Lessons of Afghan election
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.
New York Times