Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

Kabul – Tunis

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

The support for elections and the democratic movement in Tunisia promised by the EU and EU member governments seems to concentrate more on process than on content of elections. This sounds familiar from an Afghan angle. AAN’s Senior Analyst Thomas Ruttig was hoping that governments had learned from Afghanistan’s elections disasters – but hears the same old rhetoric and is afraid that lessons, again, have not been learned.

That wave of solidarity is overwhelming. European governments who had relied over decades on a secular but nevertheless anti-democratic dictator to fight (Islamist) terrorism and prevent refugees from crossing the Mediterranean but ignored his persecution of all dissent, now ‘reaffirm’ their solidarity with Tunisia and its people’ and speak in favour of a ‘truly inclusive electoral process’. The EU, in a joint statement of its High Representative – vulgo Foreign Minister – Catherine Ashton and its Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy offer ‘immediate assistance to prepare and organise the electoral process’ and wave the promise of ‘a broader package to assist with democratic reforms and economic development as soon as the political situation stabilises’ in front of self-liberating Tunisians (read the full statement here). ‘Elections are the heart of democracy’ lectures one German MP from the Foreign Affairs committee on my local radio station.

Frankly speaking: If I were a Tunisian, and had watched Afghanistan’s political process after 2001, I would be extremely doubtful about this kind of well-meaning but shallow utterances. Apart from the fact that Europeans had kept their eyes fixated at the Tunisian corniche’s nice façades and beaches and widely shut vis-à-vis the growing poverty in the large hinterland, this ‘elections are the heart’ drivel should sound familiar in their ears and deceive no one.

What I have not heard yet is a demand – from European politicians – for the current Tunisian constitution to be amended in the first place and electoral reform to take place before elections. After all, the current laws provided the basis for Ben Ali’s 23-year long dictatorship during which any kind of dissent was suppressed and the opposition systematically either corrupted or persecuted. Why did Brussels not explicitly support the Tunisian opposition’s demand to hold elections only in six but not two month’s time, as initially declared by the post-Ben Ali interim government. And the EU’s call for a ‘new unity Government’ – while many Tunisians demand that the old regime party be kicked out of power – sounds like the mantras of a ‘broad-based government’ in Afghanistan which only contributed to the ethnicisation of the political landscape and the broad-based representation of warlords. (At least, this danger does not exist in Tunisia.)

It is business as usual: The focus is on quick elections instead of sustainable institution-building first which is much more likely to succeed in well-educated and, as it now appears, heavily politicised Tunisia than in Afghanistan. Why not insist to have truly meaningful elections, i.e. only when the institutions are ready for them, including a fair electoral law and a halfway level playing field for the opposition? That means mainly: Give the hitherto excluded opposition time to prepare itself properly and don’t push them – otherwise the EU would only help the old regime’s remnants to start with an unfair advantage.

Exactly that concentration on ‘process’ instead of content and proper electoral reform led to the disaster of Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election and to the seemingly never-ending 2010 election saga that almost seemed to be over but – after today’s presidential decision to postpone the inauguration of the (admittedly questionable) new parliament for another, fifth month – isn’t. (A blog on this issue is to follow very soon). Such an superficial attitude led Europe, the US and the UN to unduly praise those elections nevertheless, basically congratulating themselves for another success on their way out of Afghanistan and their political responsibilty for the mess they contributed to creating there and talking down any problems. Remember the code word? ‘This is not Switzerland’.

Meanwhile, New York, Brussels and the European capitals managed to ignore for years the reports submitted by their own missions that had observed the 2004, 2005 and finally the 2009 elections in Afghanistan. (We and many others have been writing about this extensively and for years.) With this, they have to share the responsibility for the 2009 and 2010 elections disasters – but, of course, they never admitted it on the political level.

Sometimes desperate about the discouraging developments in Afghanistan – scarcely disguised by the ‘optimistic’ spin from Washington and other capitals –, we were hoping that at least lessons will be learned from this which could help avoiding the same mistakes in countries like Tunisia. Lady Ashton’s and that MP’s statements, however, let the fear arise that we cannot take that for granted.


Democratization Kabul