04 September 2009

Credible, no, but what is the yardstick for assessing the Afghan presidential election?

KABUL, Afghanistan—The flood of reports of ballot-stuffing, fraud, intimidation and other irregularities during last month’s presidential election, as well as the time it will take for even a superficial investigation of the allegations, means that is unlikely that the victor will have any credibility in Afghanistan or abroad.

Charges of fraud have been filed against both Pres. Hamid Karzai and his chief challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, though the most widespread and egregious of them are lodged against the incumbent, who appears to be willing to do anything to stay in power.

With about 60% of the votes counted and though Karzai still does not have a majority, the consensus in Kabul seems to be that he will pull head, capture a majority, and prevent a second-round, run-off. It appears equally certain that Abdullah, who is trailing by 15 percentage points, will challenge the outcome, possibly with street demonstrations, which could quickly become volatile because the Taliban is determined to exploit the insecurity and has proven it can strike anywhere, even outside its strongholds.

Most of the students in the two sections of Introduction to Politics I am teaching this semester say they don’t want a second-round vote, which they believe would only prolong the agony because Karzai will ultimately win. They claim a run-off vote would also waste precious resources and take the focus off the more pressing tasks of achieving security and rebuilding the nation. One student, however, advocated a second round because it would provide another opportunity for the government and the electorate to improve the machinery and practice of the electoral process.

Some of our early classroom discussion about the election also revolved around how to measure its success: relative to the last 30 years of chaos, which included an authoritarian theocracy or relative to western democracies like the United States, which has been tinkering with its electoral process for more than 200 years and still produces some major failures like the Florida vote in the 2000 presidential election? What is a fair yardstick for Afghanistan?

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