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The Next Afghan Election

6 settembre 2010

Editorial of the New York Times – 5 september

In less than two weeks, Afghanistan will elect a new parliament — a chance to show that the country is making progress. Unfortunately, the odds of success may not be much better than they were last year, when a presidential election, marred by violence and widespread fraud, left Afghans and the international community questioning the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai’s victory.

Millions of Afghans courageously voted in past elections and may do so again. There are 2,447 candidates on ballots in 34 provinces, including about 400 women (up from 328 in 2005) despite severe constraints on their political participation in this male-dominated society.

Still, there are many reasons to worry.

Security is the biggest obstacle given the worsening insurgency. Four candidates have been killed in attacks by suspected Taliban fighters even with a buildup in American forces and an escalation in allied military operations. Armed men also killed five campaign workers for a female candidate. Many candidates running for 249 parliamentary seats are too fearful to campaign, and some have told reporters that the violence, especially suicide attacks, is much worse than last time. Election officials say it is too dangerous to even open at least 938 of 6,835 polling centers — most in the south and the east.

The threat of another fraud comes close behind. When Mr. Karzai ran last year, his allies stuffed so many ballot boxes that the Electoral Complaints Commission ended up throwing out one-third of his votes. Mr. Karzai won by default after his opponent dropped out.

That disaster prompted calls for major electoral reforms. There have been some — but not nearly enough. The most significant may be Mr. Karzai’s appointment of a new chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, which oversees election logistics. His predecessor failed to adequately prevent or punish fraud.

The new chairman, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, an Islamic scholar and former I.E.C. commissioner, is generally viewed as doing a better job. He barred 6,000 people who worked on the fraudulent November poll from administering this one, improved ballot security, and publicized polling sites weeks — rather than days — in advance.

The United Nations-backed Electoral Complaints Commission — the election’s ultimate arbiter — is reconstituted, although experts are concerned about the competence of the new members. Their big test will be whether they have the courage of their predecessors to expose fraud if found. It will be hard to pull off credible balloting. The election is hampered by a flawed voter registry, a vetting process that left far too many corrupt warlords on the ballots, and fewer independent observers. Reports of vote buying, bribery and intimidation are rife; Mr. Karzai shows no sign of discouraging this.

It would be better to postpone the election. But American and allied officials say Kabul wants to proceed, and they must respect that decision. While the allies pressed the Karzai government on reforms, they seem curiously resigned to whatever may happen.

In the remaining weeks, the allies should press Mr. Karzai and other major political leaders to urge all Afghans to vote, to speak out against fraud and corruption and to pledge that violators will be punished. No one expects Afghanistan to install a perfect system overnight. But cynical and disenchanted Afghans need to see there is a way for their voices to count.

Editorial Series

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/opinion/06mon1.html

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