The Afghan Election in Words

by Nathan Hamm on 10/10/2004 · 2 comments

(see also The Afghan Election in Pictures)

If you haven’t heard by now, the big fuss about yesterday’s election in Afghanistan was over the use of the wrong ink. As the above picture shows, there were different methods for inking the thumbs of voters.* Now, I have no information either way, but I have seen nothing to indicate that all or only one of the two kinds of ink washed off. Regardless, the election is hailed as a major success, free of major irregularities.

And, you know what, thank goodness that what everyone is complaining about is ink. Complaints about inks, ballot design, and what have you are the kinds of things that happen every day in democracies. That’s not to say that Afghanistan has arrived, but it took a major step. Pictures of voters defy many of our stereotypes about what a democratic citizenry looks like, and to see hands emerging from beneath the folds of burqas to drop ballots into boxes makes for a pretty powerful image if you ask me.

The success of yesterday’s election lies in that it happened, that the Afghan people were enthusiastic about it, and that violence was “the exception, not the rule.” Instead, there was excitement and celebration across the country (via Robert Tagorda).

There’s a cheerful, holiday mood in Mazar – schools and shops are closed and children are out flying kites.

I’m in one of Kandahar’s female voting centres and the women who are emerging have been saying they are extremely happy to be taking part in the process.

Large crowds gathered at Kandahar’s polling stations clearly excited at the prospect of voting. One old man I spoke to said he had been waiting since his youth to see such scenes. Another said the vote represented a new era in Afghanistan’s history and that the situation in the country could only get better.

Outside, the earlier mood of scepticism has been replaced with a sunnier, more festive spirit.

A group of Qabaili tribals – largely Pashtun – have taken out an impromptu victory celebration at the Great Masood Way – a major intersection in memory of the slain Northern Alliance leader.

Despite being weeks away from a result, they are confident that the man they support – President Hamid Karzai – has already won.

Singing and dancing they march through the streets as a group of Isaf soldiers look on, amused.

The BBC link also has much more information on the whole ink snafu than you’ll find in most wire reports. The BBC, too, should be commended for putting things in proper perspective.

Afghanistan still has quite a way to go to be a success, and undoubtedly has much room to improve the way it runs its elections. Yesterday though, was a resounding success, a mighty slap in the face of those trying to return the country to sclerotic theocracy, and a bold step to brighter days.

* UPDATE–If I understand it now, it looks like the day started with the use of pens to mark thumbs. At some stations, poll workers used regular markers and not the ink they were supposed to. As the problem became obvious, supervisors stopped things and set it straight in at least some instances. In some locations, whole thumbs got dipped. If I had to place a bet, most of the pictures we’re seeing are from a few locations and perhaps not giving an accurate picture of the situation, which the OSCE is saying isn’t too widespread.

The bigger problem, from a few things I’ve gathered, seems to be voters who registered multiple times. At some locations (all? If anyone knows, please chime in!), registration cards were punched. The only way to vote multiple times was if one had registered multiple times and had duplicate cards. It kind of makes the protest by the other candidates look like grand-standing.

UPDATE II — I like Karzai’s promise. I hope he can pull it off.

UPDATE III — Quoth Bill of INDC Journal: “What a great weekend for Democracy.”

I’ll drink to that.

Sgt. Hook says of the ink mistake:

So, instead of discussions about deadly attacks on voting centers or assasination attempts on candidates, we debate about purple ink that some say washed off. Welcome to democracy Afghanistan, isn’t it grand?

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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