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AFGHANISTAN: Daily stuff here please....

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« Reply #80 on: September 17, 2010, 06:20:37 am »

South Asia
Sep 18, 2010 
Afghan vote a foregone conclusion

By Aunohita Mojumdar

KABUL - As Afghans go to the polls to elect a new parliament, the result is already a foregone conclusion. Far from handing power to one political party, voters will return 249 individuals who must act as a de facto and fragmented opposition with little hope of setting out viable alternatives to the government's agenda.

In the country's party-less system, political allegiances are ever shifting - changing from policy to policy - and groups of MPs have often used their spoiler ability to extract concessions rather than shape administrative agendas. Realizing that the only leverage is their ability to block the government, MPs have come together to oppose sections of the budget, appointments to high office, including the cabinet, and critical legislation that the government wants to pass.

The legislative body has been a thorn in Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's side. He will be looking for the September 18 polls to help consolidate his power after reports that prominent opposition leaders have been co-opted by the government in recent months, analysts say.

''While pre-election politicking […] has generated a prominent (and very public chasm) between the Wolesi Jirga [lower house of parliament] and the Karzai administration, under the surface exist connections between MPs and the executive that threaten to strip the parliament of any monitoring or oversight capacity that it currently has,'' Anna Larson wrote in a report by the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU).

Major government initiatives - such as the move towards negotiations with the Taliban or the cross-border peace jirga - have completely bypassed parliament for a "wider" consultation with the people, inherently implying its non-representative nature.

Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, a key member of the Northern Alliance, which includes Karzai challenger Abdullah Abdullah, have made peace with Karzai. Though Abdullah was sharply critical of the peace jirga held in June, Rabbani agreed to chair it, taking the steam out of opposition to the event. In the week preceding the election, another Northern Alliance member, the current speaker of the lower house of parliament, Younus Qanooni, was forced to deny he had struck a deal with Karzai in return for continuing in the post. Qanooni is a sharp political operator whose skills have honed parliament’s oppositional tactics.

Several key players may be considering their political options since no one is quite sure what the elections will throw up. Insecurity, fraud, and doubts over Afghan voters' eagerness and ability to exercise their right to vote, all present a range of unpredictables.

The country's Independent Election Commission, which has distributed 17.5 million voter registration cards for Saturday's ballot, puts the voting population at about 12.5 million, while the UN says the eligible voters number 10.5 million, based on past voting. Added to that uncertainty is that 15% of voters have been potentially disenfranchised by the pre-polling decision not to open more than 1,000 polling stations which cannot be secured due to the ongoing conflict.

The difficulty of arriving at anything more than a guesstimate of the voting population is not merely statistical trivia but at the heart of the challenge of mounting elections in a complex situation. There is no method of cross-checking a voter registration card against a voter roll to eliminate fraud. This makes it impossible to gauge the real voter turnout, so there is no available measure of participation in the democratic exercise.

Unlike most elections, where the candidate tries to meet as much of the electorate as possible, for many of Afghanistan's prospective parliamentarians, campaigning has meant their going into hiding or leaving their constituencies to safeguard themselves from kidnapping and attacks by anti-election elements. Yet enthusiasm for the election is high, with more than 2,500 candidates seeking seats including tailors, newscasters, singers and businessmen.

A new crop of influential militia commanders has also entered the fray, according to Noah Coburn, writing for the AREU. Having chosen not to run in 2005, they have now seen the ''clear financial benefits of securing a seat and feeling reassured by a continued culture of impunity,'' Coburn said.

According to reports, some candidates have sought support from insurgents or even asked them to target their opponents. Direct violence between one candidate against a rival has also been reported.

Equally problematic is the issue of how free and fair the contest will be, a year after the 2009 presidential elections that were characterized by widespread fraud. Last year, ballot boxes in many areas were stuffed, while areas of high insecurity saw "ghost" polling stations that did not open or see any voters yet returned full ballot boxes.

Electoral fraud was not limited to ballot-box stuffing. The counting stage provided many steps that could be compromised. These included tamper-proof bags to transport votes that were tampered, tally sheets that did not tally, and triggers to alert to suspicious voting patterns that failed to be triggered during counting, according to Martine van Bijlert of the Afghan Analysts Network, who has dissected incidents of fraud in a recent report.

There is a high likelihood of fraud repeating itself due to a lack of any punitive measures put in place following last year's elections. The maximum penalty imposed was the blacklisting of some election officials, so the cost of attempted fraud in the current ballot is extremely low.

The crowning absurdity of the Afghan elections however is the voting system. Neither the preferential list system, nor the single-non transferable vote, it combines the worst of both, preventing political consolidation. The result is a fragmented and weak polity. Supporters of the system say Afghanistan first needs stability, while critics say the fragmented polity is one of the causes of continuing instability as it prevents the growth of a healthy democracy.

Either way, the final result is not political groups, agendas, manifestos or visions for Afghanistan's future within the parliament, but a collection of 249 individuals unbound by allegiance to any group.

Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 19 years.

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