- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Experts usually consider elections to be the largest logistical exercise in mobilization outside wartime. In a country confronting insurgency and civil strife as well as a paucity of historic experience in democratic elections, these logistical dynamics are even starker. This is the situation confronting the electoral authorities of Afghanistan.

In common with elections in many new, transitional or fragile electorates, key issues following polling day surround allegations of fraud, intimidation and irregularities. Some domestic and international media, stirred by their own vested interests and biases, have been quick to deliver superficial judgments and thumbs-down verdicts — even before the results are known.

A close look at the result so far suggests that it frankly makes sense. Abdullah Abdullah (in second place in emerging provisional counts) gained strong results in the northern areas where his political base is strongest. Ramazan Bashardost has gained a solid result across Ghazni and other central provinces.

Meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai polled strongly in the southern regions of the country. These conflict-prone areas are also the regions from which the lowest percentage of votes have been tabulated. Provisionally, Mr. Karzai has secured 54 percent of the popular vote so far counted nationally. We should expect that when results from these regions finally come in, his overall result will rise significantly. In the final result, Mr. Karzai should easily secure the 50 percent of the total required to secure a first-round victory.

Despite the myriad challenges and even threats to their lives, Afghans across the nation affirmed their commitment to the democratic process. As the post-polling games and accusations unfold, let us not forget this valiant and ongoing support by ordinary citizens to this democratic way of determining who should lead the nation.

Even before the results are finally tabulated, there are demands for a second round. As outlined above, given the almost mathematical impossibility of the incumbent failing to secure 50 percent, any demand for a second round is simply illegal. It is time we began to respect the constitution and the laws of the land. There is no provision in the constitution or the law to run a second round simply because somebody or some group, Afghan or international, does not like the results of the first round!

Let us even consider the implications of breaking the law and running a second round. If the same candidate were to win, there would be legitimate complaints about why so much money was wasted to rerun an election already won. If there was a different result, there would be questions as to the legal authority of someone elected by an illegal election. Either outcome would produce a government of questionable legitimacy. How would this advance political stability or, more important, the rule of law in Afghanistan?

There is little doubt that the overall security situation confronting candidates and voters in these elections was less conducive than five years ago. This problem has been well reported in the press, locally and internationally. One area that I think deserves favorable mention when we look at the wider political environment in Afghanistan is the press itself.

We have in Afghanistan a much more robust, plural and active media than at any time in the country’s history. The sharp expansion of television and radio stations and access by the people is having an impact on how citizens are informed and make their conclusions.

As political leaders have to cringe at the emerging political satire in the media, there can be little doubt that the plurality of views and perspectives aired is good for building a culture of accepting peaceful differences of opinion.

It is often said that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Afghanistan’s progress toward becoming a functioning democracy will be a long one. While it is correct to note the ongoing weaknesses with a view to correcting them, it is equally good to recall how far we have come during the past few years. In this regard, free and fair elections do not just occur. They result from long-built-up political, legal, social and cultural traditions, including vigilance.

We need, therefore, to redirect efforts toward addressing issues of violence, insecurity, poverty and bad governance in collaboration with a freshly mandated government. We should recognize that despite allegations of irregularities, the second elections in Afghanistan were another crucial national step toward a long-term process of political reconciliation, rebuilding and democratization.

Concerns over the outcome of the elections must not create unending uncertainty and confusion and should not be allowed to derail millions of Afghans from enjoying the essence of this historic achievement.

Finally, if the winner of the elections is to be the incumbent, Mr. Karzai, as indicated by the preliminary results of the election, the international community, particularly Afghanistan’s key international partners, must come to terms with this reality. And both sides must commit to redirecting their efforts on resolving the host of challenges facing Afghanistan, including a growing insurgency, a disenchanted population, abject poverty and rampant corruption, and produce results on all these fronts. Both sides should strive to understand each other and appreciate the complexity of the circumstances in which they operate and the difficulty of the mission at hand.

Ershad Ahmadi is the deputy head of the newly established High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption in Afghanistan.

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