Elections in Afghanistan 2009
There is a significant event occurring on the 20th of August, and that is my 24th birthday. The other significant event, of course, is the Presidential Election in Afghanistan, the second since the ‘removal’ of the Taliban by the US-led invasion in 2001. As the election draws nears, more interesting things appear as pundits clamour to have their 2 cents. Unfortunately, their 2 cents have all been pretty much unified this time around. Everyone expects Hamid Karzai to win the majority of the vote, but not a big enough majority (51%) to form a government, calling for a potential runoff. Two names that have been touted as major opponents, the main one being former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and considered a likely 3rd in the race, former Finance Minister (and World Bank executive) Ashraf Ghani. As for the rest of the field, according to Al Jazeera:
Analysts in Kabul have divided the remaining candidates into three broad categories: those who actually aim at winning; those who are in the race only to gain a post in the new administration or financial compensations by making deals with the top contenders at the 11th hour; and finally, the totally unknown candidates who simply use the forum to introduce themselves in the Afghan political arena.
Some of the major allegations against the Karzai government have included a lack of focus on outside-of-Kabul Afghanistan (especially in terms of economic development), a lack of real strategy for improving the security situation, support for contentious pieces of legislation (like the Shi’a Personal Status Law), allegations of corruption and allowing foreign meddling in Afghanistan. On the latter, Helena Malikyar, an expert in Afghan state building, says the following to al Jazeera, related to election campaigning specifically:
“There are stories about ‘wuluswals‘ (district chiefs) and governors handing out money to village chiefs and mullahs, even gold bangles for their wives on behalf of some candidates. Where is all this money coming from?” she says.
“The lack of capacity or political will to implement regulation over campaign financing is one of the main reasons why elections in Afghanistan are not being free and fair. This also paves the way for foreign intervention.”
In the same article, al Jazeera suggests that most people consider Abdullah Abdullah to be the candidate backed by Iran & Russia, whereas Karzai is backed by Saudi Arabia & Turkey, whereas Pakistan also has preferred candidates in the election but don’t have as much money to throw around as the heavyweights (though they could act as a spoiler).
Slate, in a typically cerebral Slate-esque article, question the accuracy of Afghan polling… for those that were ever going to take real stock in the polling that is:
The problem is that Afghanistan hasn’t completed a census in 30 years, so no one really understands the demographics of the country. Pollsters are left trying to piece together fragmentary data from unreliable sources. Many refuse to weight their data at all. Others simply qualify their reports with a warning about potential bias, which may or may not make it into media coverage.
Always passionate and engaging, Robert Fisk, for The Independent, takes a different tack two days before the election and points out the illegitimacy of the foreign occupation, from a British perspective, and the human cost of it up to this point:
Needless to say, few of those who gather at Brize Norton spare a lot of time remembering the Afghan and the Iraqi civilian dead. How many months would it take for their hundreds of thousands of bodies to be driven in solemn cortege through British towns? Their fate is, after all, no less “deeply tragic” – the Ministry of Defence’s words for our latest casualties – as the loss of British soldiers.
While the continued occupation of Afghanistan, one that the Obama administration has committed to time and time again, continues to be contentious, the Afghan people will go to the polls on Thursday amidst a great deal of uncertainty, both in terms of the election results and the general situation in the country. We hope and pray that the election will be conducted fairly and peacefully.