- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

The Afghan people defied threats of violence once again on Sunday to exercise their right to vote for parliamentarians and members of provincial councils. The elections were a triumph over remaining insurgents, the country’s rough landscape and a history of despotism — demonstrating how democracy can unfold in a traditional Muslim society.

Early U.N. reports indicate that the turnout was about 50 percent of registered voters, or 6 million people. A sizeable number of women cast ballots, but significantly lower than the 70 percent that participated in the October 2004 presidential election — perhaps suggesting that this time around Afghans were more interested in the prospect of an election than in the cast of candidates. Twenty percent of the seats in the lower house were reserved for women, but in one-third of the provinces, there were not enough women candidates to meet that quota.

Despite threats by insurgents, violence surrounding the election was not out of the ordinary for Afghanistan. Suspected Taliban militants in the south and east killed about 14 people. A French peacekeeper was killed by a land mine while conducting a security operation on the eve of the vote. Seven parliamentary candidates and six election workers were killed in violence during the two-month campaign before the Sunday election.

Afghan officials said it will take more than a month to collect and count all the ballots, some of which are transported by donkey from districts with have no connecting roads. Preliminary results might be available by Oct. 5, and final results are expected around Oct. 22.

The vote marked a good start to Afghanistan’s evolving democracy. While there were some reported irregularities in the election and some alleged human-rights abusers were among the candidates, the election reflects the country’s still stratified and tribal society. As the country’s economy and institutions develop, new individuals will challenge current power structures and potentially offer Afghans more attractive political choices. Importantly, the vote demonstrated that a significant number of people want a stake in their country’s political future, and clearly believe a democratic system is in keeping with their Muslim faith.

While elections for mayors and district, village and municipal councils have yet to be held, Sunday’s elections marked the successful fulfillment of the Bonn Agreement, under which donor countries laid out a framework for Afghanistan’s transition to democracy. The international community should now reward Afghans’ perseverance with a new donor conference.

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