News Release

Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq: Free and Fair?


Thier was a legal advisor to Afghanistan’s constitutional and judicial reform commissions. He is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. He said today: “By most measures, Afghanistan seems far from ripe for democracy. As President Hamid Karzai struggles to build a government in Kabul, much of the country remains under the control of warlord armies. … Factional fighting has touched every corner of the country, and more soldiers and aid workers have been killed this year than in the previous two. It will be difficult to ensure free and fair elections in this environment. More than 10 million Afghans have registered to vote, many at great personal risk. But the United Nations, which is helping organize the elections, recently released a report warning that many Afghans would be unable to freely exercise their political rights owing to warlord intimidation. … On his first major campaign trip outside Kabul, Karzai was nearly assassinated. Concerns about fairness are muted because the outcome of the elections seems assured. There are 18 candidates for the top spot, but there is little doubt U.S.-backed Karzai will win.”

He added: “Elections themselves are only a small part of democracy. Effective government service, protection of individual rights, accountability — these are the true fruits of democracy. Holding elections without the rule of law can undermine democracy by sparking violence, sowing cynicism and allowing undemocratic forces to become entrenched.”
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Rahul Mahajan is an adjunct professor at New York University and publisher of the weblog Empire Notes. He has been to Iraq twice and reported from Fallujah during the siege in April. He said today: “Be it in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Bush administration has a track record of fixing elections to produce the winner it desires. … The Bush administration has pressured the Afghan Electoral Commission to delay the parliamentary elections until next April but push through the presidential elections in October. The plan is clearly to ensure that there will be no time for anyone to emerge as a national-level alternative to Hamid Karzai as the president. … The U.S. record in Iraq is not much different. The administration has touted the local elections held under the aegis of the U.S. occupation as evidence of its democratic intentions. However, in many instances, the ‘election’ consisted of the appointment of the mayor and/or city council members by the local U.S. commander, sometimes to disastrous effect. Just this past August, a national conference of nearly 1,300 delegates met to determine the makeup of the 100-member interim National Assembly, whose formation was mandated by the ‘transfer of sovereignty’ process. However, the delegates at the conference soon learned that the entire process of selection was a giant sham, and that they would be presented with a pre-selected slate of 81 candidates chosen as a result of back-room negotiations between the major U.S.-affiliated parties. Attempts by small parties to form an alternative slate fell through. In the end, the U.S.-backed slate was not even presented to the delegates for formal approval.” Mahajan’s latest book is Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond.
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Co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, Kolhatkar is co-author of the article “Afghan Elections: U.S. Solution to U.S. Problem.” She said today: “Even though many Afghans will risk their lives to vote, most of them took no part in decision-making regarding the schedule and structure of the elections. … As part of Bush’s ‘War on Terror,’ the U.S. made deals with Northern Alliance warlords in his crusade against the Taliban, appointed them to high-level government posts, allowed them to regain regional power and watched idly as they fought one another. When aid agencies and even Hamid Karzai asked for the International Security Assistance Forces to be expanded from Kabul to the rest of the country, the U.S. responded by saying that such an expansion would interfere with their operations — thereby closing a crucial window of opportunity to undermine the warlords early on. Only now, as warlords threaten to spoil the carefully staged demonstration of ‘democracy’ via elections, is the U.S. putting any pressure on them — and that is mostly to ensure that they don’t spoil the show.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167