US Org. Optimistic on Afghan Elections 12/09 07:20
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- An American organization tasked with furthering
democracy in developing nations said on Monday that next April's elections in
Afghanistan will not be perfect, but they should be better than the previous
polls which were marred by widespread fraud.
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs said that an
assessment mission to Afghanistan found "guarded optimism" about the April 5
polls that will elect a new president to succeed Hamid Karzai, along with local
council members that will administer the country's 34 provinces.
Bu the organization said the elections still faced "serious challenges,"
including security, potential fraud and even weather conditions that could
affect voter turnout.
The 2009 presidential election was so soiled that U.N.-backed fraud
investigators threw out more than 1 million votes --- enough to force them into
a second-round vote. Many observers blamed much of the fraud on Karzai's
supporters, but the president blamed the U.S. for interfering against him. In
the end the opposing candidate dropped out and he was elected was elected to a
second and final five-year term.
Since then, reforms have been made to the process to make the elections
commissions more independent of the presidency.
"Clearly steps have been taken since then to address many of those issues,
so voting irregularity would be a challenge. They cannot promise a perfect
election, no nation can for that matter, but I think it would be a better
election than the last one," said Karl Inderfurth, a former U.S. assistant
secretary of state for South Asian affairs who headed the mission.
For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the elections will
be completely run and monitored by Afghans. Foreign involvement has been
limited to technical assistance and funding.
The NDI was created by the U.S. government through its National Endowment
for Democracy and is mostly funded by the American taxpayer.
"These reforms have brought a guarded optimism among many political and
civic actors that the 2014 polls would be an improvement over previous
elections," a statement issued by the mission said. "However, there are serious
challenges that could impact the integrity of the 2014 elections."
Security is a key concern in a country that is still at war more than 12
years after the Taliban were ousted, and is plagued by a relentless insurgency
that shows no sign of abating. The Taliban have called on Afghans to boycott
"In terms of challenges I think the most important would be security,
whether or not all Afghans would be able to turn out to vote," Inderfurth said.
Another concern is weather. Much of mountainous Afghanistan is covered in
snow even as late as April and many of its more remote regions are inaccessible.
A final issue is fraud, a danger increased by spotty records.
Afghan election officials have said they can only estimate how many voters
are really on the rolls in this country of about 30 million people. Added to
the confusion are millions of additional registration cards from past elections.
Officials with Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission have said 20.7
million registration cards have been issued since the first post-Taliban
elections were held, while the commission's best estimate for the number of
eligible voters is 12 million. Afghanistan has had no comprehensive official
census in nearly three decades.
Compounding the anxiety is uncertainty over whether Afghanistan and the
United States will sign a long delayed security agreement that could keep
thousands of American troops here for up to a decade.
Karzai, who says he backs the security deal, is balking at signing it
himself. Although a national assembly of 2,500 delegates known as a Loya Jirga
endorsed the deal in November and backed a U.S. request that it be signed by
the end of the year, Karzai is deferring that to his successor.
Much is as stake if the deal falls apart. Afghanistan could lose up to $15
billion a year in aid, effectively collapsing its fragile economy and making it
unable to pay its army and police.
"Clearly there is great support in Afghanistan for the Bilateral Security
Agreement, there is support from the Loya Jirga that was held, there is support
from the candidates that are running for the office, there is support from the
civil society groups, the women groups --- they want to see the continued
presence of the international community," Inderfurth said. "This will work out,
I am relatively confident, since I believe that this agreement is in the best
interest of both countries."