Things can only get better

Afghan elections declared free but not fair by EU fudgepackers

August 23, 2009

While resisting the temptation to say ‘we told you so’ (Thus passim) – it is glaringly evident that, as predicted, the Afghan elections were neither free nor fair. Except that by an extraordinary contortion of logic and semantics, the EU monitors have declared that they were ‘generally fair but not free.’ Well, thanks for putting our minds at ease, General Philippe Morillon. Some of us mistakenly thought that the objective was to hold elections that would give the Afghan people an equal opportunity to democratically determine who should run their country. How could they do this if the elections were ‘fair’ but not free? Does the EU definition of ‘fair’, include violent intimidation, wholesale ballot-rigging, bribery and corruption on a epic scale, resulting in the deaths of 14 members of the security forces and ‘at least 9 Afghan civilians’ on election day alone? General Morillon, who served in Bosnia, that other great EU success story, clearly has a more expedient definition of freedom and fairness than the rest of us. Relief that the Taliban did not fulfil their bloodthirsty promises of wholesale carnage has translated into declarations that the elections were some sort of success is the equivalent of saying that there is no need for an investigation when an aircraft crashes if only a few passengers are killed, since it was obeying the laws of flight. Interestingly, we have heard next to nothing from the United Nations observers so far. They are probably still recovering from celebratory drinks at the bar of the Serena hotel, whence they probably observed the election in the first place – or am I being a tad harsh?

The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan put 7000 monitors in the field and confirmed the BBC reports of widespread ballot box stuffing, fraud, bribery and corruption. Today a spokesman tantalisingly stated that it could hardly be deemed free and fair when ‘two candidates’ had extensively employed these tactics. Which two? Let’s hazard a wild guess. Hamid Karzai’s running mate is Muhammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik warlord with less than democratic credentials, while his other Tajik ’supporters’ include ex-General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Thus passim) and a crew of narco warlords, allegedly marshalled by his brother and ‘campaign manager’ Walid. There are plenty of ’suspects’ to be the ‘other’ overtly corrupt candidate, but since third place contender Ashraf Ghani (Thus passim) is campaigning on the anti-corruption/anti warlord ticket, likewise fourth place Ramazan Bashardost, they are unlikely candidates. Theconfident demeanours of both Karzai and his leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah (both declared themselves early victors) suggests an inside track on the result. Now indeed, Abdullah himself is now saying that the polls were rigged. Another triumphant use of $250 million by the UN, I don’t think.

The election will probably go to a second round, since neither warlord will secure more than 50% of a turnout well below 50% of the population in the first place (free,fair?). Extreme factions of the Taliban did just enough tactical murdering and muttering to drastically reduce the turnout in the Pashtun South, but apathy did the rest. Many ethnic Pashtuns were sufficiently disillusioned with Karzai to sit on their hands rather than get them inky and liable to to chopped off – although the UN ‘incredible’ indelible ink turned out to be as wishy-washy as their election arrangements, thus allowing for multiple voting in areas outside the South where, for example, Abdullah’s faction held sway.

Despite avowals on the part of the two main challengers that they will encourage their supporters to refrain from violence during the runoff, it is entirely possible, and consistent with insurgency tactics, that the Taliban see this whole process as a bear trap which will expose the chimaera of democracy. They will continue to apply sufficient pressure – a few spectaculars added to the regular intimidation outside the mosques, not dissimilar, in fact, to IRA tactics in Northern Ireland – to discredit the election process (not that they need to try too hard, given the provenance of the protagonists).

We need a hard, impartial look at the evidence of corruption, fraud, bribery, intimidation and the contacts and affilations of the ‘leading’ candidates. It’s ultimately up to the Afghani people as to whether they want these guys to govern them, but if we expect US, British and Canadian soldiers to continue to fight and die in the name of ‘democracy’ then we need to know what form it is taking. The EU and UNAMA couldn’t monitor an episode of American Idol, never mind an election, so it’s no use asking for their opinion. But it’s pretty obvious that whatever this was, the election was neither free nor fair. Thus, no good will come of it. Mark my words.

John J Kelly