Friday, August 14, 2009

Should Women Be Allowed To Vote In Afghanistan?

Got your attention with that headline, didn't I? The reality of the situation though is that Afghanistan is holding a presidential election next week, one that is all but certain to be a fraud, and the role of women is a big part of the reason.

Election officials are reporting "suspiciously high" numbers of women registering to vote in Paktia, Khost and Logar, some of Afghanistan's most rural, most conservative provinces. Actually in many cases it's the male head of the household coming in to register his 10 or 15 wives to vote, saying that they can't come in themselves of course since it's inappropriate for them to talk with men outside their families...You have to wonder then if they'll be allowed to vote, or if hubby will just show up on election day expecting to vote 10 or 15 times 'for his wives'. And even if they do show up, will the women be allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice, or will they have to vote as their told by their husband? Or will the women who show up even be the women who are registered (or even be women for that matter)? Anyone could be beneath a burka, including a man's underage sons.

Paktia, Khost and Logar happen to be predominantly Pashtun areas - the same tribe as the current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and thanks to recent Taliban attacks, they're also places that are expected to have the fewest vote monitors, all in all a situation ripe for voter fraud.

And that's ok with the US and international monitors, at least up to a point. If there's anything more disturbing about the Afghani election than the likely wholesale disenfranchisement of women, it's how accepting the international community is about the prospect of wide-spread voter fraud. Yes, Afghanistan is a mess and holding an election will be difficult, but that shouldn't mean its alright to have a sham election. Jandad Spinghar, the executive director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the country's top independent election monitoring group said "if the level of corruption or violation is under 10 percent, it will be acceptable for me." Really? In a nation where 17 million people are registered to vote, that works out to a whopping 1.7 million bogus votes being "okay" in the minds of the election monitors.

Right now President Karzai is deeply unpopular and is facing a surprisingly strong challenge from his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. The worst outcome for Afghanistan is one where Karzai wins, but no one believes the validity of the vote - but that looks just like the scenario we're heading for.
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