Fixing Elections in Afghanistan

There's one bright spot in Afghanistan's election debacle: The fraud investigators are taking their job seriously. America's war in Afghanistan...

There's one bright spot in Afghanistan's election debacle: The fraud investigators are taking their job seriously.

America's war in Afghanistan isn't going well. The problems in Afghanistan range from a basic lack of government services-particularly security-to some of the lowest human development indicators in the world. As if the country didn't have enough to deal with, Afghanistan is now wrestling with the fallout of a deeply flawed election.

The ongoing debacle of the August 20 elections has only highlighted the depth of corruption and abuse in Afghan politics. Electoral authorities have found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud." The European Union's observation mission recently claimed that up to 1.5 million ballots could be fraudulent, enough to dramatically change the projected results.

While the elections have rightfully attracted much criticism, at least one reason for cautious optimism does exist: The Electoral Complaints Commission. The ECC, which is charged with investigating electoral abuse and irregularities, is taking its mandate seriously. It has ordered recounts at more than 2,500 polling stations, around 10 percent of the total. This is particularly impressive given the extraordinary pressure it is under to simply certify the "official" results and allow President Karzai to claim victory without a second round. If allowed to carry out its mandate unhindered, the work of the ECC could help restore some of the credibility in the electoral process, which in turn would translate into legitimacy for the government that emerges. With public confidence in the Afghan government at an all time low, this is critical.

In unveiling his Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, President Obama said that the United States "cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders." One way to confront that corruption would be to rally the international community to support the ECC. The 64th session of the General Assembly meeting this week in New York would be a good place to start. The people of Afghanistan would be reassured to know that the United States is still committed to one of the fundamental principles of democratic governance-that citizens choose their leaders.

Oren Ipp is a consultant in the field of democratic governance and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.

Photo of "Go Vote" billboard from Flickr user Todd Huffman (cc)

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