Sunday, September 18, 2005

# Posted 5:13 PM by Patrick Belton  

AFGHAN ELECTIONS, PART, UM, YAW: Maybe Merkel should have run here instead. The principal news coming out of Aghanistan is that there is little news out of Aghanistan, and this is a remarkable thing. Voting in today's elections for parliamentary and provincial office passed without major incident (among the minor incidents, there were nineteen Taleban-linked attacks upon polling stations, in most instances before they were opened, with three voters being injured); officials of the Aghan-UN Joint Electoral Management Body report long queues of women voters; and all but 16 of the 6,200 polling centres established across Afghanistan were operational on voting day (this a marked improvement from last October's presidential election, where security considerations forced the closure of all polling centres in a significant number of Afghan regions). Turnout might have been higher, and seven election candidates died in militant-linked violence over the last half year, but the elections are in general being hailed as a major success nonetheless, and include such poignant images as long queues of women waiting to vote in the former Taleban capital of Kandahar.

In political terms, the present election marks a tilting of Karzai in a bid for autonomy against the advice of the army of UN administrators and foreign diplomats sent to administer in his capital; it was against their advice that he urged adoption of a Single Non-Transferrable Vote voting rule and a electoral system likely to result in a larger number of small party factions in the lower house grouped into shifting coalitions; this rather than voting rules predicted to generate a smaller number of larger factions. This, in short, was Karzai's gamble - that he could manage relations with a fractured and dynamic parliament better than one with a strong majority ending up in hands of his political opponents. A second highwire wager is also playing out, this one in which Karzai preferred his own political instincts to those of the bureaucrats in permitting the registration of a number of warlords and their proxies as candidates: Karzai's bet here is better to engage the warlords and bring them into the political system, permitting the coalescing of spaces of political opposition around groupings within the parliament, than permit them to continue outside the system where the contestation will be solely military. Time will tell if his bets pay out, but he deserves praise for the courage to trust to his own political instincts, rather than govern as the client of the UN's proconsuls.

And Afghan newspapers get even longer than their German colleagues to prognosticate upon the likely result: vote counting begins officially on the 20th September, with provisional results expected in sixteen days.
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