On Saturday April 5, Afghans will gear up for their tryst with history by taking part in elections. This presidential election is by far the most significant event in 2014 in Afghanistan, and possibly one of the most important in the contemporary history of the country.
Evidently, Afghan leaders throughout history have left the Palace (Aarg – now the presidential palace) only under the gun by either abdicating the throne or by being killed. This election, however, will represent for the first time a peaceful and democratic transition of power in Afghanistan, making the coming months the ultimate test of whether this fledgling democracy will be defiant or doomed.
It will also be an indicator to measure the success or failure of the 12-year international intervention in nation building, and of the sacrifices both in loss of life and monetary cost for both internationals and Afghans. A successful and legitimate election declaring a winner, followed by a peaceful transition from current outgoing President Hamid Karzai to the next president, would be a testament to the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan. An election fraught with fraud, which could be used as a pretext to postpone the handing over of power, would instead be evidence of failure.
Afghans recognize the significance of these elections as a window of opportunity leading to much desired peace and stability. A survey by the Free and Fair Elections of Afghanistan (FEFA) showed that 4 out of 5 Afghans intend to go to the polling centres and vote. A report from the Ministry of Interior and the Independent Election Commission state that during the 2009 presidential election 2000 of 6000 polling stations were closed, where currently only 748 of the 7171 polling stations are closed.
No one is expecting a clean election. There will be fraud. Yet, as long as this fraud is not so substantial as to jeopardize the legitimacy of the next Government and president, the elections can still be considered a success. In the same survey, only 1 in 4 Afghans expressed confidence that the elections will be clean. But people do hope and believe that the elections will be legitimate enough to result in a legitimate Government. This hope is supported by media coverage of the elections, and indeed by the role of the media itself in monitoring fraud.
With daily incidents of violence destabilizing the security situation ahead of the elections, voters have now become more circumspect and wary. But their spirit has not dampened. Security has been beefed up by the deployment of more than 95,000 Afghanistan National Armed Forces (ANSF) across the country to avert any untoward incidents as armed insurgents continue to pose threat to elections. Cars, motorcycles, and bicycles are banned from entering major cities on Saturday to prevent couriers of potential improvised explosive devices.
Beyond this weekend, 2014 will also be crucial for maintaining the foundation and continuing the process of nation building and democratization. The new president will have to swiftly deal with NATO’s withdrawal by taking full charge of securing Afghanistan, filling the economic void, and resuming peace negotiations with the Taliban. Equally important is the continuation of the gains made during the last 12 years, and keeping them intact. Only legitimate leadership coming out of this election reasonably clean will be able to patch up relationship with the international community and donor countries, while also obtaining the support of the Afghans.
The Tokyo Conference of 2012 based all future donations on the efforts of the Afghan government to actively fight corruption. This, to a large extent has not happened. Yet, all the front-runners amongst the presidential candidates have pledged to fight corruption head on, and have presented concrete plans to do so. Corruption is the leading cause of preventing progress and development in Afghanistan and is directly connected to security.
Ultimately the legitimacy of the elections and a peaceful transition of power will determine the future of Afghanistan, making Saturday one of the most crucial dates in its contemporary history.
This article was written together with Shafeek Seddiq, President of Afghanistan Justice Organization (AJO) and Founder and Editor of the Afghan Zariza (http://www.afghanzariza.com) , who is based in Kabul.