Afghanistan Election Runoff - For Whom?
The runoff vote for Afghan Presidential elections has been scheduled for November 7. What is expected to emerge out of this internationally sponsored democratic exercise? Is the runoff an attempt to provide the Afghan people with a truly representative government or does the international community merely want to assert its partnership with the de jure and de facto Government of Afghanistan?
According to a New York Times report, the Afghan people are not excited about the runoff. The fact that the campaign teams of Karzai and Abdullah lost no time in claiming victory soon after the polling in August, demonstrates the leadership’s concern with the result rather than the process of the voting. The Afghan people have realized that the leadership’s desire for power is over-powering and consequently have lost interest in the affairs of the state.
Many Afghans consider free and fair elections to yield a fractured verdict, reflecting the ethnic divisions of the Afghan society. Zainab Hussein Zada, 21, a pharmacy student from Parwan Province, in central Afghanistan, said that she was disappointed by the messy result, but that it reflected the level of the country’s democratic skills. Afghanistan, in other words, is not Switzerland, and it is unrealistic to expect it to behave in an election as if it were. According to Mr. Haideri, a theater manager, “The Afghan people are not mentally united. An Uzbek will never vote for a Tajik. A Tajik will never vote for a Pashtun.” Any leader is therefore, unlikely to win a clear majority in Afghanistan.
It’s strange that Hamid Karzai, who was critical of the panel examining charges of fraud, has agreed to the runoff without much resistance.
According to a statement issued by Karzai’s campaign office on September 16, “Today’s announcement of the number of suspected votes, by the head and deputy head of the EU Election Monitoring Commission, is partial, irresponsible and in contradiction with Afghanistan’s constitution.” Though Karzai agreed to instances of irregularities in the election, he was convinced that “the election was good and fair and worthy of praise not of scorn which the election received from the international media, which makes me unhappy, which makes me angry.” What made Hamid Karzai’s anger and disagreement turn into enthusiastic acceptance? Karzai’s speech in acceptance of the runoff is in complete contrast to his above quoted statements, “Unfortunately, the election of Afghanistan was defamed…any result that we were getting out of it was not able to bring legitimacy.”
The presence of Kai Eide of U.N. and Senator John Kerry during Karzai’s speech accepting the runoff is self-explanatory.
Fixing the problems which led to instances of election fraud, intimidation and violence during the elections require much more time than the proposed date of November 7 allows. How will the international community ensure that the runoff is free and fair?
The runoff is likely to return Hamid Karzai to power with a key portfolio for Abdullah Abdullah. Such a result would satisfy all major stakeholders of the Presidential elections. Hamid Karzai’s assertion that the charges of election fraud were exaggerated and that he is still the most popular leader would be validated. Abdullah Abdullah’s involvement would serve as an inside check on Karzai’s government and please the Tajik population. The international community will able to bask in the glory of ensuring a truly representative government in Afghanistan. The only (and according to me the most vital) stakeholder to loose in the entire process will be the Afghan people. The majority of Afghans may be ‘illiterate’ in the Western sense but cannot be fooled into buying a manufactured power-sharing deal as a manifestation of popular will.
Muhammad Ghazi, a 21-year-old baker, summed up the dominant sentiment among the common Afghans, “Even if every Afghan casts their vote for Abdullah, he won’t be president because the foreigners don’t want him to be. Nobody respected the people’s vote.” Secretary Clinton’s crystal-ball gazing before the verdict calling for a runoff was declared only reinforces the skepticism of the Afghan people. On October 16 Secretary Clinton told the CNN that ““It is likely that they will find that President Karzai got very close to the 50-plus-1″ in August’s balloting….I think one can conclude that the likelihood of him winning a second round is probably pretty high.”
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