It is not true to say that Afghanistan lacks good-news stories. It’s just that they are not the kind to generate headlines: 8m children at school, two-fifths of them girls, compared with 1m when the Taliban were in power; a tenfold increase in those Afghans with access to basic health care; some 20m who own mobile phones; and proliferating television channels, radio stations and newspapers. By contrast, the good-news story of the presidential election on April 5th was generating both headlines and surprise—and that is even before a result has been announced. The expectation was for another flawed election like the one in 2009. Jeremiahs predicted that a combination of fraud, intimidation and violence would produce only a tainted, illegitimate government. That would give weary donors of international aid all the excuse they needed to stop signing the cheques keeping the country afloat. The only real winners would be the Taliban. Yet in this election Afghans of all kinds rejected that account of their country. Despite the threat of Taliban reprisals (and rotten weather), over 7m Afghans, about 60% of those eligible, appear to have voted, half as many again as in 2009. Around 35% of those who cast a ballot were women. Burka-clad voters raising an ink-stained finger as they left the polling booths became a symbol of defiance.
Contributing to the buzz on the day was the belief among voters that the election was genuinely open and the result no foregone conclusion. The candidates themselves campaigned on bread-and-butter and security issues and showed a commitment to the democratic process. President Hamid Karzai, who was accused of stealing the last election, appears to have stood back despite having a favoured candidate, a former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul. A vibrant and largely independent media reported with vigour and professionalism, despite recent deadly attacks against foreign or foreign-employed journalists.
The logistics of the election were almost a wholly Afghan affair. Most people who wanted to vote succeeded in doing so. From the outset, there was a quiet determination to expose and prevent fraud. Civil-society organisations deployed their members in areas that had shown serious irregularities in the past, while many journalists risked their own safety in the hunt for ballot-rigging scandals. Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, set up its own electoral complaints hotline. A steady stream of fraud allegations suggests that their efforts may only have had partial success, yet the independent Electoral Complaints Commission promises to investigate each one.
Full Article: Banyan: A gesture of defiance | The Economist.