Should Afghanistan Delay Upcoming Presidential Elections?

Earlier this month, tribal elders throughout Afghanistan gathered in Kabul to demand the postponement of the upcoming April 5, 2014 presidential election for “security reasons.”  Should their demand succeed, elections would not be held until 2018—a full four years away, a span of time almost equivalent to a full-term presidency.

The prospect of an electoral delay and its subsequent interference with a peaceful and democratic transfer of power has ignited anger and criticism from many supporters of democracy in Afghanistan.

The 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections have been a point of contention since the start of the second half of Hamed Karzai’s presidency.  As the date approaches the debate has intensified, as many believe this election is the way out of Afghanistan’s current political chaos.  Moreover, after decades of war and instability, a peaceful transition of power in 2014 could portend a more hopeful future for Afghanistan.

Afghans do not have much experience with democracy. Postponing the election would call into question the people’s right to choose their leader, the right to vote in a democratic system which would weaken current democratic practices. Security concerns are considered the main obstacles to conducting the elections.   And while it is true there are security concerns, i.e., the inability of voters to participate in the election within insurgent-targeted areas, it is also true that a democratic government was voted into power in spite of these blockades.  Thus, not conducting elections presents an even greater—and potentially graver—problem.  It is also important to note that these security threats are nothing new, and have been of equal concern for the last two provincial, parliamentary, and presidential elections.  Postponement of the election is an ineffective way to deal this threat, and in no way guarantees better security by 2018.

In 1989, the withdrawal of the Soviet Union provoked civil war in Afghanistan, as differing factions were unable to choose an agreed-upon leader.  Considering this dismal event, one can easily see that postponing a democratic election for any reason could lead Afghanistan into yet another power crisis, and deeply endanger the country’s budding democratic system.