Why Afghanistan's Run-Offs Are Doomed

From logistics to politics to weather, experts explain why the next election will fail

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In a ceremony marked by "triumphant" and "joyous" celebration, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced last week his country would hold a run-off presidential election. The decision came after reports confirmed that the previous election was rigged in Karzai's favor. Many have lauded Karzai's concession and praised Sen. John Kerry for striking the deal and holding the country together. However, a number of international experts say the run-off, far from diverting a political crisis, will exacerbate problems in the country (as hinted at by Dexter Filkins in The New York Times). Citing a laundry list of logistical and political problems, observers explain why the run-offs will be Afghanistan's kiss of death:

  • A Corrupt Election Commission, warns The Economist: "Perhaps the biggest problem is the IEC [Independent Election Commission] itself, a body regarded as so biased towards Mr Karzai and complicit in fraud that some analysts say there is no point in running another vote under its auspices. Martine van Bijlert, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a think-tank, says that without big changes, voters will feel that the outcome will be determined not by their votes but by the IEC. UN staff have called for hundreds of IEC officials, particularly those who turned a blind eye to fraud, to be sacked. But only the IEC can make such a decision. With just a fortnight before the election, it is impossible for proper reform to take place, particularly as the only man with the power to hire and fire its commissioners is Mr Karzai himself."
  • A Security Nightmare, writes Rajan Menon, an Afghan scholar writing in the Los Angeles Times: "It's a sure bet that the Taliban, true to form, will warn voters to stay at home during the vote on pain of death, and try to kill those who are not intimidated. It has become a formidable force and is no longer confined to its Pashtun strongholds in the south and east. This raises the question of how the country can be made safe enough to ensure a reasonable turnout."
  • Will Incite Racial Violence, writes Tony Karon at The National: "A new round of campaigning would sharply heighten tensions between ethnic Pashtuns (Mr Karzai’s base, but also the Taliban’s) and ethnic Tajiks, the main support base of Dr Abdullah." Rajan Menon agrees: "The Pashtuns have dominated the country's politics and will not meekly hand over the reins of power -- the stakes are too high. Instead, they will resist, and Afghanistan's ethnic divisions will deepen."
  • Bad Weather forecasts Hafizullah Gardesh at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting: "The challenges of organizing a new poll within a few weeks are daunting, and it may ultimately prove impossible to carry out... With the onset of winter, travel in much of the north will become extremely difficult, and many voters will be unable to get to polling stations."
  • A Genuine Farce, writes Steve Hynd at Newshoggers: "Despite every member of both the Obama administration and Gordon Brown's government who has an opportunity to voice an opinion getting ready to follow Richard Holbrooke's spin that there will be less 'irregularities' in the Afghan run-off election, none really believe it. It's all about creating an illusion of legitimacy around Karzai's inevitable win so that the troop escalation and continued occupation can proceed. Not even the heads of the two electoral bodies concerned with the election believe the spin... Karzai had to be all-but dragged onto the podium to accept the run-off decision."
  • The Wrong Approach, writes Rich Lowry at National Review: "In the modern world, elections are how governments typically win their legitimacy. But on prudential grounds, I'm not sure a new election would be my highest priority in Afghanistan. I'm guessing most Afghans will judge the legitimacy of the government more on how it delivers the most basic aspects of governance—most fundamentally, security and some kind of justice free of corruption—than on election returns. Given the choice, I'd have been tempted to use whatever leverage we had over Karzai to get him to do some things that will actually improve governance on the ground—better governors, better cabinet ministers, etc.—rather than twisting his arm on a run-off."
  • Not What Afghans Need, writes Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress: "What’s needed in Afghanistan is not just a reasonably fair runoff election, but a post-election national unity government in which Hamid Karzai shares power with as wide a swathe of non-Taliban opposition as possible. After all, a big part of the counterinsurgency concept is that the theory that elements of the Taliban itself can be persuaded to switch sides and engage in some kind of power-sharing."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.