By Andrew Potter - Tuesday, June 28, 2011 - 3 Comments
Obama’s drawdown announcement overshadowed an important report from Kabul
This article was sent to me by Grant Kippen, and I’m posting it here with his permission. It is being published today in the Dari-language newspaper Hasht-e Sobh
Let’s all take, yet another, collective breath and agree to move forward
June 26, 2011
There were two momentous announcements concerning Afghanistan this past week that will in their own and interconnected way have a profound impact on the short and long term future of the country.
The first and most widely reported announcement occurred on Wednesday evening when President Obama in a nation‐wide address announced the start of the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan. The President also used the address to reaffirm his commitment to reducing the number of US based troops serving in Afghanistan over time and that responsibility for security within the country would be handed over to the Afghanistan National Security Forces by 2014.
This announcement completely overshadowed another announcement coming from the Afghanistan capital Kabul on Thursday morning where the members of the Special Elections Court announced their investigative findings into allegations of electoral fraud during the 2010 Parliamentary elections last September. The Special Court announcement was the latest salvo in an ongoing power struggle between the Executive and Legislative branches of government following the fraud marred elections, and their findings recommended that 62 currently serving Members of Parliament be removed. To put this number in perspective that is one quarter of the seats in the 249 seat Wolesi Jirga. The controversy of electoral fraud that played out so vividly in the 2009 Presidential and Provincial Council elections unfortunately carried over to the Parliamentary elections last year. The one thing that most Afghans and internationals will agree on was that extensive electoral fraud that took place during the September 2010 elections.
Under the Constitution and Election Law the institutions legally responsible for the electoral process are the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). At the time both the IEC and ECC were called upon to investigate many thousands of complaints filed regarding alleged fraudulent activities, and in the view of most informed Afghan and international observers of that process, these institutions discharged their responsibilities according to the laws, regulations and procedures that were in place.
The Special Elections Court was established by Presidential decree under the pretense that the IEC and ECC had not done their jobs properly. President Karzai condoned the creation of the Special Court notwithstanding that fact, according to legal experts, there appeared to be no basis in the law or under the Constitution for a mandate that allowed the overturning of final results as announced by the IEC. In reality though the Court was created only after senior IEC and ECC officials had refused to buckle to intense pressure being exerted on them by the Executive, including the threat of criminal prosecution by the Attorney‐General. The Houdiniesque slight of hand maneuvering and Khaddafi‐inspired logic creating the Special Elections Court was promptly dismissed by the Parliament, IEC, ECC and Afghan legal experts as illegal under the Constitution, a position that the international community agreed with from the start.
The Special Court’s decisions on Thursday clearly undermined the constitutional authority and independence of the IEC and the ECC. This is evidenced by the changes made to the vote totals by the Special Elections Court of sitting MPs and losing candidates and then reinstating 18 of 19 candidates disqualified by the ECC last fall; authorities only given to the IEC and ECC under the Electoral Law.
So, with the Special Elections Court announcement the Afghan people are at yet another crisis point in their ongoing struggle to re‐build the country after thirty years of war and civil conflict. For the vast majority of Afghans this situation just reinforces the hopelessness they feel towards the direction the re‐building effort has taken in general, and in particular about the effectiveness of their government to address the issues that matter most to them – a more secure environment in which to live and work, greater economic opportunity for themselves and their children, and some basic level of social assistance be it education or access to medical care. Clearly cooler heads need to prevail so that this latest crisis doesn’t escalate into something that all stakeholder groups – Afghan or international ‐ will come to regret in the future. It is time to put the interests of the Afghan people ahead of any personal feelings or perceived loss of face that has occurred over past events. The focus needs to be squarely on building for the future, while at the same time learning the important lessons of the past.
From an electoral perspective if action isn’t taken soon there will be no opportunity to correct those past mistakes. The status quo is an unacceptable situation not only for the citizens of Afghanistan but also for the taxpayers of those countries that are contributing funds so that elections can take place in an open and competitive manner. What we shouldn’t lose sight of are the millions of Afghans who turned out to vote in past elections and who are clearly committed to building a better future for themselves and their children. The immediate goal here is to ensure the 2014 Presidential elections are a significant improvement over efforts in 2009 and 2010. Electoral reform needs to begin immediately with the involvement of all domestic stakeholder groups supported by the international community. Building credible, legitimate and inclusive democratic institutions and processes is the only way forward for Afghanistan as a young, emerging and vibrant democracy.
The independence of the IEC and ECC needs to be respected, as does the role of Parliament in ensuring a proper check and balance on the actions of the Executive. The actions by the Special Elections Court only serves to undermine those key institutions that are established under the Constitution, namely the electoral bodies and the Legislature not to mention the independence of the judiciary. The existence and decisions of the Special Court only calls into question the respect that the Government itself has for the Constitution at a critical time when they are trying to reassure their own citizens that the Constitution will not be weakened through the reconciliation process. One has to wonder what message these same actions are sending to those insurgents the Government of Afghanistan hopes will re‐join Afghan society when the Government so clearly demonstrates its own unwillingness to respect the Constitution?
President Karzai has the perfect opportunity to step back from the current precipice and provide the leadership that is required to decisively match actions with the words he delivered in a speech to the NATO Summit in Lisbon last November: “Our Constitution, a harmonious blend of our Islamic values of justice and the universal principles of human rights, is our most important achievement of the last nine years … we need to enhance the checks and balances among the three branches of the state. … We are also committed to strengthening Parliament as an institution. I will work with the future Parliament to strengthen their constitutional role.”
