Fraud and uncertainty abound in Afghanistan’s latest election
September 4, 2009
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The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a country marred by a history of coups, violence, and an ever-changing slew of government systems, held its second democratic election on Aug. 20. However, presidential candidates registering their militias as private security companies, more votes than voters, and a media blackout imposed two days before election day have plagued the election’s legitimacy.
Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, both declared victory this week in the latest election that has also been characterized by armed coercion by the Taliban (a Sunni-Islamist political movement) and general apathy among the populace.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Abdullah offered a bleak assessment of the consequences of a failed election.
“If the democratic process does not survive, then Afghanistan doesn’t survive,” said Abdullah to The Wall Street Journal.
The negative descriptions of the Afghan elections circulating through the press this week indicate the bigger challenges the country faces. Ken Gilmore, associate professor of political science, said that the biggest impediment Afghanistan faces as it struggles to transition to democracy is its own history and culture.
“In Afghanistan, there’s no place for people to go to build civic democracy,” said Gilmore. “There’s no history of it, no knowledge of it, but on the other hand (the U.S.) cannot just walk away and leave a vacuum behind.”
These elections are also considered a call for the world to raise questions about the implications the Afghan elections might have on U.S. foreign policy.
“If Afghans don’t believe in these elections, then the international community will have failed here,” said a European diplomat based in Kabul, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Gilmore said that in order to improve Afghans’ perception of the election and establish a truly representative government, “one of the big questions we are going to have to ask going forward is whether there is a way to actually co-opt the Taliban and Al-Qaeda sympathizers into the government.”
Indeed, President Obama has done little to incorporate unwilling agents such as the Taliban into representative government.
The Obama administration also faces growing opposition to the so-called “war of necessity” in Afghanistan that Obama has pledged to continue.
The lack of support for the war in Afghanistan is, among other reasons, tied to the inability of the U.S. to present a challenge in legitimizing the democratization of Afghanistan.
The relative silence of Afghanistan in American media has, until now, largely remained unbroken. The absence of coverage on Afghanistan in recent years has had a pronounced effect on students’ knowledge of the country.
“Each semester I ask my IR students to point out Afghanistan or Iraq on a map of the Middle East. And each semester 50% of them can’t do it,” said Professor Gilmore.