It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the people of Afghanistan were willing to pay the ultimate price for democracy. They turned out in near record numbers to cast votes for president and provincial councils, despite the threat of violence by the Islamic extremist Taliban. Indeed, just two days after last Saturday’s election, a roadside bomb in Kandahar killed at least 15 people. There was an earlier attack in southern Afghanistan.
In an attempt to disrupt the first truly free elections — outgoing President Hamid Karzai was elected to a second term amid massive vote-rigging — in the fledgling democracy, the Taliban had staged a series of high-profile assaults in the weeks leading up to the balloting. However, beefed-up security resulted in the Islamic extremists, who are bound and determined to return the war-torn country to the Stone Age, launching sporadic attacks.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for many years using Shariah law to relegate women to second-class status and to prevent girls from attending school. The country was one of the most backward in that part of the world. But the U.S.-led invasion in the fall of 2001, triggered by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America’s homeland that claimed 3,000 lives, resulted in the ouster of the Taliban and the emergence of Karzai as the president.
Karzai’s tenure as the free nation’s first leader began with great promise for true democracy, but as the years went by, massive government corruption and a reversal of the freedoms enshrined in the constitution, especially those relating to an unfettered press and women’s rights, undermined the grand experiment.
Thus, the April 5 election was seen by many Afghans as the country’s last hope for freedom. The massive turnout in the face of threatened violence and a rainy forecast was hailed by Western observers.
“The remarkable turnout, along with the significant participation of Afghan election monitors, political parties, women, young people and others, bode well for the credibility of the electoral process,” the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute said in a statement. The institute withdrew its international observers after a deadly bombing at a luxury hotel in Kabul where they were staying.
RUNOFF WILL BE LIKELY
The organization had fielded a delegation of 101 Afghan staff members who visited 327 polling stations in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces.
Because of the crowded field of eight candidates for president, nobody is expected to get a majority of the votes, which means a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held at the end of May.
The results of last Saturday’s voting will be announced May 14; preliminary results are due April 24.
Although there were irregularities in the voting, they weren’t on the same scale as the 2009 election, and there was nothing systematic about the cases.
“I was here in connection with the presidential election in 2009, and the contrast is significant,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who met with three presidential candidates in Kabul.
Afghanistan’s future lies in the outcome of the election because President Karzai has refused to sign a security agreement with the United States that would maintain select military personnel in the country after the withdrawal of coalition troops is completed this year.
Karzai’s intransigence is troubling the Obama administration because Afghan troops and other security personnel are not yet fully prepared to protect their country.