Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Flash from the Past: Elections under Fire (12 Sept 2008)

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

All sides involved – the Kabul government, its Western allies, donors and the United Nations – pretend that almost everything’s in order at the Hindukush, apart from small hick-ups. The reality, however, looks different.

In the coming year, Afghans are supposed to elect a president for the second times since the fall of the Taleban regime in October 2001. An exact date is still lacking but the Independent Election Commission prepares for a poll in fall. A vote on a new parliament is to follow in 2010.

A lot is lacking to guarantee a regular election, first of all a reliable voter registry. For the presidential vote in 2004, 10.3 million voters were registered (8.1 million actually participated) but not linked to his or her particular constituency. This allows multiple voting – according to estimates one million Afghans voted at least twice then. That was supposed to change in 2009 but Washington cancelled funds initially promised to President Karzai because his government planned to connect the establishment of the registry with a census and the distribution of ID cards. The Americans rationale: Compulsory registration was unnecessary because there also is none in the United States. Now, only people turned 18 – the election age – and all those will get voter cards that have lost their old ones. This will lead to even more multiple voting.
When the first round of registration starts in October, this will be a test whether the population is interested in elections at all in the moment. A registration is possible only in the almost 400 district centres so that it is highly questionable whether rural Afghans in the insurgency-ridden South will come up with the courage to risk the trip which is long for some. In those areas, the Taleban control the periphery of nearly all district towns. Those who are caught by them travelling with documents that indicate contacts with the government runs the risk not to survive the Islamic warriors’ regime of controls.
Furthermore, disillusionment with the democratic process in general and with the governance quality of President Karzai who was elected in 2004 is rampant amongst a majority of Afghans. His penchant for an over-centralised presidential system à la US and the marginalization of the legislative drives the legal political opposition into frustration. Karzai himself is in an all-time low. According to a sample poll done by the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation in early August only 18 per cent of the Afghans want to see him in the highest position again. Their bad mood is not surprising since Karzai neither implemented the reforms nor did he curb the influence of the powerful warlords – both were his major election promises in 2004. In the contrary, those warlords become more self-sustaining by the day due to their income from the drugs, weapons and human trade. Corruption is rampant. A parasitic upper class creams off the billion dollar Western aid coming in and invests the money in pompous palasts which are dubbed Afghan narcotecture. Kabul’s exclusive residential area of Sherpur which had been cleaned against all law from poor peoples’ mud-brick houses by government bulldozers colloquially is called Churpur – Plunderville. Meanwhile, 43 per cent of the population live under the poverty line. Rising prices for staple food, cooking gas and cooking oil hit them additionally.
What Karzai has missed to do, helps the Taleban. Back in full strength since 2005, they can rely on Pakistani infrastructure and direct cooperation with the neighboring country’s intelligence service, the ISI. No doubt, they will take the 2009 election process under fire. One or two heavy attacks on election personnel or observers with some people killed will suffice to stop the vote. The voters would be intimidated, turn-out remain low and any result doubtful – the hope to get a government legitimised by a democratic act would become obsolete. As well the announced deployment of additional 2,400 US troops will change not much with the regard to this situation.
One option would be to call off the elections. But if Karzai continued to rule by a state of emergency and per decree, Afghanistan’s democratization definitely would be over. Obviously, a way out would be to convene a new Loya Jirga, the traditional Afghan instrument of crisis management. It could strike a compromise for an interim period. Karzai, however, rejects this strongly. He is afraid not without reason that this could cost him the power.
from Freitag (Berlin weekly), 12 Sept 2008


Elections Government Democratization Kabul Taleban