A reflection on the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.
The initial reports about the recent parliamentary elections in Afghanistan were heartening. It showed that despite tremendous challenges, improvements had been made since last year’s presidential elections. The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) observed in their report that campaigning was much more lively this year than 2205, the first parliamentary elections:
Nearly 2,500 individuals put themselves forward as contenders. Women and youth candidates ran in greater numbers than in 2005, and many campaigns reflected increased understanding of the value of reaching out to voters, campaigning on issues, and appealing to interest groups. The media was more adversarial this time around, and covered the campaigns and concurrent electoral processes with increased professionalism.
FEFA, however, highlights that security and intimidation remained a hurdle. Candidates and campaign workers were repeatedly threatened and even kidnapped and killed. And the security forces failed to create a effective mechanism for their protection.
With that said, President Karzai brought certain reforms into the commission, mainly appointing a new Chief Commissioner. As a result, the commission was more transparent, and honest about the challenges.
More recently however, questions have been raised about the irregularities in the elections. While the extent of the fraud is yet to be determined, we know that it happened. FEFA, in its preliminary report, declares that:
Violence by candidates, their agents and local powerbrokers was reported in several areas and so were a worrying number of instances of government official interfering in the voting process to sway the results in favor of their chosen candidates.
The next stage, of how the fraud is dealt with, is incredibly critical.
For a second time in a year, ordinary afghans have braved the threats to cast their votes. They have played their part in this flirt with democracy, but if serious action is not taken to ensure them that their voices matter, they will lose hope. The future of the democratic system in Afghanistan will be in peril. After all, what is a democracy without a belief in the power of the vote?
It is crucial that this time around the Afghan leadership really crack down on those who were involved in the fraud. For the sake of saving any hopes of democracy, the government and the leaders need to forget about their pride. They need to man up and accept that there were enormous shortcomings. Rather than questioning its extent and blaming others, they need to take action: punish those who committed systematic fraud, ban them from participating in politics, and perhaps even redo the voting process in certain districts with tighter security and anti-corruption measures. The people need to know that democracy is not corrupt and rotten, but individuals are. If this message is not clearly given to the Afghan people, any hopes of a democracy in the future will be childish.
Following the example of India would be a good start for us. The reason why democracy is deeply institutionalized in a place like India is because its leaders, immediately after independence, worked hard for institutionalizing it. The poor, the minorities realized that there was power in their vote: that, in fact, they could change the country’s direction with their vote. It is a well known fact today that more poor, vulnerable villagers in India go to the polls than those who have decent lives in the cities. This is because the system was institutionalized at any early stage, and the leaders stuck with it. When someone as powerful as Indra Gandhi committed the minor crime of using a government servant in her campaign, the Supreme Court came down hard on her, removing her from her seat in the parliament and banning her from running again for six years. The Supreme Court assured its people that their vote was above everything and that every effort would be made to honor and protect that vote.
If our country has any dreams of having a democracy like India, we have tremendous work to do right now. Because if our people are not assured of the power of their vote, and if they do not see corrective steps in bettering this process, they will lose hope in democracy completely.