Afghan elections ‘vindicate investments and sacrifices’, suggest waning Karzai influence

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After enduring Taliban attacks and security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered solid indications that the vote far exceeded expectations, The New York Times reports:

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between seven million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

“This has been the best and most incident-free election in Afghanistan’s modern history and it could set the precedent for a historic, peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Fahim Sadeq, head of the Afghanistan National Participation Organization, an observer group.

Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate, The Wall Street Journal reports:

A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal.

Graeme Smith, a Kabul-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, said he expected the election to end in a cordial runoff.

“All of the candidates have a deep vested interest in the stability of the Afghan state,” he said. “Though they may rock the boat, they won’t capsize it.”

“I am genuinely encouraged,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington who recently visited Kabul. “The high turnout, modest levels of violence, and good performance of the Afghan army and police are all genuine good-news stories,” he said by e-mail yesterday.

The election was a repudiation of the Taliban. Violence in the run-up to the voting backfired, notes Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

“Each attack aimed at discouraging participation seemed to encourage even more people to register. Taliban efforts to intimidate communities at the local level also failed,” he writes for The National Interest. “Even in Pashtun areas in the east and south, turnout was high. With their cause and methods rejected, the armed opposition will undertake needed soul searching,” says Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Afghan electoral institutions performed well. More so than in previous years, the international community operated largely in a supporting role as Afghans took the lead in conducting elections. Although there were reports of ballot shortages in some polling stations, voting, from an administrative standpoint, went remarkably smoothly. …………..Afghan security institutions were effective. Though some stations remained closed for security reasons, Taliban efforts to disrupt voting produced no major security incidents across the country. Afghans’ confidence in security institutions has increased, portending, perhaps, a new level of trust that could suppress the insurgency.

The National Democratic Institute today underlined the need for observers to follow the tallying and complaints process to help ensure the integrity of the April 5 presidential and provincial elections:

Since the margins among the contestants may be slim and a small number of votes may affect the outcome, it is critical that observers follow the tallying and complaints process closely, NDI said. In a preliminary statement, NDI said a final assessment be made only after the electoral institutions had completed their activities.

NDI fielded an observer delegation of 101 Afghan staff members who visited 327 polling stations in 26 provinces. Many of them helped prepare 46,000 candidate and political party polling agents in the lead-up to the elections.

The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan said ballot counting had begun after voting was extended by an hour.

“Out of 7 million, around 35 percent of them were Afghan women, a great signal to practice democracy,” IEC Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani said yesterday in Kabul, adding that the turnout was more than twice that of the 2009 elections.

The fact that the election wasn’t disrupted by violence — only 3 percent of polling stations closed for security reasons — isn’t a guarantee the rest of the electoral process will be smooth, said Martine van Bijlert of the Afghan Analysts Network.

“There are still credible reports of fraud from the areas that are difficult to monitor and from where news travels slowly,” said Van Bijlert, co-director of the nonprofit policy group based in Kabul. “And we might still see a very contested count.”

But so far, the election vindicates the large investments and sacrifices of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan,” Khalilzad asserts:

The Afghan people rose to the occasion, creating an environment of hope and expectation. This presents the country, particularly the new President, with an opportunity to build on the positive achievements of the last 12 years. By resisting the temptation for a winner-take-all approach and including the losing candidates and/or their supporters, the new administration can build a national consensus behind the reforms necessary to advance peace building, economic development, the rule of law, and anti-corruption efforts.

Libya After Qaddafi: balancing optimism with security concerns

libya-free_1835951cAs Libya prepares to draft its new constitution, a new public opinion survey shows that a majority of Libyans balance their optimism about the country’s future with immediate concerns over their personal safety, the National Democratic Institute reports.

A majority of Libyans believe that the country’s situation in three years will be better than before the 2011 uprising and conflict, but in recent months respondents have grown more critical of governing institutions and political leaders. The survey also explores citizens’ opinions on the constitution-drafting process, the General National Congress (GNC) and regional autonomy.

Most Libyans view the GNC, leaders and political parties with increasing negativity, and they are dissatisfied with the quality of public services. Citizens are also placing a greater emphasis on the need to disarm militias as a step toward improving the security situation. Despite these frustrations, Libyans remain optimistic about the country’s future and continue to believe that democracy constitutes the best form of government. The findings also indicate widespread disapproval of regional and tribal leaders’ efforts to pursue regional autonomy.

Some key findings from the poll:

  • Libyans continue to be deeply concerned about the country’s security and stability. The vast majority continue to view disarmament of militias, political stability and personal security as the most important issues.
  • A majority of Libyans do not support claims to regional autonomy. They largely reject the declarations of regional autonomy made by the Cyrenaican Political Bureau in Libya’s East and by tribal leaders in the South. Even within these two regions, majorities disapprove of the declarations. A majority of Libyans also view the seizure of oil production facilities by armed groups as unjustified.
  • One-third of Libyans feel unsafe when traveling to work, school, the mosque and the market. Similarly, only 49 percent feel “very safe” in their own homes and 61 percent feel unsafe when traveling by bus or taxi.
  • Popular support for democracy remains high, with 80 percent saying they believe it is the best form of government. Ninety-one percent of Libyans characterize democracy as involving protection of rights and freedoms or elections. These attitudes are largely unchanged from findings in earlier surveys.
  • Political institutions such as GNC, political parties and political leaders evoke increasingly negative views. Forty-seven percent of Libyans now believe that parties are not necessary for democracy, compared to only 14 percent who held this opinion in May 2013. Political leaders across the board have seen declining favorability ratings, and satisfaction with the GNC has fallen. Sixty-eight percent now describe the GNC’s performance as poor; a 32-point decrease in the congress’ perceived performance rating since May 2013.
  • Among international organizations, the United Nations (UN) is viewed the most favorably by Libyans. Sixty-four percent have a positive view of the UN and 83 percent believe their country should cooperate with the UN to ensure political stability and security.

