Lessons of Afghan elec­tion

Daily Trust - - VIEWS -

he war-rav­aged na­tion of Afghanistan went to the polls ear­lier this month to choose a new pres­i­dent who will re­place Mr. Hamid Karzai, who has ruled the coun­try for most of the 13 years since Amer­i­can-led troops helped to over­throw the Tal­iban rulers. De­spite the pres­ence of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Amer­i­can, NATO and Afghan govern­ment troops over the years, they failed to sup­press the Tal­iban in­sur­gents and the coun­try’s name has be­come al­most syn­ony­mous with vi­o­lence and in­se­cu­rity.

Yet, the turnout of vot­ers in the April 5 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was im­pres­sive. Some 7.5 mil­lion people cast their votes de­spite threats by the Tal­iban to dis­rupt the elec­tion. The Afghan army re­ported that there were 690 at­tacks by in­sur­gents on elec­tion day, with 347 of them oc­cur­ring in seven prov­inces in the south­east of the coun­try where the Tal­iban is strong­est. There was a 30 per cent in­crease in the num­ber of vic­tims than oc­curred in the 2009 elec­tions.

The votes are ex­pected to be fully counted by this week. If none of the 8 can­di­dates wins over 50 per cent of valid votes cast, there will be a runoff elec­tion in which the two top fin­ish­ers will con­test. With 10 per cent of votes cast in 26 of the coun­try’s 34 prov­inces, the re­ported that Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah had scored 41.9 per cent and Ashraf Ghani had scored 37.6 per cent. How­ever, wide­spread com­plaints of fraud al­legedly com­mit­ted by sup­port­ers of the three leading can­di­dates trailed the polls. The Afghan elec­tion com­mis­sion re­ported 870 cases of fraud “clas­si­fied as se­ri­ous enough to af­fect the out­come of the elec­tion.’’ In one brazen case a mem­ber of par­lia­ment took away bal­lot boxes at gun­point.

Elec­toral pol­i­tics has never been Afghanistan’s strong­est point. The elec­tions of 1949 for the 7th par­lia­ment; of 1965 for the 12th par­lia­ment and the 1988 elec­tions were all marked by tol­er­ance of mul­ti­party com­pe­ti­tion, in­clud­ing of left-wing par­ties. In con­trast, the 1952 and 1964 elec­tions ex­cluded op­po­si­tion groups, a sit­u­a­tion that peaked dur­ing the 1996-2001 rule of the Tal­iban. In 1987, the com­mu­nist govern­ment in the coun­try al­lowed the ex­is­tence of other po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The evo­lu­tion of Afghanistan’s elec­toral cul­ture was se­verely dis­torted by Cold War ri­valry be­tween the Soviet Union and the USA. While the Soviet Union sup­ported the com­mu­nist regime, the United States and NATO “funded, armed, and trained for a decade land-own­ing tribal and re­li­gious lead­ers.”

Ah­mad Yousuf Nuris­tani, Chair­man of the Afghan Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, de­scribed this elec­tion as a “great chap­ter in our his­tory. The high turnout, even though there were many threats from the en­e­mies of their coun­try, shows that Afghans want to de­ter­mine the po­lit­i­cal des­tiny of their coun­try.” It is how­ever un­cer­tain if this mo­men­tum can be sus­tained af­ter NATO troops with­draw from the coun­try later this year.

There are other pos­i­tive el­e­ments to the Afghan polls though. The two leading can­di­dates have said they are will­ing to ac­cept the re­sults of the first round of voting and of the even­tual run-off elec­tion too. They have al­ready started build­ing al­liances with other can­di­dates for the pur­pose of win­ning a pos­si­ble runoff. Such in­clu­sive­ness if car­ried for­ward to the shar­ing of cab­i­net posts will help to con­fer le­git­i­macy on the govern­ment that suc­ceeds Hamid Karzai’s.

Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lahi is a mem­ber of the ma­jor­ity eth­nic Pash­tun tribe lo­cated in the south­ern part of the coun­try. He is also part Ta­jik, based in the north. An al­liance with Ab­dul Ras­soul Sayyaf, a fel­low Pash­tun who is run­ning third so far in the elec­tion, would pool their lega­cies of hav­ing been war­lords and strengthen their hands in deal­ings with the Tal­iban and their back­ers.

The es­sen­tial les­son for Nigeria here is that if a coun­try so wracked by war and in­sur­gency such as Afghanistan is could man­age to or­gan­ise na­tional elec­tions, we have no rea­son to con­tem­plate post­pon­ing elec­tions in any part of this coun­try next year. In­stead, the se­cu­rity agencies should gear up and make all nec­es­sary prepa­ra­tions to en­sure that next year’s polls are de­void of threats of vi­o­lence.

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