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The Killid Group
Off and Running
Monday, 04 January 2010 14:33
By Hashim Qiam
On Nov. 7, Afghans will once more head to the polls to decide whether they would like five more years of President Hamid Karzai or decide to take the country in a new direction by electing challenger Mr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Though the process has dragged on interminably, Afghans can take heart that the investigation into fraud was thorough and the process has so far proceeded along Constitutional lines.
The reason for this runoff is because the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (EEC) found that over a third of Mr. Karzai's votes--more than a million ballots--were invalid due to fraud.
Abdullah also benefited from fraudulent votes, though less so than Mr. Karzai because Abdullah received fewer votes overall.
While proven allegations of fraud are never a good thing, the fact these irregularities were spotted and rooted out of the electoral process, should give hope that the system works, no matter how long it takes.
The new round of voting has created both concern and anxiousness on the part of Afghan voters as many worry that the second election will be plagued by the kind of corruption and violence that marred the Aug. 20 contest.
Still, once an overall winner is chosen, it will unify the government in a way that a coalition initiative never could have and hopefully create stability in the top-tiers of the Kabul power structure.
Hassan Ranjbar, a political analyst in Kabul, welcomes the runoff vote as a way to solidify Afghanistan's fledgling central government. "This is a good thing," he says. "If a government had been established based on a coalition or some other formulation rising from the Aug. 20 election it would have left much doubt in the minds of Afghan people. Such a government surely could not carry out strategy or implement plans decisively. After Nov. 7, there will be no doubt as to who is in charge. His mandate will be assured."
As for Afghan voters, it remains to be seen how many will turn out to vote on Election Day. Member of Parliament Gul Ahmad Amini, is optimistic that Afghans will embrace the new round of balloting and perhaps re-ignite interest in Afghan politics, an interest that has lain dormant these past two months. "It will awaken the political interest of Afghans," Amini says. "I think there will be massive turnout."
PM Amini is likely in the minority with that opinion. Concerns about security will weigh heavily on Afghans as they decide whether to cast a ballot or stay home on Nov. 7.
Azizullah Lowdin, head of the Afghan Independent Elections Commission, which oversees the voting process, says that he has already discussed the issue with the ministers of Interior and Defense and they have already begun preparations to try and keep voters safe at and on the way to the polls.
But many Afghans are not convinced. Noorullah Movahedi, of Kabul, says that in "the first round of elections, Taliban threats kept many people home. Some that did vote had their fingers cut off. I'm worried that this will happen again."
Turnout will be important in terms of legitimizing the second round of voting and Lowdin has issued a plea to educated Afghans, asking that they head to the ballots so that the Afghan brain trust takes part in this vital national decision.
"Scientists, engineers and well-educated people should set an example and vote in this election," he says.
Fraud Must Be Punished, Prevented
For many, the bitter taste of fraud from the last election still lingers. They want those responsible for the election rigging punished and assurance that such shenanigans will not be repeated on Nov. 7. Karim Burhani, an Afghan civil rights activist, is furious that nobody has yet been brought to justice for the widespread fraud.
"Fraud was not committed by the Afghan people," he says. "The fraud was committed by candidates and they should be punished."
He says that until those who thwarted the fairness of the last election are prosecuted, it will be hard to guarantee the fairness of future elections.
Seyed Mohammad Haqbun, an economist who specializes in politics agrees that fraudsters from the Aug. 20 vote should be punished before the next round goes forward.
"We have to make sure that the Afghan people trust the runoff process," he says. "And that it will be free of fraud and cheating."
It has been over two months since Afghans went to the polls to cast ballots. Some political watchers, say that this lag-time between the vote and the announcement of results, has lead to instability in Afghanistan, especially because during this time Abdullah and Karzai were constantly sniping at each other, while their supporters held rallies that sometimes had divisive themes.
Ehsanullah Dowlat Moradi, a political analyst and writer, believes that Abdullah and Karzai have functioned as two poles, pulling Afghanistan in separate directions in order to gain power for themselves.
Insurgents have been able to take advantage of this division, says Moradi, to the detriment of national security.
The economy has also suffered, with the Afghan GNP decreasing in the last three months and import and export sectors suffering major setbacks.
Coalition No More
While Afghans waited--along with the rest of the world--for local and international bodies to complete their investigations into fraud and vote rigging, there was much discussion of a possible coalition government being formed between Karzai and Abdullah. While both camps rejected that any such deal was on the table, reports trickled out that one candidate, then another had submitted or rejected a proposed offer from his rival.
Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, has gone on the record more than once saying that Afghanistan needs a powerful, unified government, accountable to the needs of all Afghans. Some observers say that Khalilzad's statements are actually coming from leaders in the U.S., who are using the former ambassador because he is a known and trusted quantity in Afghanistan.