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W&M prof. has first-hand look at Afghan election

  • Team effort
    Team effort  Rani Mullen (r), assistant professor of government served as on election observer with Democracy International (DI)in Afghanistan in late August 2009. She is pictured with some of the approximately 80 observers DI had in Afghanistan for their presidential election, (l to r) Marvin Weinbaum, Carol Wang, Omar Kader and Jackie Harris.  Courtesy photo
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Establishing a democracy doesn't seem to be getting any easier. The most recent example? Afghanistan.  Racked with war and fighting off accusations of election fraud, Afghanistan's Karzai administration is struggling to shore-up internal and external perceptions of the legitimacy of its government.

William & Mary assistant professor of government Rani Mullen served as an international observer for their most recent election – a presidential contest held in late August. Mullen was among approximately 80 observers in the country with Democracy International (DI). Though she witnessed few fraudulent conditions, she fears her observations in Kabul, the nation’s capital, were not indicative of electoral conditions across the country.

Democracy International wasn't the only American group in Afghanistan to observe the election, just the second presidential contest held by the fledgling democracy. Mullen said in addition to DI, National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) also had observers on the ground.  Mullen estimates she was among some 130 U.S. observers in the country most of whom, like her, were volunteers. And concedes the election she witnessed was not the election everyone saw.

"Essentially I think what happened was that there were two elections," Mullen recently told public radio host Cathy Lewis on her weekday program, HearSay.

The two elections, Mullen said. One election took place in, the polling places in some urban areas, like the ones she observed in the nation’s capital Kabul, where security was good, domestic and international observers were present, and voting procedures were largely followed.  The other election took place in locations away from the capital or larger cities, that were not secure and that appear to have been raft with fraudulent procedures including double (and sometimes worse) voting. She chronicled her observations and experiences in an online blog.

For Mullen, it was an experience of a lifetime and one she'd gladly repeat.

"If there is a second round, I’m there," she told Lewis.

The interpreter for Mullen's group votes in Kabul. Indeed a second round may be necessary. Complaints of fraud were rampant following the August 20th national election and the Electoral Complaint Commission  (ECC) and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) have both issued press statements indicating election irregularities could force a re-vote.

Mullen feels the timing of any second round of voting is crucial.

"A second round of elections before the end of October offers the best way to demonstrate that Afghans can still have a free choice and, with better voting procedures and international supervision, a more honest outcome," she wrote in the September 18 Foreign Policy magazine article along with co-authors William Maley, director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University and Marvin G. Weinbaum, scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute.

While results sanctioned by the ECC and IEC are imperative for a legitimized administration, delaying a re-count or re-vote can create issues as well.

On HearSay, Mullen noted that if winter arrives in Afghanistan before the election is sanctioned or a re-vote called, any second election would have to wait until spring because of the logistical obstacles posed by severe winter weather in the region.
There are also political concerns.

"A nightmare scenario is one in which the United States is expected to partner with a government delegitimized by the very process by which it has hung on to power," the co-authors wrote in Foreign Policy.

And they concluded,

"In November 1986, at the meeting of the Soviet Politburo that took the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev captured the Soviet Union's Afghan dilemma all too bluntly: 'We have lost the battle for the Afghan people.' If, in 2009, we opt to side with the fraudsters rather than the voters, we too will lose the battle for the Afghan people."