It is remarkable that an estimated 3.6 million people braved threats from the Taliban to vote in the September 17 elections to the Afghan parliament. More so is that the election could be held at all. Officials of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission are already calling it a “success.” But it would be delusional to assume that as a result Afghanistan is now a more stable place. NATO counted 500 incidents of violence on voting day, and at least 23 people, among them four candidates, were killed in the run-up to the election. In many places, the candidates were afraid to step out of their homes to campaign. More than 1,000 polling booths, out of nearly 6,835, could not open because of security concerns. To top it all, allegations of ballot-stuffing, fake voter-cards, not-so-indelible ink, and other electoral fraud are rife. As for the voter turnout this time, it was the lowest for any of the four elections held since 2001. As well as an indicator of the steadily deteriorating security situation, the number is a stark illustration of people's weakening faith in the ability of the system to provide governance. In contrast, seven million people voted in 2004 in the first presidential election, as many as 6.5 million voters queued up for the parliamentary elections a year later, and even as late as last year, 4.6 million exercised their franchise in the presidential election.
Contested as they will be, the results could take weeks to be announced. If the allegations of fraud are proved, it can only further undermine President Hamid Karzai's position, already weakened after his controversial re-election last year. Even if the elections are pronounced free and fair, installing a new parliament in Afghanistan is akin to giving band-aid to a patient suffering from multiple organ failure. The 249-member Wolesi jirga, as the parliament is called, does not have teeth and can hardly demand accountability from the President or his cabinet or even lower officials on issues such as governance-deficit and widespread corruption. The political party system is almost non-existent. Those who contested the elections are mostly warlords or ethnic leaders seen by the people not as their representatives but as members of a political elite fattening themselves on Western patronage. The election has just served to highlight that such a self-serving system would only increase the hold of the Taliban and make it more difficult for Afghans to retrieve their country from the mess that the United States has made of it.