As Afghanistan moves into its second round of elections for the president, we might step back a bit and take a longer view at what is happening. Sixty or more years ago, the general consensus in the world community was that not every country was ready for democracy and that certain preconditions were necessary. These often had to do with the level of education and knowledge of the people, as well as the political history of the country. Perhaps that was too simplistic a view, but it had the advantage of some realism about what was possible and what was not possible. In the fall of 2009 the exigencies of theory and ideological purity are putting Afghanistan at risk.
The decision to have a second round of the presidential elections can be seen as the triumph of the letter over the spirit of democracy. No one expected that the initial election would be perfect; but the hope was that it would be good enough to move forward with the country's development. Corruption occurred and the relevant commission reviewed the votes and found many were invalid. Nonetheless, Hamid Karzai was clearly ahead of his nearest rival, by 20 percentage points or more; further, he was short of the required 50 percent by only a small amount - he had 49.7 percent of the vote.
International pressure led to the second round, with the argument that a more credible result was needed, due to the corrupted voting process. To anyone who understands what is happening here in Afghanistan this is nonsense, because there is no way that Afghans can fully mobilize and be ready to vote again in the period of time allowed. In the last round, some Afghan voters had their ears and nose cut off by the Taliban, while others did not even vote. To expect a better showing a second time around, when people are basically just tired of the whole process is totally unrealistic.
One also has to wonder when the United Nations fires 200 of its election observers for corruption, just how much confidence can one put in the internationals in the former or the coming election. And they are to find the replacements in a matter of days? The outlook now is for a lower turnout at the second round than at the first, due to fatigue, concern with security and the winters. Virtually no one in Afghanistan expects Dr. Abdullah to win the second round, so that only leaves one other person, Hamid Karzai. Thus, the exercise comes out no different than if a compromise had been agreed upon last week, but with the people of Afghanistan witnessing a future exercise undertaken at the behest of internationals. The two or three additional weeks and election may satisfy some people who are fixated on process and the theory of legitimacy, but for many Afghans these will just demonstrate how little the internationals really understand what Afghanistan is all about.
ANDREW T. HOOK, who owns a cabin in the Crosby area, is professor of economics and business at the newly formed American University of Afghanistan. He has 30 years of experience in banking, finance and economic development throughout the world and has worked for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
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