Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Behind the elections

The August 20 Afghan election for president and provincial councils is fast approaching and readers no doubt want the lowdown on what is going on there. We start with some American machinations:

U.S. Officials Talk New Post With Karzai Rival, Aide Says
Joshua Partlow - Washington Post

KABUL, Aug 10 - Senior American officials are expressing renewed interest in a post-election plan for Afghanistan that would establish a chief executive to serve beneath President Hamid Karzai if he wins a second term next week, Afghan officials said Monday.

The latest U.S. overtures have focused on Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who is challenging Karzai for the presidency. A campaign aide to Ghani said Monday that both Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and regional envoy Richard C. Holbrooke had made recent visits to explore the idea, a sign that the United States might be interested in an Afghan government with a more technocratic bent.

... Ghani has no plans to drop out of the race before the Aug. 20 election. He has been actively campaigning for president and plans to visit six provinces in the next eight days.

"I've been approached repeatedly; the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it," Ghani told reporters over the weekend, according to Reuters. He has not ruled out a position in the government if he loses...

In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote. (link)
Note Partlow's flat assertion that "the United States might be interested in an Afghan government with a more technocratic bent." As if it is the United States' natural responsibility to baldly shape the governments of other countries.

The Times, though seemingly skeptical of the alleged American role in the rumored reform of the Afghan government, ends up basically confirming American influence:
Sources close to the Ghani campaign denied that the United States was driving the deal, but confirmed that US diplomats had offered assurances that the Karzai offer was 'genuine'... (link)
And what of the nature of that Afghan government which we are propping up? The Times has the story:
President Karzai’s supporters ‘buy’ votes for Afghanistan election
Tom Coghlan - The Times

KABUL, Aug 12 - Supporters of President Karzai are preparing to rig voting in next week’s presidential elections in unstable parts of Afghanistan’s south as Taleban violence threatens to intimidate voters and hit turnout in his traditional support base.

The Times has talked to several witnesses whose reports will bolster suspicions within the international community that there will be electoral fraud across the south, some of it allegedly orchestrated by Mr Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai...

One tribal elder in the Marja district of Helmand alleged that the vote rigging was being organised by members of Mr Karzai’s family and local tribal allies, particularly Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, the former governor of the province.

"I am one of the people responsible for collecting cards in Marja. We bought the cards for $30 (£18)." ...

Alex Strick van Linschoten, a research analyst in Kandahar, said that there were reports of similar schemes in several districts including Zarai, Panjwai and Maiwand, with local police participating in the process.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission has accredited 160,000 observers to attend polling stations. However, the country’s main monitoring agency, the Afghan Free and Fair Elections Foundation, said that it would have observers at only 70 per cent of stations because of security concerns.

Western diplomats said that precautions designed to prevent fraud would be ineffective in insecure districts of the south, where election monitors could not go. (link)
So, in large parts of the politically important south there will be no election observers due to the Taliban insurgency, while locals say that Hamid Karzai's family are attempting to buy the vote there in any case.

And not just buying votes but shutting down the press:
Afghan gov't orders HamidKarzai.com shut down

KABUL, Jul 19 (AP) – The Afghan government has blocked access to four Web sites with President Hamid Karzai's name in the addresses that are critical of the Afghan leader or have links to sites advertising locally taboo subjects such as online dating and mail order brides.

The shutdown order comes ahead of the country's Aug. 20 presidential election. An Information Ministry spokesman initially said the original complaint about two of the sites came from the Karzai campaign. Karzai's campaign spokesman agreed, but later called back to deny involvement.

Afghan coverage of the presidential race has been dominated by Karzai, while his 40 opponents complain they've received scant attention in state-run media... (link)
Support for such serious accusations comes from journalist Nathan Hodge who is in Afghanistan to cover the election:
In advance of my trip here, I received a copy of the Afghan election commissions “code of conduct,” to be signed by journalists who want to be accredited to cover the upcoming vote. It's a pretty interesting read. Among other things, journalists are to “avoid printing, broadcasting and publishing of scandalous advertisements and disgrace reports about [a] candidate's personality or behavior which could affect the election results.”

[Hodges adds:] Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists is in Kabul, and he recently spoke with Jahid Mohseni, CEO of the Moby Group, owner of Afghanistan's popular Tolo TV. Mohseni notes that harassment and intimidation against the media is on the rise. “There are continuing problems with the insurgents, but a lot of our problems end up being with government,” Mohseni says. (link)
Meanwhile, an Afghan reporter with IWPR reveals the reality of the Afghan vote for women:
Right to Vote Limited for Women
By Mohammad Ishaq Quraishi

HERAT, Aug 9 (IWPR) - [...] Government officials and human rights organisations say that the turnout among women could be much lower than during previous ballots in 2004 and 2005 because fewer men will allow the female members of their families to go out to vote...

Afghanistan is a land of deep beliefs and traditions, many of them inimical to women’s rights. It is considered shameful in some of the more conservative areas to let one’s women even be seen by outsiders.

“How can I let my wife vote when there are so many men around in the polling station?” said Mullah Hussain, who preaches in a mosque...

“My husband won’t let me and my daughters out of the house, so how would he let us vote?” said Ahoo, who is around 50 years old and the mother of eight. “Only the men vote here. But if my husband would allow me, I would be very happy to go.” ...

Ahoo’s husband is not eager to talk about the rules of his household. “I know about the rights of women, but I can’t let my wife and daughters use them,” he said, “If they go out and vote, it will damage my reputation.”

Sufi Jawaher, 65, lives in the Darb-e-Iraq area of Herat city, in an extended family of 43. She is called “Sufi”, a man’s title, because she has had to make her way like a man, sitting on local councils and earning her living as a midwife. But her comparatively liberal lifestyle has not benefited her five daughters-in-law, who will be staying home on August 20.

“My sons do not want their wives to participate in the election,” she said. “That is why my daughters-in-law will not be voting.” ... (link)

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