Not to distract from the Foust v. ASG debate (which I’m enjoying the hell out of), but we’re now within three days of Afghanistan’s 2010 parliamentary elections. On September 18, 249 seats from the lower house, the Wolesi Jirga, will be filled from 2,502 candidates. The Taliban have issued their threats, and violence has been seen in Herat, Khost, Logar, Ghazni, Badakshan… and a lot of places (AAN). About an eighth of the polling places from 2009 have been shut, primarily for security reasons. It may be that the Taliban is taking a more active role in opposing these elections because they fear them more than those in 2009. Insurgents did not have to be as violent in August 2009 as they had the capacity to be, because Karzai and Abdullah did a perfectly fine job delegitimizing themselves. This time, because of the profusion of different parties and informal networks (as opposed to just two opposing sides), pre-determined polling stations, and an improved vote-tally system, it may be that voter fraud and intimidation will be harder to execute in general, although some disagree. If I were a betting man, I would guess insurgent violence will be worse than it was last year, but that the effects of Afghans voting yet again (assuming malfeasance doesn’t reach 2009 levels) will be positive in the country. What increased violence will do for public opinion in ISAF countries, though, is another matter.
The election will go ahead as scheduled. Afghanistan will again participate in a somewhat transparent electoral process, highlighting again the difference between the current situation and an autocratic Taliban government. The voters appreciate that difference. Power in Afghanistan history has indeed often been obtained through violent or despotic means, but the same can be said for most of the known world, to include the western democracies. That doesn’t mean that Afghans don’t or can’t understand the concept, or as some have argued, that winning elections delegitimizes power-brokers (CSM). What makes democracy in Afghanistan such a shabby affair is not the idea or the setting, but the implementation. Sadly, the last election Afghanistan was not viewed as democratic by many Afghans, furthering Afghan disapproval of the Karzai government as corrupt and undemocratic. As Josh said here a few weeks ago “Afghanistan’s parliamentary process is probably the most functional aspect of its politics.” Hopefully, then, a relatively clean process to elect representatives will lessen some of that disapproval.
There are representative traditions of government in Afghanistan, such as the jirga. The selection of elders in a village is also often a democratic process (at least among the adult males). What many Afghans object to in Karzai-era democracy is not the concept of democracy, or voting, or even female suffrage. What is objected to is the lack of democracy in the voting process in Afghanistan; the vote-rigging, the corruption, and the skullduggery. It is not the voting process that has delegitimatized Karzai in the eyes of many Afghans, it was the way in which the voting was carried out, and the “traditional” Afghan power games that he plays between votes, allowing strong-men to line their pockets and wield their power as they see fit (for a good, extremely critical, explanation, see Anatol Lieven‘s recent book review at Current Intelligence).
In short, I predict the elections will go smoother than they did last year, although the Taliban will cause more violence. I don’t know how it will play out in Western public opinion. What do the readers think?