What Challenges Will Afghan Runoff Pose?
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
If indeed there is a runoff, it will be held less than three weeks from now, on November 7th. President Karzai today urged the international community to provide better security, so the results will not be considered fraudulent. Glenn Cowan was in Afghanistan during the first round of voting in August where there was such widespread fraud. He's co-founder of the international election monitoring group, Democracy International. And we've asked him to come in today to talk about how, if at all, a runoff might be different. Welcome to the program.
Mr. GLENN COWAN (Co-founder, Democracy International): Thanks. Appreciate it.
BLOCK: And Glenn, let's talk first about the logistics of holding another vote so quickly, and Soraya mentioned some of the challenges. Let's explain further. One of them she mentioned looming winter weather. How does that factor in?
Mr. COWAN: Well, certainly for the election to have been held anytime after mid-November, it would've been almost a certain problem. On 7 November, there's a possibility and one hopes a good one that the weather will hold and that Afghan citizens living in the north in the mountains will be able to vote.
BLOCK: But the concern would be winter weather would just depress the vote substantially so you wouldn't have a representative sample.
Mr. COWAN: If the weather turned particularly bad, particularly early, that would indeed be a problem.
BLOCK: Soraya also mentioned a severe shortage of election workers. What could they do about that?
Mr. COWAN: Well, they had some shortage of female election workers on 20 August. The elections commission, the Independent Elections Commission has been preparing for the potential of a runoff now for over a month. They've ordered ballot papers which are now in Kabul. They have new supplies of indelible ink. And I know that they have been working to try to recruit more officials for the polling stations themselves.
BLOCK: Another real concern, of course, has been who will actually show up to vote, given the climate of violence, threats and intimidation and actual attacks by the Taliban that were seen the last time around. Would you expect that to be any different on November 7th?
Mr. COWAN: Well, the elections that were held in '04 produced about eight million voters. The elections held in August, about half that. It will be a continuing problem. There is really no way to gage the extent to which the Afghan people will be intimidated by the Taliban. The Taliban's efforts in August certainly suppressed turnout. One would expect that you'll get perhaps the same level of turnout. There is, of course, the possibility that people might be encouraged by the fact that the systems, albeit they had to deal with a huge fraud, at least dealt with it, when one might have expected that that level of fraud would have otherwise been successful.
BLOCK: People would also now, though, have the knowledge that last time around some people who voted had their fingers cut off by the Taliban.
Mr. COWAN: Well, that was true in at least one or two cases that local monitoring group reported. It is our hope that this was not widespread enough to have the suppressing effect that it might.
BLOCK: Mr. Cowan, why should we expect that the process or the outcome in November in a runoff would be any different than what we saw in August? Why would that change?
Mr. COWAN: Well, the only way it's going to change is if the people who perpetrated the fraud in August reach a conclusion that it's a fruitless activity. All that time and effort and energy into defrauding the process as it turns out did not work. The Elections Commission and the Elections Complaint Commission now are better prepared. Also, one can hope at least that the two principal contestants for president will ask their adherence to permit a fair process.
BLOCK: And how confident are you that in the end, if there is a runoff on November 7th, it will be considered a fair election?
Mr. COWAN: I'm confident that between international election observers like ourselves and domestic observers which have many more highs on the ground that if the election is not fair, we will observe it, we will know it, we will report it and it will be dealt with.
BLOCK: Glenn Cowan is co-founder of the international election monitoring group, Democracy International. Mr. Cowan, thanks very much.
Mr. COWAN: My pleasure.
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