What Good Will Come of Afghanistan's Runoff Election?

Experts debate the merits of the recently announced Afghan runoff, and discuss the difficulties of the move

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to a runoff election after widespread reports of fraud in the election earlier this fall. While the possibility of a runoff was initially hailed as a positive step in the troubled country, more considered opinions are beginning to come in. Will the runoff be any less fraudulent than the first election? Experts are considering what steps should be taken to improve and ensure its legitimacy.

Here are five takes from around the web:

  • Runoff Needs to Involve Pashtuns, says Ali Ahmad Jalali, a professor of Near East studies writing for the New York Times. "If this does not happen, then no matter how well the vote goes in other parts of the country, the Pashtuns will feel excluded," as they did in the first election. This would give the Taliban an opening for their propaganda campaign. But, Jalali notes, this election really isn't the end-all-be-all:
[I]n war-devastated Afghanistan legitimacy is derived mostly from the capability to deliver services and security, rather than from the ballot box. Whoever wins the election, his legitimacy will depend on the kind of a government he forms, and if it is seen as inclusive, effective and clean.
  • There Will Be Fraud--But Let's Aim for Less Fraud  Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel is brutally honest: "We have to assume there will be fraud in the second round. The scale in the first--especially by President Karzai--was staggering." But that doesn't mean we can't expect "much greater oversight," he says.
  • Need More Time: We've Got a Donkey Problem  "The first step in ensuring a credible election," asserts J. Scott Carpenter at Foreign Policy, "is to postpone the date for the runoff." Why? Aside from the time--which others are also mentioning--needed to set up security and vote monitoring procedures, Carpenter points out that "[b]ecause ballots are often transported by donkey, it could take weeks to distribute them to Afghanistan's remotest areas. A mad rush will be the only way to get all of this done, and such haste will not contribute to a credible process." Also, he says, the U.S. needs to institute "independent parallel vote tabulation (PVT)," a system he explains in detail. 
The U.S. failure to do so in the first round was too deliberate to be incompetent. In my view, U.S. officials assumed the process would be flawed but believed, like most Afghans did, that in any case Karzai would be easily re-elected.
  • There Will Be No Runoff  Jean MacKenzie, director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Afghanistan, isn't holding her breath: "Chances are there will not be a second round; weather and logistics could easily combine to torpedo the effort, and the challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has already hinted that he is open to talks 'if winter should make a second round impossible.'" Frankly, she says,
A runoff is in no one’s interests. The Afghan people are tired and disgusted, and no second round is going to redeem the democratic process in their eyes. The turnout is likely be miniscule--under 20 percent--making any talk of government legitimacy more than a little absurd.
  • Assuming There Is a Runoff, What Are We Looking For, Exactly?  The Atlantic's Chris Good is already wondering about the takeaway from this exercise. Obama is waiting for the election to announce his Afghanistan strategy, he says, but "[i]f the election goes well, is that a good reason to send more troops? If it goes poorly, is that a good reason not to?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.