Are Afghanistan’s elections democratic?

Nato is trumpeting democracy in action in the Afghanistan elections as showing that the situation is improving. However democratic elections need to be free and fair. In Afghanistan there is not the freedom of information necessary to allow voters to make up their own minds, instead they will vote either along ethnic lines or for whoever an elder or warlord tells them to. This has lead to large amounts of corruption and vote buying in run up to the election. Meanwhile the Taliban is threatening those who are willing to vote. Is holding elections enough to make a country democratic?

Are Afghanistan’s elections democratic?

Yes because... No because...

See the election for what it is - democracy doesn't happen overnight

It would be unfair to see the elections (both presidential and parliamentary) out of context. Democratic institutions are not made overnight. This is only the second time Afghan's have voted for a president, which is in itself an enormous leap forward. Soon after the election, EU election monitors declared that the vote had met their standards for fairness, even if it had not been entirely free. There have been complaints, no one expected otherwise, and these need to be investigated, but it is not yet clear whether they will invalidate the election.

While it is true that democratic institutions are not created overnight, the fact that the elections were widely fraudulent and that there are no institutions of accountability or oversight (e.g. independent electoral commissions, independent judiciary) capable of disciplining the Karzai regime weakens any argument that the elections were a "step in the right direction." In fact, the degree of fraud coupled with the absence of any real negative consequences for the Karzai regime could just as easily erode popular support for democracy, since the current government represents a state that not only lacks electoral legitimacy but is also incapable of protecting its own citizens. There were numerous instances of voters being dropped from or otherwise excluded from the polls, cases of ballot stuffing, and other evidence that Karzai and his allies had little intention of honoring the results of the election.

Are Afghanistan’s elections democratic?

Yes because... No because...

Not everyone who are eligable to vote are able to vote

To a certain extent this is the case in every democracy. It is difficult to coordinate the voting of millions of people over a large area over several days. It is inevitable that some eligible voters fall through the cracks. Afterall turnout in the British Elections in 2005 was 61.5%[[http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm]] whilt the majority of those 38.5% were probably apathetic and did not vote for their own reasons some may well have been due to not being able to get to polling stations, or postal votes may been lost in the mail etc, this is the same in all democracies. As many as 70% of overseas US citizens are unable to vote successfully in US elections while 44% of voters with disabilities were not able to vote in 2008 because of illness or their disability.[[http://www.everyonecounts.com/index.php/mission]] Afghanistan's problem is obviously worse but it is a developing country with much greater problems than developed democracies like the UK and USA.

A problem with the elections in Afghanistan is that not all who were eligible to vote had the ability to vote. Poor administration by the state, heightened security issues, and voter intimidation by the taleban and tribal leaders especially in the South of the country meant the elections turned out to be marred by violence and fraud. On election day itself there were several explosions across the country where poll stations were based. In Helmand Province and Kandahar alone, 2 of the most troubled regions, 31 rockets had fallen by the end of election day.
The Afghan Free and Fair Elections Foundation, the country's main monitoring agency itself admitted that it would put observers at only 70 per cent of stations because of security concerns. Reports also show there was little Afghan government presence in several districts (in Helmand for instance, five of the thirteen districts lacked presence). This meant sections of the population did not have access to a polling station. Furthemore in some districts tribal leaders were administering polling stations thus giving rise to the potential of vote rigging and intimidation of the local population.

Are Afghanistan’s elections democratic?

Yes because... No because...

black market

The black market trade in votes is unfortunate, as is 'vote' buying however it does not necessarily prevent the elections from being democratic. In the case of vote buying the person selling their vote to a certain extent has that right, while in most democracies the registration card would not change hands it is perfectly possible for someone to promise to vote one way for money, if the vote believes that this is what benifits them most then they should be able to. In a rather more subtle way this happens all over the democratic world either through very generous promises that will often never be fulfilled or through artificially creating a 'feel good' factor. For example in the UK in 1987 the 'Lawson boom' was crucial to the election sucess of the conservative party. This was created by reducing interest rates more than they should have been creating a debt feuled boom.[[Eric J. Evans, Thatcher and Thatcherism, Routledge, 2004, pp.31-2.]]

The black market on the other hand is likely to be reasonably small and not threaten the actual election result, if there are excess voter registration cards on the black market then it is likely that various candidates will be able to buy them so there is not necessarily a major change from how voters would vote.

Prior to the elections, there were also large numbers of excess voter registration cards circulating on the black market. This has given many in the population, especially the poor, the opportunity to sell their cards in exchange for money. Several news reports have alleged that the circulation of these cards were an attempt by supporters of President Karzai to collect or buy voter registration cards from local people so as to boost turnout figures in his traditional support bases.
Reports have also found that indelible ink used in the elections to mark voters' fingers can be washed away with easy to obtain products such as household detergent. The ink was introduced to prevent fraud.
However, as it can be washed away this gave the potential of multiple voting which could in turn alter the election results.[[Tom Coghlan, President Karzai’s supporters ‘buy’ votes for Afghanistan election, The Times, 12th August 2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6792729.ece

Are Afghanistan’s elections democratic?

Yes because... No because...

Sham election

The elections in Afghanistan was nothing short of a sham. The security measures put in place in some areas were not done so in equal measure to other districts. Further to this, the mechanisms put in place to prevent fraud and vote rigging proved to be ineffective. A democracy should encourage all who are eligible to vote, to be able to place their votes in the ballot box. The Afghan elections demonstrate however that the state failed in providing the apparatus necessary to allow for equal participation of the population in the election.
Afghanistan is not ready for a democracy. Heightened tensions made worse by deep-set security issues means there is little potential, for the time being anyway, in seeing democracy flourish in the country.[[Jean MacKenzie, Afghanistan's Sham Vote, New york Times, 25th August 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/opinion/26iht-edmackenzie.html?hpw

Are Afghanistan’s elections democratic?

Yes because... No because...

Electoral fraud renders results meaningless.

While the Afghan elections did represent a step in the "right" direction as far as democratization is concerned, the fact that a) evidence of fraud is widespread, b) foreign patrons supporting the Afghan government (in particular the US) have no meaningful way to discipline the Karzai government for its resort to fraud, and c) because the extensive electoral fraud signals the current regime's minimal commitment to democracy, the elections do not represent any substantial progress towards democracy in Afghanistan.

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