Afghanistan: 2009 Presidential Election a Litmus Test for Legitimacy
By: Sharif Ghalib
Canada, 9 January 2009
As Afghanistan is constitutionally bound to convening presidential election early this year, Afghans appear to be growing increasingly alarmed toward the international community’s perceived half-hearted posture over prompt conduct of the historic poll.
The emerging alarm broadly shared by political parties, independent politicians and candidates, those known, to-date, to contest the ballot, first broke the surface last year when the country’s election body recommended that both presidential and parliamentary elections be held jointly to cut down on the high costs. Conversely, the Parliament was quick to challenge the recommendation as unconstitutional. This led to a decision by the government to hold separate presidential and parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2010 respectively, in conformity with the Constitution.
Meanwhile, government officials also continuously implied and still are that it might have to delay the elections -- slated for the spring 2009 according to the Constitution -- until fall this year (security permitting), reiterating insecurity and fears of a low voter registration.
But yet again, lawmakers citing reports by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC) on high turnouts across the country, marking, to the contrary, a smooth progress of the registration process, have passed a unanimous motion calling any delay in the poll a breach of the Constitution. IEC is currently in the midst of a vast voter registration drive poised to enter its forth and last phase to cover four restive southern provinces. The undertaking is supposed to carry on until early February.
All the same, to follow the indications IEC has been making more frequently of late, it appears that there is no let up in sight in the mounting wrangle between the government and the legislature over finality of the controversy. Although what seems more intriguing to political stakeholders and the general public at large, is the erratic silence by the international community over the all important issue, which is conceptually the underlying mainstay of its declared stabilization and democratization campaign in the country.
The 2009 election will be the second direct vote for the presidency in Afghanistan’s history, succeeding the election in 2004 when president Karzai was first voted in office to lead the nation for a five-year term.
The poll embodies unique historic significance for the people of Afghanistan, and so does the international community’s commitment for its implementation and safeguarding of its integrity, as part of efforts for institutionalization of democracy in Afghanistan still deemed to be in its infancy. As for the popular demand for the election to be held on the fixed date, it is widely considered to be a crucial part and parcel of that integrity, which makes it no lesser important than the election itself. Thus, a great many view the unwarranted delay as an infringement upon the Constitution.
But why really elections are so important for Afghans today? Perhaps the answer could be traced into the history of the country, as there seems to be an imperceptible feeling across the political spectrum, which links this election fervour to the memories embedded in Afghanistan’s past. In fact, generations of Afghans both old and young, still carry recollections of how successive autocratic and oligarchic regimes demagogued to perpetuate their rule by choosing bullets over ballots, having caused a deep-seated mistrust amongst the nation.
Luckily, however, now Afghanistan is destined to a whole new future. Seven years since the inception of the historic post-Bonn process, despite all the inadequacies, shortcomings, and at times wrongdoings, today, the country has made great strides in alleviating the gruesome memories of the past by laying the foundation of a modern representative and inclusive democracy.
And precisely because of these in-depth and far-reaching changes, which have set out a new direction for Afghanistan, it is incumbent upon the government and especially the international community -- by virtue of the sway it holds over the situation -- to steadfastly follow through the process aimed at solidifying this new-found democracy. And doing so entails that they both must do their utmost to bring about permissive conditions for holding a timely, free and fair election in strict adherence to Afghanistan’s Constitution.
Let’s keep in mind that the consequences of not convening the presidential election this year will be dire and inconceivable, as the advertised premise of ‘insecurity or budgetary strain’ will inevitably prove to be a though sell. To begin with, failure to ensure security and to create conducive environment for the completion of the registration process, underway, and the subsequent ballot, would hardly justify NATO’s surging military presence in the country in the eyes of the Afghans. Similarly, a lack of funding for the election sounds as sarcastic.
Also, it will bring into question the continuity of the overall peace process, putting the existing national and political cohesion in harm’s way. Moreover, it will put at risk the legitimacy of the political setup beyond the election date. Besides, it will inflict serious damage on the faith of the people in the Constitution, and will diminish their confidence in the sanctity of the government as an institution. Furthermore, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future governance in Afghanistan.
And last but not least, such failure will put at stake the historic legacy of President Karzai in his capacity as the first-ever democratically-elected Head of State of Afghanistan. Having broken new grounds in serving his nation with integrity now, he has the paramount responsibility to lead by example in upholding the nation’s Constitution and fulfilling his constitutional mandate to duly hold the presidential election. And he ought to do this for the sake of peace in his country and for the purpose of prosperity of future Afghan generations.
Sharif Ghalib served at the UN for ten years, and was the first Afghan diplomat to negotiate the establishment of full bilateral diplomatic and consular relations between Afghanistan and Canada at resident-embassy level. He opened the Embassy of Afghanistan in Ottawa in late 2002 and served as the country’s Charge d’Affaires, a.i., and Minister Counsellor until 2005. He is the honorary president of the Canadian Afghan Council (CAC). He can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org