Diane in Afghanistan

This is a historic time for the people of Afghanistan. I am reminded of the timeless truths that have guided our nation through the past two centuries, and how those same profound words now hold such hope and promise for the new democractic nation of Afghanistan. "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights... of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

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Location: Bellevue, Washington

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

For the First Time in 5000 Years...

On Sunday September 18th, Afghans went to the poles for the first time in more than 5000 years to vote for members of their new Parliament. Voters cast votes for the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of the National Assembly) and Shoraiy Wolayety (Provincial Councils). The free elections were part of the Bonn agreement signed four years ago following the defeat of the Taliban regime in 2001. Nearly 6,000 candidates completed for 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga and for the 34 provisional councils. About 25% of the seats were reserved for women. Candidates included medical doctors, teachers, businesspersons as well as former Communists, members of the Taliban and warlords.

As a member of the delegation from the International Republican Institute (IRI), I left the hotel at 5:30 am with a tight security detail. The protection was part of the tough security measures instituted all over Iraq in anticipation that Taliban supporters would incite violence in order to disrupt the election. About 40,000 Afghan police and army troops were on duty, backed up by more than 30,000 police from coalition forces and International Security Assistant Forces (ISAF). Fortunately, the tight security worked. The largest incident occurred when a rocket attack was reported soon after polls opened yesterday on a United Nations compound, injuring one local UN worker.

The streets of Karbul were virtually empty until after the polls closed due to the tight security restrictions. As a result there was not the usual traffic jams that clog the streets. Afghans had a day off from work in order to allow them to vote. When we returned to our hotel around 6 pm, the streets were once again filled with residents shopping and kids playing. The attempt to intimidate voters seemed to have no effect. President Hamid Karzai, who voted early in the morning, stated after casting his vote that, "It is a historic day for Afghanis to elect their own representatives.” An interesting part of the elections involved bottles of purple ink that every voter was required to dip his/her finger into before voting. The ink was used as a method to ensure that voters did not vote twice. In last year's parliamentary elections, the ink was easily washed off. Not this time. Voting officials were willing to allow me to dip my finger in the ink. Some critics of the elections tried to persuade the press that the ink washed off. I can assure all of you that it doesn't wear off. I have scrubbed and washed to no avail - it will take time and should still be there when I return to the US.

The ballots took some of the voters a long time to complete. This was due in part, to the fact that the ballots were multi-pages and that (as I noted several days ago) a large portion of the population cannot read or write. Hence the need for a ballot that included the candidate's name, picture and symbol. The ballot for the Wolesi Jirga was blue and the one for the Shoraiy Walayety was yellow. Each ballot had its own specific box, and the election officials were very serious about ensuring that the right colored ballot was placed in its correct voting box.

Every voter needed an identification card before they were allowed to dip their figure into the purple ink. About 11.2 Afghanis of the 18 million who were eligible to vote had election cards. In instances where the voters did not have the identification card, the poll workers refused to let that person vote.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) from the UN managed the election and trained the workers. I can tell you that the workers were enthusiastic about doing the right job and ensuing that the elections were conducted according to law. The nearly 26,000 polls staffed by over 150,000 election officials opened at 6 am and closed at 4 pm. We ended our day at a high school where we watched the election official seal the ballot boxes. The election officials also took care to ensure that unvoted ballots were sealed. Final results of the elections are due October 22nd.

I'm exhausted, but each finger dipped, and every ballot sealed, was yet another step forward for this flegling democracy.

Sincerely for freedom,



Blogger Paul Hirsch said...

Sounds like things went well! Will the IRI be issuing a report of its observations?

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Open your eyes.

11:12 PM  
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