Afghan Presidential Election 2009
The next few weeks will be a defining period for the people of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai has served as the nation’s president since 2004. As important as this seemingly stable election was five years ago, the more critical question occurs now: how does an unstable democracy attempt a democratic transfer of power? In the past four weeks alone we’ve seen President Manuel Zelaya ousted in a military coup in Honduras, and violent riots in Iran over its own blatantly corrupt election results. With the media hype and fierce security apparatuses descending upon the nation of Afghanistan for this tremendously important election, perhaps it serves as an opportunity for the United States and Afghanistan to prove to the rest of the world just how much democratic progress has occurred in the country in its eight year transformation. Perhaps the rest of the world will have something to learn from the Afghan people.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, has already called for a boycott of the elections which will occur on August 20, 2009. The violent resources he will employ in order to enforce the boycott have yet to be determined. Unfortunately, the Taliban threat against the coming elections is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only must our security forces be prepared for the threat of Taliban attacks on election day, but as we’ve seen in Iran, it is not out of question for a disgruntled losing candidate to mobilize his base to challenge the election, potentially resulting in violence and instability around the country. In fact, in a nation as divided as Afghanistan, the candidate himself probably would not even have to instigate the conflicts.
The three major candidates in the Election are Hamid Karzai, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, and Mr. Ashraf Ghani. There are an additional 41 candidates running for the presidency, but aside from the Zalmay Khalilzad who received much attention as a Bush Administration official, none have received substantial coverage to be considered competitive.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is born and bread Afghani who brings to the table an interesting life story. He is reported to be a Tajik-Pashtun, a rare mix of two primary ethnicities in Afghanistan. Whether this will unite the electorate in his favor, or alienate both factions against him is still in the air. Abdullah does come from a strict Muslim family. He maintains a conservative beard and a strict study of the Koran. As a doctor, Abdullah started his career treating Afghan refugees in Pakistan at an eye infirmary in Peshawar. He understands Pakistanis and the porous border between the two countries, making his contributions to the presidency seemingly valuable in the current security situation. He was soon appointed as the Health Director of the Panjshir Resistance Front, and soon promoted to an advisor to Ahmed Shah Massoud in his fight against the Soviets whom he followed as an advisor in the Northern Alliance during the Taliban takeover. Since the fall of the Taliban, Abdullah served as Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the Massoud Foundation. Abdullah’s strategy thus far has been to capitalize off of his numerous associations with the great Afghan war hero and his participation in Soviet/Taliban Resistance in an effort to seem more “Afghan” and less of an “American-puppet” than his two primary opponents.
Ashraf Ghani, much like Hamid Karzai, is an international Renaissance man. He was educated at the American University in Beirut, Columbia, Harvard, and even Insead. He has had more business and leadership experience than any of the other candidates in the election. He even won a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship to study madrassas in Pakistan, making him well qualified in understanding the mentality of those Taliban patrons just across the border. He was formerly a director at the World Bank working on projects in East and South Asia. Once Hamid Karzai took power, Ghani left to serve as his Finance Minister. Interestingly enough, the currency value of Afghanistan has increased dramatically with him at the helm (despite the fact that the Afghan currently trades for about 2 cents) and the economy, particularly in the major population centers, has remained relatively stable compared to the destructive effects predicted right after the fall of the Taliban. He doesn’t have a beard, and wears a Western style suit in his appearances. This has earned both him and Khalilzad the unique criticism of being “too Western” and compromising of Afghan values. Either way, he is gaining traction. Interestingly enough, he just hired James Carville to help him run his campaign in Afghanistan.
So far, the election seems to be running relatively seamlessly, though Karzai appears to be the huge favorite in August. The good news: nearly 16 million Afghans have already registered to vote, nearly half the population of Afghanistan and nearly 2/3 of the population that is legally of age to vote. Of those that have registered to vote, almost 1/3 are women…