Afghan Election To Become A Potential Repeat Of Iranian Election?
Set for Thursday, August 20, the Afghan presidential election is promising to be a serious test of democracy for Afghan people. But, amidst escalating violence and Taliban threats, will the election in Afghanistan be free of fraud? Does it have the potential to become a repeat of the recent presidential election in Iran?
The 2009 presidential election in Iran saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad win Presidency in a widely disputed election followed by mass riots and a surging wave of media attention from the West. Supporters of Ahmadinejad’s opponent Moussavi kept on taking to the street of Iran for weeks, marching against the rule of Ahmadinejad. Strong Western support via social media networks was an unprecedented development in Iran’s election aftermath. Two months past the election in Iran, #iranelection is still a trending topic on Twitter and many other social networks.
But, can the same happen in Afghanistan?
Current Presisdent Hamid Karzai is running for re-election to a second five-year term. Just like Ahmadinejad, Karzai is a clear front-runner, but his popularity with Afghans, the United States and the rest of the world has been plunging in recent years.
In addition to accusations that it is corrupt and ineffective, Karzai's government has been blamed within the country for the war's rising civilian death toll and he has been condemned as little more than a puppet of Western powers.
President Karzai has been blamed for appointing warlords to the government and originally allowing the passing of the controversial bill to allow men to rape their wives for refusing sex.
Similar to Moussavi during Iran's election, Karzai's major opponents Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are less conservative and pro-Western. They speak of more women rights and more anti-corruption measures.
Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who is President Hamid Karzai's top rival, told a crowd of flag-waving supporters in Kabul on Monday that he will win the election — "if they don't steal your votes," confident rhetoric that analysts say could stoke a violent backlash if his supporters believe they've been cheated.
Mindful of the possibility of cheating, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Monday for "credible, secure and inclusive elections" and urged Afghans "to make election day secure, to eliminate fraud, and to address any complaints fairly and quickly."
"We call on candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly before and after the elections," she said in a statement.
Abdullah's campaign manager was quoted last month as predicting street violence if Abdullah doesn't win, contending that Karzai can't prevail unless he steals the vote — an allegation similar to those which triggered violent protests in Afghanistan's western neighbor, Iran, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed victory in the June 12 balloting.
It will definitely be difficult to run a ballot re-count even if one would be demanded by voters since many Afghans have been unable to register to vote, some places in the grip of the insurgency will have no polling stations at all, so the vote might not be a legit representation of population preferences.
But, are there resources in Afghanistan to launch the same social media response as there was during Iran election?
Evidently, far less people have the means to Tweet or use Facebook in Afghanistan. According to Twitter Score, the number of registered Twitter users in Afghanistan is 2. In comparison, the number of Twitter users in Iran stands at 1352, more than in Germany or France. Of course, the number of Twitter subscribers is constantly changing across nations, but the relative difference is what is important here. When it comes to Facebook, Afghanistan has 6,000 registered Facebook users. While Iran stands at 150,000 users.
So, will we see #afghanelection trend on Twitter come Friday? Will Facebook see thousands of new pages devoted to Afghan election? Will we see Afghan 'Nedas' dying on the streets of Kabul or foreign correspondents ousted from the country?
It remains to be seen whether the social media blockade by political sympathizers around the world will be erected yet again.