Last Updated: Thursday, 26 November 2015, 08:53 GMT

Afghans voice cynical view of democratic process as Afghanistan's presidential vote nears

Publisher EurasiaNet
Author Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Publication Date 6 October 2004
Cite as EurasiaNet, Afghans voice cynical view of democratic process as Afghanistan's presidential vote nears, 6 October 2004, available at: [accessed 26 November 2015]
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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard 10/06/04

Presidential candidates in Afghanistan wrapped up the official campaign period on October 6 – 72 hours before the polls open. The presidential vote, and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2005, is widely viewed as pivotal for Afghanistan's democratization process. Interviews with Afghans in the capital Kabul suggest that some potential voters already hold cynical views about the process, however. Such expressions of cynicism raise concerns whether the election will achieve its main aim of cementing democratic principles in place.

Election rules bar campaigning during the 48 hours prior to the October 9 presidential ballot, which features 18 candidates. Violence marred the last day of the campaign, as a bomb that apparently targeted interim President Hamid Karzai's running mate killed at least one person in northern Badakhshan Province, while leaving vice presidential candidate Ahmad Zia Masood unharmed.

Karzai, the overwhelming favorite to win the election, spoke to about 5,000 supporters at a rally in Kabul on October 6. He urged Afghans to turn out to vote, saying "by voting you are laying the first bricks in a wall of democracy that will last for decades and centuries." Meanwhile, Karzai's main challenger, Yunus Qanooni, a former education minister and leader of the Northern Alliance faction, has staged large rallies in recent days.

More than 10 million Afghans have been registered to vote. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. With many seeing Karzai's election as assured, perhaps the main question surrounding the election is how many registered voters will actually show up at polling stations on October 9. In most Afghan provinces, intimidation efforts by Taliban insurgents and warlord militias could succeed in preventing large numbers of Afghans from casting ballots. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archives].

In the capital, where a large international force security is stationed, there appeared to be far fewer people than on normal working days, with many apparently concerned about the possibility of pre-election violence. Security fears may combine with cynical attitudes, held by many educated Afghans in the capital, to depress voter turnout in Kabul. Some frame the vote not as an open contest, but as a well-orchestrated means to legitimize Karzai's administration.

"I registered. I have a ballot but I won't vote for anyone. Not just me, but my entire family has decided to stay home," Dr. Ebadullah Ebadi, a surgeon by training who is not currently practicing but instead works for a foreign company, told us in the middle of Kabul. "We are not voting because we see some players influencing the outcome."

Other Kabul resident's share Ebadi's perception that Karzai's victory is being guaranteed by the overt support of the United States and European Union. The strong US backing for Karzai's candidacy could end up doing more to sour Afghans on democracy, than to promote democratic values, some of those interviewed contend. "Look at him now," said one women, who declined to give her name, referring to Karzai. "He campaigns between fully armed American soldiers and bodyguards. The president should be sufficiently popular that he doesn't need to rely on foreign support."

Qanooni has claimed publicly that the US preference for Karzai is capable of influencing the outcome. "The United States and the world support a specific candidate [Karzai], and the election result is thus clear to us," Qanooni said at a recent campaign appearance. "If there is no cheating or fraud ... I have a good chance of being elected."

Regardless of the accuracy of Qanooni's claim concerning his electability, many Afghans in Kabul worry that the ballot will not accurately reflect the electorate's preferences. Helping to stoke concerns about election fraud is the fact that the voter registration numbers have been discredited as being inflated, with widespread reports of individuals obtaining multiple voting cards.

Abdosalam Zafari, a professor at Kabul University, believes that officials may tamper with the vote in order to make Karzai appear more popular than is actually the case. "I am sure he [Karzai] will win," Zafari said. "One hundred years of Afghan history shows that those with foreign support take power, and in this case, Karzai has [international community] support."

The country's history also shows that Afghans have a proven record of successfully resisting outside efforts to influence the country's political, social and economic development.

Posted October 6, 2004 © Eurasianet

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