The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Posts Tagged ‘Democracy

Afghanistan: The Burden of Democracy

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This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.

The run-up to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, held this Saturday 18th of September, has been reported internationally and has highlighted widespread inadequacies in the country’s government and its electoral system. When compared to the media frenzy that surrounded the country’s presidential elections last August, reporting this year has been diminished and focused on the many problems facing the ballot. Last year’s coverage of the elections, their importance to the reconstruction of the country, the significance of the act of voting to the population (especially women) and all such niceties were replaced by reporting of fraud allegations and corruption charges – systemic failures at every level – much the same as last year.

So why have the parliamentary elections not received the same level and type of attention? Is it a case of what FP’s Haring-Smith calls Afghanistan’s groundhog day or an overwhelming sense and realisation that maybe Afghanistan is a lost cause? And in the face of this systemic corruption can the international community be forgiven for perhaps not caring as much?

Firstly, A recent report by The Centre for American Progress conducted an in-depth analysis of the governance issues facing Afghanistan. The report concluded, that above all else, the country’s extremely centralised governing structure is in need of the most urgent reform. Karzai’s legal and constitutional powers make Afghanistan, “in theory, fiscally and administratively one of the most centralised countries in the world.” This amount of power has created a patronage system where Karzai flexes his influence through appointment of more than 1000 government officials at all levels of government with little public input. The paper reports, “Karzai appoints all national line ministry heads, the attorney general, Supreme Court members, the National Security Directorate Intelligence Head, provincial police chiefs and the national Bank chief.” Alongside this, Karzai appoints all members of the Upper House of parliament. In this system, all roads lead to Karzai, personal loyalties and patronage dictate electoral results and policy reform. This has set the tone for the corrupt system not only to be born but also to evolve, ensuring that those in power stay in power.

While the CAP report calls for more public input, some observers think that might just be the problem. Afghanistan’s constitution calls for several separate rounds of elections. Presidential elections (held last August), parliamentary elections to elect 249 members to the Lower House of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) as well as provincial and council level elections. However, in the case of Afghanistan the elections are out of sync. As Haring-Smith writes, “there is an election nominally scheduled every year between now and 2027, except 2012.” In this cycle Afghans will be going to the polls every year for more than a decade. The Economist reported last year that over the next 17 years there will be 11 elections held in Afghanistan. And this is without the district-council elections being held on a separate cycle, as is proposed. In a country where the concept of democracy and voting are new to most people, this system can very quickly create voter fatigue. Reports from the ground already reflect this sentiment. The financial and security burden that these elections create is yet another concern with an estimated cost of $150 million for each election to take place. Afghans, officials and candidates face harsh conditions, in some cases risk their lives to cast their vote. They might not think it worthwhile the 12th year in a row.

These aspects are but a few that form part of a deeply flawed  system which has helped create the corrupt environment in which these elections will be held. A retrospective report on the extent of the fraud and poll manipulation of the 2009 presidential elections warns that although fraud will still be as rampant as last time, it will be less blatant. The report by Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) states that those responsible for the electoral fraud in 2009 have learnt from their experiences and will be more sophisticated in manipulating results. The report points out key systemic flaws which allow such rampant fraud to take place. In particular, the absence of a coherent voter registration list means that people register multiple times. Provinces such as Khost and Paktika recorded registration equalling 140% of the population last time. The report further adds that the problem of multiple registrations is well-known yet little has been done to create an alternative system.  Perhaps more disheartening is policy reforms which further engrain and enforce corrupt and centralised processes. Since the last elections, new laws have brought the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the UN’s election watchdog, under Karzai’s control. The new laws enable Karzai to appoint all five commission members while the UN can select two representatives. The new measures will curtail the role that the ECC plays in monitoring and investigating fraud allegations.

Under these circumstances the international community’s disinterest with the elections is understandable and not just restricted to the media. The international agencies and organisations involved in Afghanistan have scaled down their election monitoring activities considerably. According to reports by The Guardian, the UN has evacuated one third of its international workforce in Afghanistan out of fear of violence and attacks by the Taliban. The EU has cut its previous 120-strong observation team down to just seven and the Asian Network for Fair Elections down from 74 to 30. Although the results of the elections won’t be announced for a while, fraud allegations have already started pouring out. In these circumstances international observers can be of little relevance where they cannot effectively prevent or monitor fraud. If the forecasts are anything to go by these elections will not only be a further blow to the country’s aspirations for reconstructing a functioning democratic state but will also further affirm international sentiment that little has been achieved in Afghanistan.

Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.