Let’s not lose sight of the long‐term goal here, and that is to support the Afghan people as they rebuild their country. This will take time and there will be bumps along that road but let’s make sure that our combined efforts work to build a solid foundation for the future otherwise, we “will simply be putting mud in the water in order to cross the river”, according to an old Afghan proverb.
Grant Kippen is the former Chairman of the 2009 and 2005 Electoral Complaints Commission in Afghanistan and member of the National Democratic Institute’s Senior Experts Group that observed the 2010 Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM - 1 Comment
Maybe it’s immature to hope that the determination of powerful individuals, rather than the patient efforts of many, will solve big political problems. But who isn’t at least a bit susceptible to the longing for outsized leadership, especially when the trouble at hand looks truly daunting?
And no challenge has seemed more intractable in recent years than Afghanistan. It’s why I suspect a major opportunity was missed when President Hamid Karzai was allowed to reject the appointment of the blustery and charismatic Lord Paddy Ashdown as UN special envoy to Afghanistan back in 2008. The U.S., Europe and Canada should have insisted Karzai work with Ashdown, who was indomitable as the international community’s overseer in Bosnia from 2002 to 2006.
The death on Monday of Richard Holbrooke, 69, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan since last year, removes another rare personality from the mix. Grant Kippen, the Canadian former chairman of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission, tells me by email that he met him a couple of times last year, and concurs with the general outpouring on the “significance and enormity” of Holbrooke’s contribution.
By John Geddes - Monday, March 15, 2010 at 8:57 AM - 1 Comment
Faced with an international backlash, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is easing off somewhat on his highly controversial bid to take control of the watchdog agency that investigates complaints about cheating in Afghanistan’s elections.
By John Geddes - Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 1:59 PM - 4 Comments
A few days ago I posted a report here on the disturbing prospect that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was about to issue a decree eliminating foreign members from his country’s Electoral Complaints Commission. Reports from Kabul today confirm he has done just that.
Karzai’s reasons for taking this outrageous step are not mysterious. Last year, the ECC, headed by Canadian Grant Kippen, thoroughly investigated Afghanistan’s presidential election and found clear evidence of extensive fraud by Karzai’s campaign. Nobody I’ve spoken with who has experience with Afghanistan’s politics thinks the ECC would have acted so professionally had it been made up of only Afghan members.
By John Geddes - Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 11:17 AM - 9 Comments
A well-informed source tells me that Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai apparently plans to use a presidential decree today to eliminate foreign participation from his country’s vitally important Electoral Complaints Commission.
This would be an outrage. It was the Electoral Complaints Commission’s foreign members, led by Canadian Grant Kippen, who insisted on careful investigation and reporting on fraud in last year’s Afghan elections. Experience leaves little doubt that the Afghan members of the commission, appointed by Karzai’s government, on their own would not have been an adequate check on cheating.
By John Geddes - Monday, November 2, 2009 at 10:33 AM - 3 Comments
News that Afghanistan’s planned Nov. 7 run-off presidential election has been canceled after the withdrawal of Abdullah Abdullah, main rival to incumbent President Hamid Karzai, casts a new light on a story in this week’s Maclean’s about Grant Kippen, the Canadian who heads the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission.
By John Geddes - Friday, September 11, 2009 at 9:23 AM - 2 Comments
It’s impossible to know what will happen next in Afghanistan, but it’s obvious new leadership is needed to turn the situation around.
A partial recount of last month’s election, ordered by Canadian election referee Grant Kippen, throws open the chance that President Hamid Karzai might have to face a run-off ballot against this rival, Abdullah Abdullah. There are troubling hints of a split between Britain and the U.S. on how to handle the recount issue. Hard to guess how that might turn out, but it’s looking messy.
By John Geddes - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 5:05 PM - 3 Comments
News from Paris today suggests that Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai’s reelection will be accepted by the world community, despite widespread and growing complaints of electoral fraud.
Envoys from up to 27 nations and international organizations attended a meeting in Paris to discuss the situation in the messy aftermath of the Aug. 20 election in Afghanistan. It had looked as though Karzai might have to face a run-off, but the feeling at the meeting was apparently that he’ll be allowed to win on the basis of the first vote result. (The backdrop for the meeting: more killing in Afghanistan.)
Officials in Ottawa were unwilling to say anything about the stance taken by Canada’s representative at the meeting, Greta Bossenmaier, deputy minister for the federal Afghanistan Task Force. However, media reports suggest the envoys as a group are playing down talk that Karzai cheated too much to be allowed to win. Instead, they are stressing the need for him to appoint credible ministers to give his new administration a better image than the old one.
I have to wonder where all this leaves Grant Kippen, the Canadian chairman of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission. Kippen is reportedly coping with a flood of some 2,000 complaints. If Karzai’s win is already accepted as inevitable, what does his work amount to?
Kippen was, by the way, among the first observers I know of who saw the weakness of Karzai’s government as a problem at least as serious as the insurgency itself. That once seemed an eccentric position; now it’s a mainstream view. Here’s what Kippen told me for a story way back in 2006: “To me the biggest threat right now to the government is the whole issue of corruption and nepotism. Those are the factors that brought about the Taliban. The risk is that people won’t look to the central government the way we want them to.”
That was right then and, if Karai has indeed won again, it’s even righter now.