Record turnout — more than 100% — looms as a possibility for the Afghan election in October
ASK THIS | August 30, 2004
You say that doesn't add up? Can't have more than 100% without the election being rigged? Somebody tell Bush, who's boasting about high voter registration.
By Barry Sussman
Q. On Oct. 9, Afghanistan is to have a presidential election. So how are preparations going? Can we expect the elections to be a genuine, democratic experience? Will it be safe for people to vote? Will it be rigged?
Q. Is President Bush aware that bragging about 10 million voter registrations in a country with 9.5 million eligible voters is a problem?
On August 30th, President Bush urged people at a rally in Wheeling, WV, to get friends and neighbors to register to vote. "You might remind them of this amazing statistic: that in Afghanistan, after three short years of their liberation, over 10 million people have registered to vote. They're getting a whiff of liberty in Afghanistan, that sweet smell of freedom."
Bush neglected to tell his audience that there are fewer than 10 million eligible voters in Afghanistan, meaning that some of the registration, perhaps a lot of it, is fraudulent. Of course he knew, or should have known.
It's the obligation of reporters and editors to call Bush's hand on remarks like this. If they don't, then they are taking part in his deception of the American people. This is one of the big issues that cry out for press coverage in the 2004 election campaign.
Only the day before Bush spoke, The New York Times reported that some observers have been ridiculing the run-up to the election in Afghanistan, saying "the high registration rate could turn the election into a farce."
It may already be a farce.
Earlier in August, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with Donald Rumsfeld at his side, treated it lightly, like a farce. "People are enthusiastic, and they want to have cards. It doesn't bother me," Karzai said. "If they want to vote twice, they're welcome."
President Bush has been billing Afghanistan as a success story in the war on terrorism. If there's a heavy turnout in the Oct. 9 presidential election there, he may be expected to claim it as a major step on the road to democracy.
According to a report in the Toronto Star on Aug. 17, there is mounting evidence of vote rigging, and people are paying $150 to $200 for registration cards. One man said he got six registration cards, all by using his real name and photo, and said he would sell five of them.
From all accounts, many average Afghanis are truly excited about the prospects of open, democratic elections. But in some areas there is widespread intimidation of people registering to vote. A dozen election workers have been murdered.
Conflicting reports on safety
In another important area, public safety and security, conflicting reports have been coming out of Afghanistan. On the optimistic side, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander General James Jones was quoted by Mother Jones magazine as saying, "In terms of radical Islamic fundamentalism, Al-Qaeda and [the] Taliban reasserting themselves in this country — it's over. And we ought to understand that and not dwell on the fact that there's an explosion here or there, or an isolated attack."
But the same article notes that "2004 has so far proven to be the worst year for casualties since the end of military operations. Contrary to what Jones suggests, there are more than a few explosions and attacks 'here and there.'"
One of those explosions occurred in Kabul on Aug. 30th, the same day Bush lauded the 100+ percent voter registration. It killed seven people, at least three of them Americans, and was the deadliest attack in Kabul in two years. A Taliban spokesman, in a phone conversation with a New York Times reporter, took credit for the blast, said many Taliban mujahedeen had returned to Kabul, and that more attacks would be forthcoming.
Barry Sussman is the editor of the Nieman Watchdog Project. He is the author of The Great Cover-Up: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate, now in its fourth edition.