This is a government desperate to legitimise its rule and to demonstrate popular support for its plans for greater powers. But the regime has never been popular in the capital, which twice voted against proposals for regional semi-autonomy.
The regime’s core support consists of tribal people in the rural north and west of the country. Large numbers of these supporters have been brought to live in the capital over the last 20 years to take up one of the many public sector and state-sponsored jobs which are now effectively reserved for speakers of the ancient tribal language, spoken by no more than 20% of the population.
Whether this population shift is enough to persuade the capital’s residents to support the regime in its latest campaign remains to be seen. People are all too aware of deteriorating key public services and a poorly performing economy.
The government has been prepared to take extreme measures to retain support in its heartlands. They were determined to slaughter one of the region’s few remaining large mammals because of pressure from rural interests who believed this would prevent disease reaching their cattle, although this approach had no respectable scientific support outside the government’s appointees. Fortunately for the wildlife, on that occasion the independent judiciary was able to halt the cull for the time being.
Unsurprisingly, all the political parties represented in the regional assembly would like more power and, the popular suspicion goes, more money. There is no open corruption here, but leaders of the regime’s support campaign seem to be associated with organisations that have received significant sums of public money.
The regime’s supporters have been making false, but superficially plausible claims which are hard to challenge because of the lack of independently verifiable information. For example, there is a claim that delays in passing a law requiring sprinklers to be fitted in new homes may have led to the deaths of 63 people in house fires. It is very unlikely that many, or any, of these deaths occurred in fires in new homes built during the claimed delay, or to know what caused the delay in the first place, although an official report claimed that it was the regime’s own incompetence.
The overall mood here is one of sullen disinterest and a feeling that whatever the result, the politician’s will do what they want sooner or later. There will be no violent demonstrations, but it is likely that the March 3 plebiscite may attract a low voter turn-out.