Leading article: Still far from representative democracy

Share
Related Topics

It is early days yet; elections in Afghanistan – at least the counts – have a habit of going on and on. But the initial signs from the country's second parliamentary election are not encouraging. Compared with the first parliamentary election, five years ago, or the presidential election last year, the cause of electoral democracy has hardly advanced. Indeed, it may have taken a step back.

The level of participation, estimated at around 40 per cent, was not as low as had been feared, but it was down by a fifth on 2005. The palpable enthusiasm for voting that was so uplifting then was almost completely absent this time around. More dispiriting still was the extent of alleged fraud and the evidence of incompetence in the way the vote was run.

There were reports of many polling stations, even in Kabul, not opening on time; one in six did not open at all. The ink used to ensure people voted only once was ineffective in many places, prompting claims of multiple voting. There were also reports of forged voting cards, bribery and votes being bought, plus the suggestion, in advance of the election, that among the increased number of women candidates were some standing as "puppets" for powerful male patrons.

There was also violence. The bodies of three members of the Independent Electoral Commission, kidnapped in Balkh province, were found yesterday, bringing to 17 the number known to have been killed on election day. More than 20 people, including four candidates, were killed during the campaign.

All that said, there were positive aspects, including the fact that the violence and intimidation was less than many had predicted and that the election was held at all. Polling day had originally been set for May, but was postponed for security and financial reasons. For all their threats to derail the process again, the Taliban failed to prevent the election taking place, except in some of their known strongholds, while the turnout overall makes the vote just about legitimate. And more candidates – around 2,500 – contested the 249 seats on offer than last time around.

That polling day has been and gone without as much disruption as had been feared, however, does not mean that all the dangers inherent in this election are in the past. The extent to which voters sense the election to have been fraudulent will largely determine whether the results are accepted or not. A long and divisive stalemate would carry almost as many risks as if the election had not been held at all.

The other imponderable – which, in a way, is a positive sign – is the result. Distorted by fraud or not, the final tally will demonstrate the relative strength or weakness of President Hamid Karzai and the stability, or otherwise, of the Afghan state. And the unpalatable truth is that a relatively good result for democracy might be a relatively bad result for state stability. For while more votes for opposition candidates could suggest progress towards a more representative political system, a result that strengthened Mr Karzai's position might be more likely to hasten the necessary talks with the Taliban than one that left him weak and fearful for his authority.

Audible since voting ended have been international efforts to reduce expectations. The UN special representative in Afghanistan said that the election was still an election, even if it might well not "fit in with the Western ideal of democracy", while the Nato representative and former British ambassador in Kabul said "the future of Afghanistan remains one where violence cannot overthrow the democratic will of the people". Behind these modest aspirations lies the hope that Afghanistan will soon be stable enough for foreign troops to leave without precipitating a bloodbath. Unfortunately, the passage of these elections suggests that the time may be several years, not months, away.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: Blairites for and against a Miliband victory

John Rentoul
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in debt to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before