Written by alexlobov

September 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Abdullah Abdullah withdraws from Afghan runoff

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Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah: Living on a prayer? (AFP photo SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Most certainly not a surprise, but here we go: Hamid Karzai’s contender for the presidential election run-off in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, has withdrawn from the race, citing (yes, no surprise there either) the lack of transparency in the election process:

““I will not participate in the Nov. 7 election,” Abdullah said, because a “transparent election is not possible.””

Now while that leads Hamid Karzai home free to rule over Afghanistan again, there are several questions that arise. Firstly, should the run-off even happen if it isn’t going to prove anything? The Karzai camp says yes, that the “process has to complete itself.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a rather baffling statement yesterday, comparing the Afghanistan elections to the American one.

We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward.  I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election. It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.

Alright then.

Have just been watching a BBC report. Their corr espondent said that the UN et al are going to try and close ranks and avoid a run off. The Afghan Election Commission is expected to deliver a statement soon and the issue will most likely be referred to the Supreme Court, which will then try and create some measures to halt the election process and declare Karzai president.

The second problem – and this is a much more deeply rooted, yet another problem in the series of issues with the administration of Afghanistan – that eight years onwards from the US invasion, there is still no system in the country that would deliver an effective form of government. This election has been marred with massive fraud, a row in the UN the candidates bickering, et al. It seems like a futile exercise to wish for the governments that invaded the country in the first place to step up and fix the problems they created, stop supporting those involved in creating those problems (like Karzai’s erstwhile brother, ahem), but there needs to be an end to the madness.

Thirdly, how much legitimacy will the Karzai government have? Little to none. Support? The same. So how does the US plan to deal with this – other than doing what they usually do, i.e. put on a forced smile and pretend that it’s all in the name of democracy? We’ll just have to see.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

November 1, 2009 at 7:35 pm

New Evidence of Fraud emerges in Afghanistan… and musings on Democracy

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Oh we are so thankful for democracy. Photo Credit:

Oh we are so thankful for 'democracy'. Photo Credit:

The Guardian’s got a corker today, those guys are evidently good journalists.

They’ve got a video of ‘fresh’ ballots with nice shiny big blue ticks next to the name of Uncle Hamid, fresh indeed!

Moreover they’ve gone and spoken to a whole bunch of eyewitnesses that had less than optimistic things say about the “free & fair” nature of Afghanistan’s recent election. Ah, teething problems…

He showed me a series of photographs taken inside a brown cardboard voting booth in a village in Paktiya province of Afghanistan. One shows a man marking a big pile of ballot papers in the name of Hamid Karzai. Another shows a pile of election ID cards spread in front of an unidentified man wearing black shoes. “This man brought 120 cards and he used each of them to vote three times,” said the official.

“Everyone was cheating in my polling station. Only 10% voted, but they registered 100% turnout. One man brought five books of ballots, each containing 100 votes, and stuffed them in the boxes after the elections were over.”

In a nearby hamlet I met a fresh-faced election monitor who said he was 25 but looked younger. We squatted on the edge of a dusty field while he described how the fraud had worked in his village.

“It was all cheating on election day,” he said. “Each candidate had his men cheating for him in the polling station and they all knew the others were cheating. Even I cheated,” he said. “I didn’t want to, but when I saw everyone cheating, I put 20 ballots in for Ashraf Ghani [a former finance minister], and then I called all my friends in other villages and we collected more ballots for him.

“In the beginning I thought of selling my 20 cards to Karzai or Abdullah, but then I said no, they have enough votes.” He showed me three identical voting cards with his name and picture. “It was so easy to get those,” he said.

Chris Blathman has an amusing take on his blog, claiming to be “mortified” at the election mess but seeking solace in the fact that not-so-long-ago the perfect democracy that is the USA had similar sorts of issues. I for one think of Florida which really was not so long ago at all (umm… 9 years ago? 21st century?). So it seems the whole ‘democracy is not the perfect system but it’s the best we have’ thing is what people are saying nowadays about countries like Afghanistan. Then they say a whole bunch of different things about places like Palestine where people vote for entities, like Hamas, that the rest of the world doesn’t really like much. Teething problems indeed.

I often wonder what the point of this democratic adventure really is and why countries can’t be left to their own devices to figure out the best form of governance. Democracy (in the system that it is currently sold by the US), much like the system of nation-states itself that dominates International Relations, is entirely a western concept. Ironically then, when we do see dictatorships that abuse their people and misuse their power, these dictatorships have mostly sprung up in the context of the nation-state system, ie. dictators ruling their countries like personal fiefs. One can’t help but wonder how things would’ve been were it not for the Treaty of Westphalia and the scourge of colonialism leaving their seemingly indelible imprint on the world…

Written by alexlobov

September 19, 2009 at 5:50 pm