Low turnout

Voter turnout in Afghanistan’s general election has been extremely disappointing. It was lower than that during the presidential election last year. Although violence on polling day was less than anticipated, Taliban attacks in the run-up to voting and the resurgence in its clout over the past couple of years appear to have kept voters away from exercising their franchise. The courage of those who defied the Taliban and showed up to vote must be applauded. Large-scale vote rigging too has been reported which is another blow undermining Afghanistan’s nascent democracy. Less than a year ago, the country voted in Presidential elections, which were deeply marred by rigging. Not only did that fraud result in apolitical impasse that lasted several months but also it served to undermine Afghan democracy and the stature of the presidency. The legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai has been under question since.

The parliamentary election is important because of the role parliament has played in recent years as a check on Hamid Karzai’s authority. Soon after his re-election last year, Karzai appointed several loyalists, many of them with questionable records, to key posts in his administration. But parliament managed to clip his wings by refusing to approve several of his ministerial appointments. It is likely that Karzai was hoping that the election would put in place a pliant parliament. It is in this context that the vote rigging must be seen. Afghans will have to wait for several weeks more before they know what kind of parliament they will have and who will represent them. It will take time to transport ballot boxes to counting centres. Besides, thousands of complaints against vote rigging will have to be investigated before the verdict can be made public.

While Karzai could benefit politically in the short run if the election throws up a pliant parliament, this outcome could be disastrous for Afghan democracy in the long run. An all-powerful President with an emasculated parliament will encourage the growth of authoritarianism and unbridled corruption. The Taliban, which is growing military by the day, will also be empowered politically as democratic institutions lie discredited. If those who sit in parliament are not the ones the people voted for, then it will be the Taliban that comes out victorious from the just-concluded election.

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