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The Afghan elections

Afghanistan’s second parliamentary election is happening on Saturday. Here are five things you need to know about it.

Thousands of candidates are running

While many lament the likelihood of a corrupt, stolen election, both in last year’s presidential race and in this year’s race for parliament, thousands of Afghans still campaign for office. According to Democracy International, nearly 2,500 candidates are running for positions in parliament. Focusing only on numbers doesn’t say all that much — even now, candidates are routinely disqualified from running because of criminal convictions — but the sheer volume of people who wish to participate in an election is, in many ways, encouraging.

There will be blood

Last year, during Afghanistan’s presidential elections, the Taliban waited a long while to issue any kind of edict or ruling against the election. This year, they’ve been explicit: do not even bother. They’ve already murdered candidates, and have been explicit that they will attack voting stations. The government and ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) will have a role to play as well. They haven’t exactly acquitted themselves lately, and have killed several people during the recent Quran burning protests. Last year, voters in Nuristan held a protest because they felt they didn’t have enough voting cards. During the chaos that ensued, the Afghan police killed two people. Afghan officials are pinky-swearing they will be able to provide security, but no one is under any illusions that this will be a bloodless election. Yesterday, the UN evacuated a third of its staff due to safety concerns.

The most important voters will be disenfranchised

In comparison to the 2009 election, nearly 600 additional voting stations will be closed this year. These closures are happening in the least secure areas of the country, where the people who are most likely to oppose the current government live. In a war that many say can only be ended through political reconciliation, systematically disenfranchising the people you’re seeking to reconcile — regardless of the validity of the reason — is not a very positive development. Interestingly, provinces like Helmand, which have seen multiple high-profile U.S.-led campaigns to defeat the insurgency, are seeing more polling stations open than last year; provinces like Nangarhar, however, which many thought so safe its governor could run for President, have seen hundreds close.

An election guiding sheet for officials of polling stations in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2009. Photo: AP/Musadeq Sadeq

Women will be systematically excluded

It seems like a no-duh statement, but in the 2005 parliamentary elections, women made a surprising — and encouraging — showing. While there were examples of intimidation against women then, it pales in comparison to what is happening to woman candidates now. Within days of entering their names to the election commission and announcing their candidacy, woman candidates have been personally attacked, accused of sexual impropriety, and had their lives threatened. If the intimidation excludes women, it will be a serious loss for the country — women have proven to be some of the smartest, loudest and most effective voices in Parliament, even if some of their male colleagues have reacted with disdain and dismissal. But women have a much harder time paying for personal security and campaign costs, and when combined with the viciousness of anti-woman candidate intimidation, many woman candidates have simply chosen not to run at all. One final result of this is that parliament will almost certainly be more male, and less willing to stand up for the rights of women.

Everyone cheats

Hamid Karzai deserves condemnation for massively cheating in last year’s presidential election. What many don’t realize (or remember) is, his opponent, the supposedly non-corrupt Abdullah Abdullah, had nearly 300,000 votes voided for being fraudulent. In fact, Karzai’s fake votes only accounted for about a third of all fraudulent votes cast during last year’s election. This year’s parliamentary election will be no different, and in many ways will be worse. Because of the systematic voter intimidation, the disenfranchisement of women, the unavailability of polling stations in the most vulnerable regions, and the re-emergence of many regional strongmen who’d laid low the past several years, there is every indication that this year’s election will be marked by even more massive fraud. This means those who lose the election can and will contest it, with the end result that this and future elections will all be tainted as being illegitimate. In other words, the massive, systematic cheating in the last two elections will discredit the very idea of democracy in Afghanistan — perhaps permanently.

For more on the Afghan elections, read this essay from our friends at Wide Angle.