    RTWT

    libyagncThe 2011 overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi by internationally backed rebel groups has left Libya’s new leaders with a number of post-conflict challenges, including establishing security, building political and administrative institutions, and restarting the economy, says RAND researchers Christopher S. Chivvis, Jeffrey Martini. Their new report assesses these challenges, the impact of the limited international role in efforts to overcome them, and possible future roles for the international community. 

    Lack of Security

    Libya’s most serious problem since 2011 has been the lack of security. Insecurity has had negative repercussions across the spectrum. It has undermined efforts to build functioning political and administrative institutions, further constricted an already minimal international footprint, and facilitated the expansion of criminal and jihadist groups within Libya and the wider region.

    Stalled Statebuilding

    The lack of security has greatly undermined an already difficult statebuilding process in Libya, where the post-Qaddafi state was very weak politically and administratively. To begin with, Libya’s constitutional process has not kept pace with the schedule originally set out during the war. That schedule aimed to provide Libya with a constitution within a year of liberation. More than two years after Qaddafi’s death, however, the constitutional drafting committee has yet to begin its work.

    Meanwhile, groups in the eastern province of Cyrenaica have seized control of oil facilities there and threatened to create an autonomous state-within-a-state. Islamist and revolutionary groups have forced the passage of a political isolation law that excludes many Libyans from participation in government, thus exacerbating existing rifts in society and reducing the available pool of talent for government positions. The General National Congress, which was elected in July 2012, has been deeply divided over many issues.

    In general, Libyan public administration is in very poor shape and capacity building is sorely needed to strengthen the state. Public confidence in the democratic political process has declined as frustration has mounted. In the absence of a national state, regional and tribal substate actors have strengthened and will likely seek to hold onto their entrenched power.

    Economic Challenges

    Oil production restarted quickly in the aftermath of the war and has allowed Libya to avoid some of the most serious choices that post-conflict societies face because it could fund reconstruction and pay salaries to many groups, including militias. With the armed takeover of many of Libya’s oil facilities in the summer of 2013, however, the stability of Libya’s economy—including the ability of the government to continue to pay salaries indefinitely—was drawn into question.

    Upping International Role

    Despite a significant investment of military and political capital in helping the Libyan rebels overthrow Qaddafi, international actors have done very little to support Libya’s post-conflict recovery to date. ….International actors have recently started increasing their efforts in Libya somewhat. More should have been done and still needs to be done, however. The United States and its allies have both moral and strategic interests in ensuring that Libya does not collapse back into civil war or become a safe haven for al Qaeda or other jihadist groups within striking distance of Europe.

    In contrast, if Libya sees gradual political stabilization under representative government and constitutional rule, the United States and its allies would benefit from Libya’s energy and other resources. The region as a whole would also be much stronger.

    Improvements will take time, but despite its current challenges, Libya still has many advantages when compared with other post-conflict societies. Notably, it can foot much of the bill for its post-conflict needs—even if it currently lacks the administrative capacity to manage complex payments to foreign entities.

    The Way Forward

    There are four areas that international actors should focus on while looking ahead:

    Support a National Reconciliation Process

    The most serious problem in Libya today is continued insecurity, which impedes political and other advances and could wipe them out altogether. Absent an international peacekeeping force, which should be considered but would be difficult under current circumstances, the best way to improve security is to engage Libyans in a national reconciliation dialogue. Such a process could facilitate disarmament, complement constitution making, and increase international actors’ access to information about the capabilities and intentions of key Libyan groups.….

    Strengthen Libya’s National Security Forces

    Insecurity in Libya is partially attributable to a lack of reliable national security forces. International actors are well placed to help remedy this lacuna, and Libya is prepared to foot the bill. Recent U.S. and European efforts to train a so-called “general-purpose force” of approximately 15,000 over the next several years will help. The effort should proceed in parallel with reconciliation and strike a balanced representation of Libyan society, lest individual groups perceive the training as being directed against them and revolt. …

    Help Libya Strengthen Border Security

    Border security remains a major challenge. The porousness of Libya’s borders and their susceptibility to smuggling and the circulation of criminals and jihadists will continue to undermine Libyan and broader regional security. Improvements will take time and require building institutional capacity within the Libyan state as well as investments in monitoring capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. …

    Help Libya Build Its Public Administration

    The personalistic nature of the Qaddafi regime left Libya with a severe lack of public administrative and bureaucratic structures. International actors are well positioned to help Libya improve its public administration, especially if the security situation improves. The EU and its member states are in a particularly good position for this task, due to their proximity to Libya…..

    RTWT