Afghan Elections: Prospects for the FuturePrintable Version
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
With Afghanistan's second democratic presidential elections set to take place on August 20, the Center for National Policy hosted a discussion with two experts on the topic to explore the political and security issues surrounding the event: Peter Manikas, senior associate and regional director for Asia programs at the National Democratic Institute, and Craig Charney, pollster and president of Charney Research.
Mr. Manikas began the discussion by noting a number of opportunities for progress he feels have been missed by US policymakers in recent years as well as a number of lingering potential problems with the Afghan election system. For example, the registration process resulted in a seeming surplus issuing of registration cards. Additionally, some estimate that 10% of the polling centers probably will not be able to open on election day due to security concerns, most of which are in the south, raising the question of credibility for the election. A further lingering issue Manikas identified is the electoral system itself; according to Mr. Manikas the single non-transferable system that was adopted is rather "peculiar." He claimed that the system makes it difficult for candidates to distinguish themselves and also makes it difficult to organize potential supporters.
Mr. Manikas went on to note that security is clearly still a large problem. Security issues affect where international observers of the elections can go and what they can monitor. There are also issues with logistical concerns involving the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Fraud on Election Day is expected by many; if it does occur, it obviously raises concerns as to the credibility of the outcome. There is also a strong possibility of a runoff election which would further complicate the results and post-election stability.
Mr. Charney put the elections in context by noting a number of interesting results he has come across through his polling data from the country. He explained that while half of the Afghan population believes that the biggest national issue is security, only one in six Afghans stated that security was the biggest concern in their local area. This seemingly paradoxical finding can be explained by the fact that most Afghans live in cities or towns in the northern parts of the country, where the security is "fair to middling." Beyond security issues, 70% of Afghans claimed that the economy was their top concern. Mr. Charney attributes this to increased security, which in turn allows Afghans to focus on the issues of unemployment.
Charney also noted that there has been "massive reconstruction" in Afghanistan throughout the duration of US/NATO efforts there and this positive change is recognized by many Afghans themselves. Polling indicates 43% of Afghans believe that they are better off than they were five years ago, 21% claim that things are "the same" and only 14% replied that they were "worse." President Karzai, Mr. Charney argued, is highly adept at dealing with both tribal and modern national politics, which has established him as a "truly national figure." Charney closed his comments by asking everyone to keep an open mind and to be prepared to be surprised by the election results.
Questions regarding the Taliban's impact on the elections were raised, prompting both Manikas and Charney to share their perspectives on the issue. Manikas asserted that he feels it would be a mistake to negotiate with the Taliban; Mr. Charney, on the other hand, took an opposing position, noting that studies show "most insurgencies end with negotiations." Both agreed, however, on the need for a stronger Afghan state, which hopefully will result in part this year's election.