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Afghanistan’s Election

April 10th, 2014

Afghans going to vote, April 5, 2014. Photo credit: Zachary Golestani / United Nations Assistance Misson in Afghanistan

In addition to India, Afghanistan is also in the process of electing its leader.

India’s election is the world’s largest , but it’s an established democracy.

Afghanistan, on the other hand, is a young democracy with some serious challenges.

It’s not Afghanistan’s first democratic election. But it will be the first time power will be transferred from one democratically elected leader to another. That’s how new this democracy is.

The current president, Hamid Karzai (pronounced: Kar-z-eye), was elected in 2004 and was re-elected 5 years later. He can’t run for president again because there are limits on how long you can serve as president.

Voting was on Saturday, April 5th, and there was a higher than expected turnout.

Approximately 7 million people voted, 1/3 of them women. That’s notable because women still have very few rights in Afghanistan and can’t even get an education in many areas.

Why’s it so hard to get democracy going there?

Afghanistan is a poor and underdeveloped country where life is difficult for many people.

Part of it’s the geography. There are villages in the mountains so remote that votes had to be transported by donkey.

Part of it is that Afghanistan has suffered from decades of outside military intervention and war.

The U.S. has had troops in Afghanistan for the last 13 years trying to oust the terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.  That’s the first time many of us paid attention to Afghanistan, but war had been waged in the 1980’s after the Soviet Union (now Russia) invaded and ultimately withdrew. Other invading countries have also been part of Afghanistan’s long, troubled past.

Afghanistan is also home to the Taliban. They used to be in power throughout parts of Afghanistan and they’re accused of much of the violence there. The Taliban is much weaker now, but they are still causing trouble.

There was a lot of violence leading up to the vote but voting day was relatively peaceful (even less violence, reports say, than on a normal day there). Still, it’s amazing that millions of people risked their lives to vote.

Would you risk your life to vote?

Then there’s corruption and fraud. All of the candidates have claimed there’s been fraud and cheating in this election. And it was a big issue in the previous elections as well.

In addition to getting rid of Al-Qaeda, the U.S. and other countries have been trying to stabilize Afghanistan and produce a successful democracy but it’s been very challenging. The U.S. is now in the process of pulling its troops out so that Afghanistan can largely rule itself. The plan is to have U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. There are some concerns that Afghanistan may not be ready but others think the U.S. military has been there for too long already. In the meantime, over 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died serving there.

There were eight candidates in Saturday’s voting, but three top contenders:

Ashraf Ghani, who was actually educated in the U.S.

Abdullah Abdullah, who came in second in the previous election.

And Zalmai Rassoul. He’s seen as the one President Karzai likes best. Mr. Rassoul has a female running mate. If he won, Afghanistan would have its first female vice-president.

You need over 50% of the votes to win, but since there are a lot of candidates, it’s not likely that one candidate will get that. If no one does, then the top two vote-getters will go to another round of voting. The winner of that will become President.

We should know who the new president is sometime in May … with a little cooperation from the donkeys.

In the meantime, India’s president has called Afghanistan’s president to  congratulate  him on holding a successful election.

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