Is a Fair Election in Afghanistan Possible? - Yes, Why Not?
By The Editors, NEw York Times, October 21, 2009
President Hamid Karzai’s acceptance of a runoff election in Afghanistan may be a first step to creating a credible Afghan government, but much uncertainty remains. Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to Mr. Karzai, said Wednesday he was preparing for a second ballot, set for Nov. 7, but he left open the possibility to joining a coalition with Mr. Karzai that would make a new vote unnecessary.
Is there a way to reduce fraud when nearly a quarter of the ballots in the August vote was thrown out by international auditors? What measures should be taken in the brief time before the second election? Can its outcome be trusted?
Gary Hart, former United States senator Jean MacKenzie, Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Karin von Hippel and Mehlaqa Samdani, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Bruce Riedel, former C.I.A. officer
Cameras and Invisible Ink
By Karin von Hippel and Mehlaqa Samdani
How the runoff election is carried out (if it occurs) can either restore confidence in the electoral process and government, for which millions of Afghans risked their lives in the vote in August, or threaten the future of democracy in Afghanistan.
While a little more than two weeks is not enough time to revise the flawed electoral register or introduce biometric safeguards in Afghanistan, four extra steps could be taken by the international community and Afghan monitors to lend credibility to the electoral process.
First, the installation of an unspecified number of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras could prove critical. These could be randomly placed outside some polling stations where no observers will be present because of a heavy Taliban presence. At the end of the day, footage could verify that, for example, only 80 people entered the polling station, and not 800 as the logs suggests, and of that 80, at least 10 could have been repeat visitors.
A similar mechanism was employed by the United Nations during the 2000 presidential election in Serbia, when Slobodan Milosevic wanted Serbs living in Kosovo to vote. In Kosovo, instead of CCTV cameras, human “witnesses” did the watching and counting.
Second, it is important to further “Afghanize” the Electoral Complaints Commission and make its ruling more acceptable to the Afghan people. Following the August 20 election, the E.C.C., which consists of three international and two national commissioners, was seen as the face of foreign interference.
This time around, time permitting, the composition of the commission could be expanded by amending the Electoral Law to include three national commissioners and a loya jirga convened to select the third Afghan commissioner.
Third, invisible ink should be widely available as an option in those places where voters fear Taliban violence if they participate in the electoral process. While the Taliban may not have cut off many fingers marked by indelible ink (used to prevent repeat voting) as they threatened to in late August, the fear of this occurring may have prevented large numbers of voters from going to the polls.
Finally, the international community must restore its credibility among the Afghan people and speak with a single voice. Rather than appear divided or confused in a rush to endorse or reject the election, as happened previously, the international community must wait until all votes have been counted and complaints considered. It must coordinate its response before delivering its “verdict’”on the Afghan election.
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