Ali Ahmad Jalali is a Distinguished Professor at the Near East South Asia Strategic Center for Strategic Studies in the National Defense University in Washington. He served as the interior minister of Afghanistan from January 2003 to October 2005.
The Electoral Complaints Commission has done its job by rejecting the fraudulent votes. However, the credibility of the election was also reduced by the low turnout in the Pashtun-dominated South, where the Taliban insurgency is growing.
The challenge now is to engage the disenfranchised Pashtuns.
Most Pashtuns feel let down and ignored by the government and its foreign supporters, who failed to provide enough security for them to vote. This disenfranchisement of the Pashtuns was compounded by the cancellation of thousands of votes from their districts because of accusations of fraud.
The exclusion of the Pashtuns from the election has left many of them convinced that the results have no credibility. So the problem of legitimacy in the August election was not only caused by the irregularities highlighted by the E.C.C., but also by the low turnout and the failure of the government and its backers to integrate the Pashtuns into the vote.
The main challenge for the runoff is thus to get the disenfranchised Pashtuns into the electoral process. If this does not happen, then no matter how well the vote goes in other parts of the country, the Pashtuns will feel excluded. The Taliban will use this in their propaganda to convince the population that the government not only does not care about them, but is in fact an alliance of non-Pashtun interests intent on oppressing them from Kabul.
The second round faces further technical challenges, not least of which is the incredibly short time available to set up a national election. Improving public awareness of the issues at stake is vital, as is tackling the daunting security challenge that prevented people from voting.
The onset of the harsh Afghan winter, apathy among a disillusioned electorate, and the increasing ethnic polarization of the country are all substantial hurdles to overcome. It is unclear how the authorities intend to ensure a less fraudulent ballot, since they were unable to do so last time with far more time to prepare.
While the election itself is important, the broader aim of the process is to lead to the emergence of a legitimate government. However, in war-devastated Afghanistan legitimacy is derived mostly from the capability to deliver services and security, rather than from the ballot box. Whoever wins the election, his legitimacy will depend on the kind of a government he forms, and if it is seen as inclusive, effective and clean.
from New York Times