My, elections are exciting, aren’t they? I’ve been resisting commenting on them for fear of jeopardising my humanitarian impartiality* but can no longer resist the allure of politics and power (and the guy above telling me to vote). So, with only a few weeks to go, here’s a rough round-up of what’s been going on.
Things kicked off in earnest with Karzai winning the election, then some argy-bargy about who was allowed to run for the Provincial and Presidential elections, various complaints about certain candidates, the role of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), who was going to get to be the bestest friend of the USA, some small concerns about the actual date of the elections and something to do with the Constitution, and a few even smaller concerns about the possibility of ever holding free and fair elections given that the Government has no control in several districts of the country (nearly all of which happen to be Pashtu, thus just possibly leading to a slight sense of disenfranchisement, or of just being a bit pissed off, from a fair proportion of the country’s electorate). I may have the order of these events a bit mixed up – it’s all been going on for a while now and I’m forgetting the finer points.
Who that electorate is is another question. In some places it seemed that there were more women on the electoral register then men. Given the general situation of gender equality and women’s suffrage, that surprised some (those hard-nosed cynical nay-sayers, mostly. They’re never satisfied). Actually I was slightly surprised anybody was able to register at all after reading about Hamesha’s attempt to do so in Kabul.
As many as three million duplicate registration cards may exist according to one unnamed election observer in a newspaper article, out of a total 17 million registered voters. With what’s been going on so far, there’s a chance – an outside chance that you wouldn’t want to bet on maybe, but still a chance – that nobody will accept the results whatever they are, and that whoever does win will have less legitimacy than Karzai after the last elections.
Afghan man, Haji Rozuddin shows fraudulent voter registration cards in Logar province July 1, 2009. Buried outside his house near the Afghan capital, Haji Rozuddin keeps hundreds of fraudulent voter registration cards to sell to anyone wanting to vote in next month’s presidential election. Picture taken July 1, 2009. REUTERS/Hamid Shalizi
The British ambassador has said “We have to recognise that these elections are going to be pretty rough and ready in places. They will not be up to the standards of a western democracy. The test of success is whether they are credible, secure and inclusive enough that they are seen as credible by the people.” Which to me sounds like “The elections will be successful as long as no one makes a fuss and we can paper over all the problems and pretend everything’s fine and dandy.”
There was much excitement about the sudden flowering of campaign posters all over Kabul, with pictures of the main candidates plastered over every wall and bus, some even tattooing their images onto the backs of goats. Not just in Kabul neither; posters have been sighted running in the wilds and up the highest mountains populated only by a single shepherd. Every vote counts.
Most prominent among these pictures have been the handsome faces of Karzai, of course, and his main rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. What’s not to like about a man whose first name is the same as his second? Especially when it caused such confusion for the BBC and their standard line that ‘many Afghans only have one name.’ There are 38 other names on the ballot paper, minus the people who have already given up (perhaps a bit late since the papers have already been printed, possibly confusing a few people, but at least they tried huh?).
Karzai’s failure to appear on the much-heralded first televised debate between the main candidates didn’t look too good (the reason given in one report for his last minute withdrawal was that he hadn’t had time to prepare his policies) but probably hasn’t dampened his chances unduly. At least no more so then appearing and getting a mauling, as he would have done.
If he doesn’t get 51% of the vote then it goes to a second round with another vote a month and bit later. If this happens it could really spice things up.
One of Abdullah’s chaps has already said if Karzai wins, it won’t be fair, so Kalashnikovs at the ready. Which is obviously a great start, especially as Karzai is still the most likely to win. Whatever you may think of him, he’s a canny politician for sure, and seemed to have things wrapped up even before they began simply by getting the ‘right’ people (read the most powerful, unsavoury, possible-war-criminal type people) on his team, dividing and ruling the opposition.
Admittedly, Abdullah has got some reason to complain. At first it was allegations that Karzai’s supporters were tearing down his posters. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of RPGs have been fired at a political rally held in his favour, and one of his key supporters has been assassinated.
At least four Provincial Council Members have been killed and several more wounded or abducted up to June, according to the ANSO 2nd Quarter report.
With all this going on, a few NGOs are beginning to wonder what to do. Going on holiday in late August appears to be the favoured tactic at the moment (though I’ll be sticking around to give you a blow by blow account of the protests that will follow. And to use the 50 voter registration cards I bought in the bazaar yesterday. Think I’m going to vote for this guy as he’s also a competitor in the Tour de Kaboul).
Taliban are boycotting the elections, and suggesting to others, in the nicest possible way, that it would be best if they didn’t vote. Which, if you squint a bit, could be seen as a good thing as it does mean they are at least taking them seriously (nothing worse than an insurgent group just shrugging its shoulders with a Gallic ‘buff’ and generally being a bit patronising about the legitimacy and importance of your elections, especially when you’ve gone to all that trouble…).
There are 7,000 polling stations (with 600 odd unlikely to open due to security). Getting the ballot papers there and back is what’s known in the trade as a logistical nightmare. One convoy carrying equipment has already been attacked. 3,000 donkeys are going to be employed to transport papers to the more remote corners of the country, stuff ballot boxes and make tea for the handful of election observers.
Some of those polling stations have been set up in schools and hospitals. This has worried many, who don’t want to see a rocket through their nice new project just ‘cause it’s tainted with election fever.
I could go on and on, and more good news comes pouring in every day, but best leave it there for now as I’m out of breath.
UN special envoy Kai Eide has gone so far as to borrow my favourite response when anybody back home asks me about Afghanistan, describing the elections as ‘complicated.’ ‘Nough said.
* The staff at our NGO have been required to sign a statement, agreeing to resign if they happen to be running for President (none of them are, but you can never be too sure) and generally trying to draw a line between whatever they think and do in their own free time, and what they get up to as official employers of the organisation. The whole ‘Non-Governmental’ thing tends to preclude electioneering during the lunch break, and perceptions of neutrality are often matters of live and death in Afghanistan. One paragraph read: “Political debate and discussion about candidates are strictly forbidden in … compounds and during working hours, both between … colleagues and with other people (including beneficiaries).” I understand the reasoning behind this, but it makes the elections much more boring for me. I’d be interested to know from others if their organisations have ever taken similar steps.