An American organization tasked with furthering democracy in developing nations said Monday that while elections next April in Afghanistan are unlikely to be perfect, they should be better than previous polls marred by widespread fraud. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs said its assessment mission to Afghanistan believes there is “guarded optimism” about the April 5 polls that will elect a new president to succeed Hamid Karzai, along with local council members for the country’s 34 provinces. But the organization said the elections still face serious challenges, including security, potential fraud and even weather conditions that could affect voter turnout. The 2009 presidential election was so soiled that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than 1 million votes — enough to force a second round. Many observers blamed much of the fraud on Karzai’s supporters, but he blamed the U.S. for allegedly interfering against him. In the end, the opposing candidate dropped out and Karzai was elected was elected to a second and final five-year term. Since then, reforms in the voting process have tried to make the elections commissions more independent of the presidency.
“Clearly, steps have been taken since then to address many of those issues,” said Karl Inderfurth, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs who headed the mission. “They (Afghan commissions) cannot promise a perfect election, no nation can for that matter, but I think it would be a better election than the last one,”
For the first time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the vote will be completely run and monitored by Afghans. Foreign involvement has been limited to technical assistance and funding.
A statement from the NDI mission said the Afghan reforms “brought a guarded optimism among many political and civic actors that the 2014 polls would be an improvement over previous elections,” but also warned that “there are serious challenges that could impact the integrity of the 2014 elections.”