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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Electoral Fraud in Afghanistan: A Precursor to the Protests in the Middle East?

The UN’s Electoral Complaints Commission recommended in 2009 that Afganistan’s Independent Election Commission invalidate 210 polling stations where the ECC found “clear and convincing evidence of fraud.”  The IEC in turn announced a run-off election because Karzai no longer had over 50% of the vote.  MSNBC reported that “the Karzai-influenced election commission may refuse to call for a runoff.” CNN reported that Karzai and Abdullah were trying to “cut some sort of deal” on a coaliation government that would have obviated, or skirted, a run-off.  Such a compromise would have been woefully inadequate from the standpoint of democratic process.

Even Karzai’s announcement that he would go along with a run-off can be read as presumptuous.  If he didn’t want to go along with it, he need not have taken part.  That one candidate’s feels his refusal to participate would or should cancel an election suggests a rather squalid presumptuousness that ought to be made transparent to the voters.  It is a sad commentary on representative democracy that the Afghan IEC’s decision was probably dependent on Karzai having been under international pressure to agree to the run-off.   Is it too idealist to insist that the candidate should have been informed by the IEC of its decision rather than permitting it?   For one of the candidates to have had a de facto veto on the election commission evinces a lack of democratic infrastructure.  It is like a cart pulling the horse.

In retrospect, we know that Karzai’s victory was fraudulent, even though he continued on in the campaign as a viable candidate.  What does it say when fraud is not punished?  Is having a run-off sufficient punishment?  Were all of the candidates benefitting from the fraud tossed out and a new open election held, would this be so catastrophic? I contend that the protests that occurred in the Middle East in 2011 for greater democracy can be interpreted as having been occassioned by years of frustration stemming from the sort of electoral facade perpetuated by dictators such as Karzai.  If so, the costs of not nipping electoral fraud in the bud far outweight any trouble involved in insisting on electoral accountability.  In the case of the U.S., foreign aid to Afghanistan could have been cut off in 2009 unless or until an open and fair election could be verified. With such a substantive signal given and repeated with regard to other dictators in the Middle East who were using the facade of democracy for legitimacy, some of the mass protests taking place two years later might have been obviated and lives saved that were otherwise lost.

Sources:
http://cnnwire.blogs.cnn.com/2009/10/23/karzai-challenger-prefers-opposition-to-coalition/
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33394277/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/