Afghans Brace Themselves for Saturday’s Elections

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/afgmatters/4285124402/">AfghanistanMatters</a>

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


There’s little reason to be optimistic about Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections on Saturday. Experts project a turnout of under five million voters, or about 30% of the registered electorate. Almost all of the 249 incumbents are running for reelection, and most are expected to win. Unsurprisingly, the Taliban have called for a boycott, and thousands of Afghan and US-led NATO troops have been forced to beef up security at polling stations around the country. Afghan authorities have made it easier on the troops—and harder on voters—by closing over 1,000 polling stations, mostly in the south and east of the country. The hope is that fewer polling stations will reduce the odds of fraud in the country’s more unstable regions. It may have the opposite effect on 1.5 million Afghans living in these areas:

Residents and candidates in these places, mostly remote villages in dangerous southern and eastern provinces, said they worry that the move will deepen ethnic rivalries by creating electoral imbalances and accelerate a growing disengagement from the Afghan central government that has fed the Taliban’s resurgence. 

Disenfranchisement could be a bad thing in the long run. But for now, NATO and UN authorities are doing whatever they think will result in a smoother election. At his monthly briefing, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he expects the elections to be “more transparent and more reliable.” UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura agreed, saying that they would be “far from” perfect” but “much better than the previous ones.”

This all comes just as the UN decided to force a third of its Afghanistan staffers (the “non-essential” ones) to take an early vacation. “It would be naive not to take these precautions as we are a target,” said de Mistura. Many staffers, he says, were due for a vacation. Others “were told to take their holidays now.” Peeling back just as the situation worsens seems to be a popular trend this election season, as a number of election watchdog groups are opting for “assessments” over full-on “observation” missions:

Nearly all groups are cutting the number of foreign electoral experts and housing those that do come in Kabul or other relatively safe areas of the country.  The International Republican Institute, a US democracy group with a long-term presence in the country, has cut its foreign observers by around half to just five while increasing the number of Afghan observers from 40 to 160. In the last week Singapore-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has already repatriated more than half of its observers because of difficulties finding a security company prepared to provide armed guard to election monitors who need to be able to roam around polling stations.

Even the EU—who sent 120 observors last year—is only sending only seven this time around. So in the face of guaranteed bloodshed and likely fraud, is everyone throwing in the towel?

The words of opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah offer little comfort. A recent Al Jazeera report shows that fraud networks around the country have been circulating fake voter ID cards, with sales agents estimating that they’ve sold over a million during the past three months. So far, no real effort has been made to identify and destroy fraudulent voter ID cards. Abdullah, who finished second to Karzai in last year’s presidential race, says the elections should go forward as planned. “I think at this stage, the only thing that we can do is call on our people to participate in the elections and be observers and monitors [themselves by not buying] fake cards from sources.” 

Abdullah’s hopes for the electorate’s integrity may sound naive. But what else can he possibly hope for? For Afghans holding out the hope for change from the bottom up, there’s no viable alternative. The system they’ve got (with Karzai at the top) is the system they have. The UN and other international organizations’ decisions to remove personnel from dangerous areas makes sense. But it also smacks of resignation. After the countless shenanigans of the Karzais, the Salehi arrest-and-not-arrest, and still-unfolding Kabul Bank crisis, merely managing a broken electoral system and praying for a low body count may be the best anyone can hope for.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate