Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Voting: Democracy or Business in Afghanistan?

Post-2001 Afghanistan holds regular national elections for voting in the President, the Parliament and the Provincial Councils.  This is lauded as a great achievement in Afghan history where power transfer has happened using bullets not ballots.  The democratic voting right theorizes that an individual Afghan’s vote can make a difference; the 50% + 1 elects a President, majority votes elect members of the Parliament and the Provincial Councils.  Ideally, this system sounds good and the voting process should result in a peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan.  It should also enable those with the highest popularity and needed qualifications to govern the country.

However, in reality, this is a wishful objective.  The election process becomes a business making deal in which the voter wants more money, and the vote receiver wants to pay less.

Majority of the Afghans living in poverty give or see little real influential value in casting their votes.  Their prevailing thought is that their votes do not count; their leadership is already chosen by external powers or the current power-holders will remain in power regardless of their votes.  As a result, the only value an Afghan may see in his or her vote is the amount of money he can make from the vote.  Its is hard for him or her to see what the vote does.

Afghan wanna-be leaders understand this value.  Their campaigns trails across Afghanistan, therefore, are only formalities; backdoor money exchange makes the real deals.

Ordinary Afghans watch or listen to campaign slogans with ridicule and are convinced they are meant to deceive them to vote for free!  But they are not going to let it happen.  Instead, they prefer making deals with the representatives or their local middle-men to make bigger money on their votes, the votes of their family, their group, their tribe or ethnic group.  If not money, the voters at least expect a good free lunch.  Without the lunch, the representatives or the middlemen will find it extremely hard to gather more than a few old men in a single room.  In essence, the money or the free lunch allures people to vote to somebody they may hate otherwise.

If money is not an option, people are swayed to vote their family, tribe or ethnicity, not the right person!  This happens because Afghan society is a post conflict, diverse society where effective and unbiased national political parties or figures are absent to bring them together or represent their interest.  Politics therefore become a divisive struggle among the diverse groups to vote their kin into the job.  And the right person is the one familiar to them, not the one from the other kin or group. 
Another reason to vote one’s own kin to the job is future expectations.  Personal relations to the governing elites including family, linguistic, tribal or ethnic ties are seen important and a social security.  With the right connections and ties, accessing public privileges including jobs, services and even contracts is hassle free.  If not, it is a nightmare or a miracle to access them without having to pay, accept harassment or waste time and resources.  And so, the voting rationale makes perfect sense. 

The end result is that in the post-2001 era, Afghanistan continues to be governed by those with the right power i.e. money or force.  Unless this changes, business will decide fate of the Afghan people, not democracy. 

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