Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Against Postponing Elections

In Sunday's Washington Post, Candace Rondeaux argues for postponing parliamentary elections. Her main points are:
  • Security is still deteriorating
  • Known flaws in the elections process haven't been fixed since last year
  • The international community isn't sufficiently involved

I don't actually take issue with any of these arguments, but I don't think that they add up to postponing the elections...

Security is a huge unknown, and it could just as easily deteriorate as improve over the next six months. If we postpone in the hope of a free campaign environment, we could find ourselves waiting quite some time (at least in certain districts). If the security situation is too bad for elections now, then any postponement would become indefinite.

The elections process is indeed terribly flawed. In explaining the quirks of the voting system, I've only scratched the surface. The process of removing candidates with ties to illegal armed groups functions even more poorly than she described - but given the relevant government ministries' refusal to thoroughly vet would-be parliamentarians, it's near-impossible for outside bodies to even begin researching all 2500 candidates. The institutions we helped form are opaque and dysfunctional, but we're losing leverage to reform them. This is a question worth addressing, but unless we can spell out a new framework for electoral management, halting campaigns already underway hurts many legitimate candidates without changing the underlying deficiencies.

Finally, the international community is deliberate in its distance. In the presidential election, their involvement was able to highlight flaws without being able to prevent fraud or solve the crisis. Again, without the leverage to change how these elections are carried out, the international community is quite possibly better off not associating itself with the process. But the solution still shouldn't be postponement or cancellation now that campaigns are underway, candidates are already printing posters and hosting rallies and spending both their hard-raised funds and taking well-calculated risks. An election clearly stolen by supporters of the president would be a disaster, but a suspension of elections could create just as much public disillusionment.

The solution, such as it is, should be harder behind-the-scenes work for effective administration, combined with a highly concerted effort to ensure election-day security and plenty of training and support for organizations like the Free and Fair Elections Foundation and the Commission, who are playing an active advocacy role. Elections are much harder to carry out here, due not only to security and administration but also because of questions of media, geography, and the near-total loss of social trust over years of conflict.

The word "solution" makes these problems sound addressable, though some of them may not be. But we've begun holding elections here and to halt this one step towards democratic governance doesn't even begin to fix all these other issues - it's just a concrete action that feels like a solution in the face of a tangle of challenges too complex for any easy proposals.


Kyle said...

Can we get one of our dark wizards to put an imperius curse on Karzai? Or have we already tried that?

kep said...

see, this is why you do theology and I do policy...