I wish I could say that I was surprised when Hamid Karzai's run-off opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out.
I was thrilled when Afghanistan was finally looking to its Constitution, evaluating the importance of democracy, and realizing that fraud was worth the time and money and inconvenience to deter. Voting is, nearly by definition, what embodies a democracy. As soon as the votes of everyday people do not matter, you have lost touch with democracy. It was incredible that the people and the leaders of Afghanistan had the faith to press forward in the noble cause of preserving democracy from corruption by holding a run-off election after there were almost a million fake ballots discovered. However, Abdullah, the symbol of challenging the corruption of the standing Afghan government, has given up. Fighting for an honest use of democracy was too much, too painful. In an emotional speech, he declared, "I hoped there would be a better process...but it is final." He gave in to the fact that if a million of ballots were faked before, there is little if any way of stopping the same thing from happening again. I lament his admission of imminent defeat.
At first I judged the Afghan government at large and was sure that this MUST be a pay-off. Abdullah had to have been threatened by the powers that be, quite possibly the Taliban who were already threatening trouble if the election continued as planned. I still have not abandoned this theory, but my criticisms of them have actually softened since I considered the parallels between this and our very own United States a mere 5 years ago.
Consider it: the 2004 elections were full of ballots cast on behalf of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Thousands of legitimate ballots were cast out because of hanging chads, pregnant chads, and otherwise expendable offenses. Recounts were demanded. Ballots invalidated and re-validated. People were worried about changing the Presidency while we were engaged in a war. And then at the last moment, the contesting party bowed out. You can say it's because he knew he would have lost anyway, but you can also say that about Abdullah. You can say that John Kerry didn't want to win amidst contention, but you can also say that about Adbullah. And yet, with these striking similarities, one election we excuse, perhaps we are even grateful for how it turned out, and the other we demonize and criticize.
The Obama Administration is all fine and dandy Abdullah eliminating himself from contest because they initially backed Karzai, so now it looks like they won. Is that really what it's about? Looking good? Is that really why we have politics?? Silly me, I thought it was to protect the public from chaos and harm. Well guess what, everyone knows that this election was totally illigitimate, at least that is the perception, so how strong of an ally does our current administration really have in Karzai's so-called victory?
A larger concern is whether or not the fragility of this government will survive such an early blow to its legitimacy. I am concerned about the citizens who are questioning whether or not their votes matter and, consequently, whether or not they matter. I am concerned for the women who finally have a voice in their communities, only to have it stomped on by the looming terror the Taliban still exerts over them. May terror no longer be the motive for people to comply and act. May people realize that sometimes liberty means more than life, and that bravery must be exercised in times of peril so that we can defeat (or at least do all that we can to challenge) evil.