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Afghanistan election: Karzai win spurs plans to improve governance

The long-drawn Afghanistan election ended Monday with Hamid Karzai declared the winner. Some experts lay out options that could reduce the president's powers.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 2, 2009

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures as he heads to receive UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the presidential palace in Kabul on Monday.

Ahmad Masood/AP

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New Delhi

The Afghan elections have officially ended, and President Hamid Karzai will hold on to his office for five more years, the election commission declared Monday after rival Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the race.

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The fraud-ridden saga has diminished the stature of both Mr. Karzai and the international community in Kabul, and the result brings no mandate but instead raises further proposals for forcing more government accountability.

The talk among Afghan and Western experts ranges from preparing immediately for next year's Parliamentary elections, to rewriting the constitution, to scrapping elections altogether in favor of an "enlightened dictatorship."

One researcher whose work involved 170 recent interviews with voters in different districts of Kabul says these elections have not killed the democratic spirit.

"There was still very much a desire to be a part of this global movement to participate in government, but it needed to be defined in an Afghan context instead of a Western one," says Anna Larson, a researcher on governance with the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul and author of a new study to be released tomorrow on the election. "The ideal system that seemed to come out from our respondents was a system whereby Islamic values were combined with a democratic system of selecting a government."

Hope for democracy

She notes that, though "Islamic values" are not universally defined, in general the concept denoted concerns – especially among the educated elite – that enfranchising a majority of Afghans who are young and uneducated could unleash the "unlimited freedom" of Western democracy and leave few safeguards for traditional religious and social mores.

As for the conduct of the elections, her interviews revealed that Afghans worried less about macro questions of fraud and influence-peddling, which they had assumed would take place anyway, and more on technical concerns about whether the ink was really indelible and the malfunctioning of hole punchers on election day.

Such problems, notes Ms. Larson, should be avoided by preparing immediately for the upcoming parliamentary elections this April.

"We need to start preparing earlier, getting the mechanisms in place earlier, to prevent the extent of corruption we saw this time," says Larson. One of the reasons for the last-minute preparation for this year's elections had to do with sluggish funding from donor countries, she adds.

Among the Afghan elite, there's at least some sentiment that democracy isn't the way to go for now.

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