A democratic Afghanistan

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 29.10.14

No doubt, elections are not all of democracy in themselves but they are a component of
democracy and a path towards a democratic form of government. This is true for
everywhere, including Afghanistan. Both rounds of the presidential elections (on April 5 and
June 14, 2014) in Afghanistan set the stage for a new beginning in Afghanistan. The first
round was won by Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s former foreign minister, whereas the
second round run-off was won by Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s former finance minister; both
were front-runners. In the second and most decisive round, the Pashtuns voted
overwhelmingly for Ghani whereas the Tajiks and Hazaras voted for Abdullah. The Uzbek
vote remained divided.

As elections are a prerequisite for democracy, a high electoral turn out is an indicator of the
popularity of the elections (and the democratic process itself). Reportedly, as compared to
the 2009 elections, a high turnout of voters was recorded in the 2014 elections. Out of 30
million people, only 12 million were eligible voters and about 60 percent of them cast their
votes in the second round, which was about double the number of votes cast in 2009. The
prominent feature of the 2014 elections was the participation of the youth and women.
Interestingly, despite allegations of massive electoral rigging in 2009, the Afghans came out
of their houses to play their role in the elections. Much credit for this activity goes to the
Afghan youth who are below 25 years of age and constitute 75 percent of the total
population. Similarly, of the total votes cast, the turn out of female voters in the second
round was about 38 percent, some eight percent more than the first round but many times
more than the 2009 elections. Furthermore, expatriate Afghans also played an important
role in the electoral process.

There was an increase of one million votes cast in the second round as compared to the
first round. This point introduced a conflict of interest between the two front-runners.
However, by compromising with each other on the electoral result to form a national unity
government, Ghani and Abdullah set a new precedent of accommodation in Afghanistan,
though US Secretary of State John Kerry played a decisive role in convincing both of them
on August 8 to enter into an agreement and negate the track record of political rivalries in
Afghanistan. The trend indicates that the US is not as unwanted and unpopular in
Afghanistan as is projected in the media.

The election was based not on registered votes but on the admissibility of identity cards (or
equivalent documents) provided at the time of voting. There were ballot papers allocated
per centre but in some centres the voters outnumbered the ballot papers. That was
perhaps why the term ‘eligible voters’ was coined: to give legitimacy to the electoral result
when it was recounted and declared by the Independent Election Commission on
September 19. It was pro-Pashtun fervour that compelled those who were not registered
earlier to cast their votes. Consequently, the Pashtun factor swayed the electoral result in
favour of Ghani. One can argue that it was the financial expertise of Ghani that made him
popular amongst voters. That may be true, but the ethnic factor cannot be ruled out.

The message is that if a political compromise is possible at the power-sharing level, a
compromise is also possible at the social level. This point is a good omen for Afghan
society that is replete with factions ranging from ethnic to sectarian. Even the uncertainty
over the final electoral outcome, after an electoral rigging dispute erupted, could not undo
the resolve to give democracy a chance to reconstruct the political and social systems in
Afghanistan. During the process, a point was learnt: resort to negotiations to resolve mutual
disputes rather than bullets and bombs. Another positive in this phenomenon is that
political reconciliation at the national level will offer ample opportunities for both Ghani and
Abdullah to focus on ways to improve the economy and ameliorate the financial situation of
Afghans, especially in the rural areas.

During the elections, the way the people of Afghanistan braved the Taliban threat and
remained determined to cast their votes is an argument in favour of the promising future of
democracy in Afghanistan. Abdullah should also be appreciated for being runner-up to both
former President Hamid Karzai and the incumbent President Ghani. Abdullah accepted the
decision of the eligible voters for the benefit of Afghanistan. The popularity of elections,
democracy and accommodation leaves little room for the Taliban. During the election
process, the Taliban might have been able to grab new territories but they lost the territory
of social consensus. Their way of thinking and style of living were rejected by Afghans who
put their weight behind an idea and process opposed to the Taliban.

The notion that the Afghans are an uncompromising lot regarding power in Kabul was also
refuted by both Ghani and Abdullah. Their compromise to share power is indicative of the
fact that the history of internecine war in Afghanistan is over. In the role of moderator
played by John Kerry, there are indications that the US may keep playing a moderating
role. On September 30, Ghani signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US to
retain a residual force of about 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan in the post-2014 phase.
The end of 2014 — when international troops leave Afghanistan — is now just two months
away. Afghanistan has entered a new democratic phase of life.

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