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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Elections under way in Afghanistan

[*cross-posted from Assoluta Tranquillita*]

About 2,500 candidates are standing for 249 seats in Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament...From the BBC, thumbnail sketches of three of the candidates:


Zamir Kabuli
Mr Kabuli is known for satirising politicians

Zamir Kabuli has old ties with Afghanistan's ruling establishment. He made a living imitating and satirising politicians. But at 39, this stand-up comedian says he has had enough of their incompetence.

"We gave them (the politicians) the job to run this country. And see what they have done," Mr Kabuli says, pointing to a pot-hole in the street.

''No-one bothers about the people. Disaster - be it natural or man-made - politicians neither have the time nor the inclination to help the masses. So I decided to run (for parliament)."


"Send me to parliament and I will solve your problems. I won't run away from you.

"Like that mountain, you will all know where to find me," he says, pointing at a snow-covered peak in the Hindu Kush range and generating laughs from the crowd....


Farida Tarana
Ms Tarana became popular after appearing on the Afghan Star TV show

Farida Tarana, 29, challenged religious hardliners when she appeared on Afghan Star, a popular talent contest on the private Tolo television network.

Some people in her home province of western Herat said she was a "bad Muslim" and brought shame on the region. She even had apples thrown at her.

But none of this deterred her from singing.

"Singing is my passion. I believe in what I do," she says....


Ms Tarana says the election campaign reminds her of the time when she was appearing on Afghan Star.

"There were supporters and fans that were ready to do anything to see me sing.

"And then there were detractors who were willing to go to any length to see me shut up," she says.


Najila Anjila
Ms Anjila wants to push for laws which benefit women

Najila Anjila, 30, runs a logistics firm and gets major contracts from the international forces, charities and firms based in Afghanistan.

A few years ago, Najila was an employee, working for a few hundred dollars a month. But today she is a successful entrepreneur.

When the Taliban came to Kabul, Ms Anjila ran away to Karachi in Pakistan because of their treatment of women.

''There was little hope (in Afghanistan). Women were not allowed to study or work."

In Karachi, Ms Anjila studied for a master's degree in business administration (MBA), but says she was yearning to return to her country..


Ms Anjila says if elected, she would push for laws that advance the prospects of Afghan women.

"The Taliban phase was a dark period. We can't undo it.

"What we can do is ensure that women are never treated like chattel again. We owe this much to Afghan women," she says.

These are excerpts. Go read more on these three candidates at the BBC here.

Security Concerns Loom Ahead of Afghan Vote

Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press

Ballot materials are carried by men and donkeys to polling stations in

Dara, Afghanistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections on Saturday could determine whether a viable opposition remains in the legislature, but turnout — and the legitimacy of the second election in a year — hangs in the balance as voters fear waning security and brace for fraud.

The Parliament that is leaving office has gradually become an independent force, often challenging the government of President Hamid Karzai and blocking his nominees for ministerial posts.

Eager for a more pliant legislature, Mr. Karzai and his political allies have recruited candidates and backed their campaigns, according to local leaders in several large provinces who asked not to be named because they did not want to anger the president. Mr. Karzai is seeking support on issues like how to bring the Taliban into the political structure and whether to amend the Constitution to allow him to retain power beyond his second term, according to Western diplomats.

Worried that this year’s election could provoke the kind of brazen fraud that marred the last one, Afghanistan’s recently appointed chairman of the Independent Election Commission made a passionate plea on Thursday for all election officials to police fraud.

“Last year the elections got defamed,” said Fazil Ahmad Manawi, chairman of the commission.

“Public trust towards elections was severely affected,” he said. “The bad experience of last year must not be repeated. No polling center must be opened where its security is not ensured.”


Areas that are insecure will be the most vulnerable to fraud because there will be few observers and potentially few voters going to the polling places, making it easier for local power brokers to stuff ballot boxes.

That was the pattern that election experts observed in the 2009 presidential elections, where more than a million ballots were thrown out because of voting irregularities. The fraud was so extensive that it forced Mr. Karzai into a runoff. Ultimately, his opponent withdrew and Mr. Karzai was declared the winner.

This year, the election commission has made strides by removing several provincial election officials who oversaw areas where extensive fraud occurred, shuffling others and cutting the number of polling stations to prevent abuse in remote and insecure regions. But many election districts remain insecure, and some people worry that turnout in such places may end up being so low that it could raise questions about the legitimacy of the elections. “Is an election with 5 percent turnout a valid election?” asked a Western diplomat in Kabul...


Johann Kriegler, a member of the Electoral Complaint Commission, which sorts through complaints about election improprieties, said, “Of course there will be fraud, but this election is not about fraud, it is about the Afghan people in extremely difficult circumstances; it is about letting honest people feel they have a say in the government of their country.”...

More at the New York Times here. And from ISAF, an article about technology which seeks to address the security issues:

New Security Measure in Place for Afghanistan Elections

By Capt. Anthony Deiss
Task Force Rushmore Public Affairs

CAMP PHOEINX, Afghanistan While the world will be watching Afghanistan's parliamentary elections on Saturday, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials will be keeping an eye on the capital with the help of a new security measure; the Persistent Surveillance System (PSS), which took flight this week at Camp Julien in south Kabul.

100914-A-5891V-040: A new Persistent Surveillance System (PSS) begins its assent above Camp Julien Sept. 14, 2010, to provide the Afghan National Security Forces and International Security Assistance Force officials with an extra level of surveillance capability for security operations around Kabul, Afghanistan. The PSS, a floating aerostat (or blimp), has high-tech camera equipment able to provide 360 degree views of the city. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Travis Vallery)

The PSS, a floating aerostat (or blimp), has high-tech camera equipment which will provide an extra level of surveillance capability for security operations around the city.

“The system has the ability to provide instant situational awareness for security forces throughout Kabul,” said Maj. Todd Bartunek, director of Plans, Training and Mobilization for Task Force Rushmore, Kabul Base Cluster Installation Command. “The elections are just around the corner and a lot of time and effort has gone into ensuring that polling centers and voters are safe.”...

Read more on this here. (Also an interesting article from the UK Forces via Helmand Blog here.)

It is pretty amazing to me that such twenty-first century technology is being used to ensure the integrity of what we consider a most basic of rights here in the west, in a country many consider still stuck in the primitive dark ages. We here in the west are always casual, cavalier even, about voting in elections. Voters are more often than not apathetic when it comes to being involved in our election process. The Afghanistan people risk their lives to cast a ballot.

The world is, indeed, watching, as Afghanistan takes yet another step towards a functioning democracy.