Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kidnapping candidates

Pajhwok News covers the kidnapping of a parliamentary candidate in Herat province. Arbab Yusuf was campaigning in Gulran district when he was abducted by the Taliban yesterday.

Running for office is a very different game here. Night letters demanding that candidates withdraw (often threatening violence against those who remain in the race) also menace would-be parliamentarians. Women are especially targeted, and the threats often extend to the candidates' families and children. A report from the Free and Fair Elections Foundation details the extent of this intimidation:
Attacks on individuals involved in the electoral process were reported by observers in Badghis, Farah, Helmand, Nangarhar, and Paktika during the challenge period. The attacks, several of them resulting in fatalities, included physical assaults, suicide attacks, and bombings directed at candidates and election workers.
Night letters were reported through direct and indirect observation in 9 provinces, with the general population, election workers, candidates, government employees and Afghan security forces designated as targets. In Zabul, government employees received threatening phone calls warning them not to participate in the electoral process.

When the risks of campaigning include violent death, it's almost natural that the rewards include kick-backs and bribes - salaries for the Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of Parliament and those currently running for election) just aren't high enough to justify running otherwise. It also affects candidates without ties to existing power-brokers disproportionately - for all the messy rounds of candidate vetting, even a perfect process could not eliminate everyone with questionable connections, so those afforded the security of warlord protection run with the additional advantages of armed support.

This certainly isn't the sole reason democracy struggles in Afghanistan, but insecurity is quite possibly the greatest current obstacle to good elections. If you're a praying sort, Arbab Yusuf - and his fellow candidates under siege - could probably use one right now.

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