fridays. One tweet promises no work during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Another (above) appears to show the candidate hanging out with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump -- it's photoshopped -- and pledging the two would work together to build a “new Uzbekistan.”

The account doesn't actually belong to the candidate, Khatamjan Ketmanov, although it bears no obvious disclaimers.

Rather, it's a mock account run by a user who calls himself Fake Ketmanov, one of a growing number of Uzbeks who get their digital kicks impersonating domestic officials in order to evade state-dominated media and highlight the political and economic woes of this nation of 29 million.

But Fake Kemanov is outdistancing the real thing among Twitter followers by a ratio of around 20-to-1.

It's rich stuff for a population that's more used to the privations of Soviet life followed by two and a half decades under a single post-Soviet dictator until the announcement of President Islam Karimov's death in early September.

The jockeying has begun ahead of the December 4 election, which will be monitored by an observer mission from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.* Longtime prime minister and current acting President Shavkat Mirziyaev is by all accounts a near lock to succeed Karimov.

The real Ketmanov is arguably less interesting. He is a 47-year-old former Russian-language teacher who worked as a middling official in the Andijon region and joined Uzbekistan’s parliament in 2014. He is also widely regarded as a faux candidate in the race merely to create the illusion of a competitive election. (The last time he ran, in the carefully orchestrated 2015 election, he won less than 3 percent of the vote to Karimov's 90 percent.)

As of late November 15, the Fake Ketmanov Twitter account had 1,000 followers and had posted more than 4,700 tweets, while the actual Ketmanov Twitter page had a mere 50 followers and 88 tweets.

Fake Ketmanov peddles fanciful ideas -- like making Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who took Ukrainian citizenship to become governor of Odesa before he quit unexpectedly earlier this month the new mayor of the Uzbek capital, Tashkent -- to lots of likes. His faked image of Ketmanov hugging unsuccessful U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been amply retweeted.

Fake Ketmanov also likes to talk about drinking vodka and cognac and sometimes delves into stereotypes that are prevalent in Uzbek society, including biases against neighboring Tajiks -- riffing on the familiar but unsubstantiated refrain that Karimov had ethnic Tajik roots and adding that likely successor Mirziyaev is also of Tajik descent.

Aside from the humorous tweets and off-color jokes on the phony page, there are occasional pledges to crack down on corruption in graft-plagued Uzbekistan a la Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew's efforts in the 1980s.

But most are pie-in-the-sky notions to most Uzbeks, like the one in which Fake Ketmanov promises to give every citizen a fixed portion of all the gold and natural gas that the resource-rich country exports.

There was no word on whether the real Ketmanov had contacted Twitter, which does not normally require use of real names or other specific details but does offer an authentication service.

However, an official with the candidate's campaign staff said it is aware of the bogus account and has reported it to Uzbek government officials.

So there's no telling how long Fake Ketmanov's campaign will last.

In the meantime, it might present a greater challenge to Karimov's presumed successor than any of the "real" candidates.

*This article has been corrected to say that an election monitoring mission from the OSCE will be observing the vote.

Written by Pete Baumgartner with reporting by the RFE/RL Uzbek Service's Alisher Siddique and Zamira Eshanova
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