Tag Archives: Elections

Lose the Pride, Save the System

A reflection on the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.

The future of the vote needs to be protected. (Image:FEFA)

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.


Election Coverage: Why the Negativity, NYT?

At the least, the interest in the democratic process is still well and alive

The elections deserve a much longer piece and I will get to that as soon as I get a chance. First impressions: it was not as bad as it could have/would have been. The turn out seemed decent, the number of security incidents not considerable (within the context). As for irregularities, yes as expected. The extent? initial reports do not indicate large scale, systematic fraud.

As Jed Ober, the chief of staff in Afghanistan of Democracy International, whose observers kept a watch in 15 provinces, told Al-Jazeera

“We have not witnessed any type of systematic irregularities,” he said. “We have seen a pretty predictable process so far with nothing that we think affects the process. We are pretty optimistic about the process.”

But we can only be certain once the counting unfolds and the observers reports come in.

The issue that I briefly want to raise here is the difference in the coverage of the elections in the international media, particularly the US and Europe Media. Giants such as the New York Times approached the elections with a very grim look. Their feature stories, of the election eve as well as election day, were written by Elisabeth Bumiller with Rod Nordland or Alissa Rubin. Both stories began as “Marja, Afghanistan.” It makes one question why the New York times chose to see a nationwide election through such narrow, troubled window? All the articles focused on was the small turnout, the fear of rockets, and the gloominess of the overall picture. The Times’s At-War blog too, ran only entries by Ms. Bumiler from Marja. One can only speculate the reasons for such a narrow-scope of coverage.

While there is no doubt that the elections faced some of those challenges to an extent, but to boil it down to just that is unfair to the 150,000 international and 300,000 Afghan forces who worked tirelessly to ensure the security of the vote in the face of tremendous threats. It is also not fair to the 4 million who turned up to vote despite having the bitter taste of last year still in their mouth.

European outlets were a little milder in their approach, leaving some window of optimism. The BBC, for example, raised as many concerns as the New York Times. But it was open to the possibility of a decent turn out, and an election with a relatively low degree of fraud. The Guardian too, was harsh. And so it should be. But Jon Boone was kind enough to mention the possibility of success in one his headlines.

Just for kicks. Not really sure what the source is. a friend shared it.


A Testing Election for Afghanistan

Afghanistan prepares for parliamentary elections (image from Zimbio)

Tomorrow, Afghanistan holds its second election in consecutive years. When polls open, not only will the capabilities of the security forces be tested, but also the people’s belief and trust in elections and the democratic process.

Last year’s presidential elections ended in chaos and controversy. The turn out was low because of intimidation by the Taliban. In certain provinces, the Taliban threatened to chop the fingers that had been dipped in ink. And they did.

They ignored threats and took tremendous risks to line up and vote, believing that their vote mattered in shaping their future. Did it? Most will say not really. The vote ended in shambles. And not many people, whether those who voted for Abdullah or Karzai, were satisfied with the final result. The biggest loser of all was the elections and the trust in the democratic process

For tomorrow’s parliamentary vote, the Afghan government has repeatedly assured the people that extensive security measures have been taken. 300,000 Afghan forces assisted by 150,000 international forces. The new election chief, too, has been much more honest in his dealings. He has repeatedly asserted that no polling stations will opened in unsafe places. To that end, he has closed down about 1000 polling stations.

Tomorrow’s elections, in the face of tremendous challenges, will most importantly test the international community’s patience for Afghanistan. After last year’s messy vote, the international community has increasingly lost faith in the democratic process taking root there. If tomorrow’s vote is as messy as last year’s — or messier– one can only see the international community growing hopeless.