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That's democracy for you

Afghanistan has again gone into full election mode with a brief two-week campaign by the candidates. One imagines a scramble behind the scenes in both camps to get the wheels moving for the November 7 runoff.

Last modified: 23 Oct 2009 17:21
Photo by AFP

On Saturday, Afghanistan once again goes into to full election mode with the start of a brief two-week campaign by the candidates. Mr Karzai is said to be kicking his off with a press conference - delivered not by him but by a spokesman.

By late Friday, the Abdullah camp wasn't revealing where the doctor would begin his tour. One imagines a scramble behind the scenes in both camps to get the wheels moving.

The election authorities meanwhile, supported by the UN, have already begun distributing ballot papers and polling kits to provincial capitals. From there, trucks, helicopters, even donkeys will be deployed to get them to outlying areas. They're only planning to open 16,000 of the 24,000 polling stations that were equipped in August - a concession to the fraud investigation and the wise views of some that there isn't much point opening polling stations where voters are too scared to turn up, so corrupt officials can fill boxes with votes on their behalf. 

The key areas of concern are fraud and security.

The body organising the election is the Independent Electoral Commission. Some feel the "Independent' bit is questionable. It's chairman and commissioners are all Karzai appointees, and Dr Abdullah has something of a problem with that. He's promised to issue certain "conditions" in the coming days to ensure similar levels of fraud aren't perpetrated again. One of those conditions might be the sacking of key Karzai men on the IEC.

If he makes such a demand, there'll be ugly squabbles that this quickfire process can ill afford. So maybe he won't. The IEC itself claims to be cleaning up its act. But no more has been heard about the 200 or so district officials the UN said had been fired.

"Not fired," IEC chairman Azizullah Ludin told Al Jazeera's James Bays. "Suspended." Meaning: unclear. But with the size of task the IEC has on its plate at the moment, firing corrupt officials and hiring new ones may not be as high up the "to do" list as the UN and others would like. After all, it took a whole year to train the ones in the job now. And didn't they do well.

Nothing yet on security plans either. On Wednesday evening and into Thursday, Afghan Defence and Interior Ministry officials met with UN and ISAF (the international force command) representatives to come up with a comprehensive security action plan for the second round. Friday, of course, is a day off. Here's hoping they get something up and running on the weekend. And more importantly, that someone starts getting the word out to anxious voters afraid to vote a second time for fear of having their finger cut off, or walking into a mortar storm, or worse.

Our stringers around Afghanistan sent in video interviews with Afghans in all corners of the country. Opinion on the second round isn't high. To say the least. Some complained about foreign interference in creating this mess - the Americans weren't happy with the first round, was a common refrain. Others complained about the cost: $379 million was spent on the August election. Many people would rather see the same amount spent on the poor in this very poor country, rather than on another round of voting no one really wants.

That's the one outstanding sentiment that comes out of our unofficial opinion poll: They disrespected our vote the first time. The election was stolen, either by the Americans or by Karzai (depending who you listen to). It's a waste of time and money. And we're afraid.

Turnout in August was 38.7 percent. That's without discounting the number of fraudulent votes.

A wise bet would be to expect something lower, perhaps far lower, on 7 November.

Which wouldn't deliver a particularly representative mandate to govern. But that's democracy for you.

On top of everything, it's getting cold. Very soon, it'll be very cold.