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Election runoff in Afghanistan sparks fresh q -

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Election runoff in Afghanistan sparks fresh questions

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Wednesday, October 21, 2009 12:18:00

ELEANOR HALL: Afghanistan's corruption tainted President Hamid Karzai agreed overnight to hold a
runoff election next month to address the findings of fraud during the August poll.

The leaders of Britain, the US and France described Mr Karzai's decision to go to a second round
vote against his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, as statesmanlike.

But the former United Nations official, Peter Galbraith, says the new election process will have to
be radically different from the previous one to have any credibility.

So will this second round of voting convey real legitimacy on a future Afghan government?

The RAND Corporation's Dr Arturo Munoz has recently returned from Afghanistan and he spoke to me
from Virginia.

Dr Munoz, the Afghan president has agreed to a runoff election and set a date, the 7th of November,
but what problems will this runoff actually solve?

ARTURO MUNOZ: Well the main problem it will solve is the legitimacy of last election, which has
widely been condemned as fraudulent and to assume the presidency Karzai needs to have a legitimate
election. He did not achieve that with the last election.

So obviously the hope is that he will achieve legitimacy with this runoff election, that's what he
wants.

ELEANOR HALL: And do you think that this runoff election will effectively remove the taint of fraud
from any future Karzai government?

ARTURO MUNOZ: Well it depends how they're run and that's the big unknown.

ELEANOR HALL: What guarantees are there that this round will be any less fraudulent than the last?

ARTURO MUNOZ: Well I think that everybody concerned is worried that if you have another crisis like
you had this last time around, this hurts everybody. I mean the only ones that benefit from this
continuing political crisis is the Taliban. So I think there's a big incentive there to not be as
blatantly corrupt as they were the first time.

ELEANOR HALL: Well you've been in Afghanistan recently. Do you think that people there will brave
the Taliban threats again to come out to vote?

ARTURO MUNOZ: No. I think voter turnout will be pretty low, not only because of the threats of the
Taliban, but also I just think there's just been a great disillusionment with the whole democratic
experiment.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the winner only needs a simple majority this time rather than more than 50 per
cent of the vote, so how likely is it do you think that Karzai will win this second round?

ARTURO MUNOZ: I think it's very likely that he will win, and I think that the only reason he was
reluctant to agree right away to a runoff is because among his Pashtun constituency, there is a
feeling that the foreigners are intervening too much in Afghan affairs.

ELEANOR HALL: So if the voter turnout is low, what will that do for the legitimacy of a Karzai
government? Will it give him any greater legitimacy with the Afghan people?

ARTURO MUNOZ: I don't think it's going to hurt his legitimacy any more than what he is right now. I
mean right now, the thing is look, it's Afghanistan, they don't have a tradition of elections. And
the reason why Karzai is having a low esteem among the Afghan people is because of the deficiencies
of his government, because of the disappointment that a lot of people feel about how he's managing
the nation.

Now whether or not he wins a second election, I'm not saying it's not important, I think it is
important, but I'm just saying I think we Westerners and we foreigners put more of a stock in this
whole election process, which is the first time in Afghanistan history they've done it, than the
Afghans themselves do.

ELEANOR HALL: Well the opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah says he's spoken to Mr Karzai about a
national unity government. Is that still a viable option do you think?

ARTURO MUNOZ: Yes I'm sure he has. I don't think it's a viable option because, look, the way Karzai
rules is he makes deals with the different power centres of Afghanistan. He doesn't need Abdullah
Abdullah to be part of the ruling clique and then have a part in dispensing patronage.

I can't see that he wants this upstart Abdullah Abdullah, who's a relatively young politician that
doesn't really have a large constituency. He's only become prominent because of the election
process.

ELEANOR HALL: And you seem to be suggesting that there's very little chance that Abdullah Abdullah
could win this second round in his own right?

ARTURO MUNOZ: I think there's very little chance. He doesn't have the constituency Karzai has.

ELEANOR HALL: Can this poll be organised in time do you think? The former UN official Peter
Galbraith says that to be credible, new staff would need to be hired to replace those found to be
corrupt. Can all this be done in time?

ARTURO MUNOZ: I think it would be extremely difficult to do this in time, given all the corrupt
officials that wrecked the last election. I mean that's a good point, are you going to do this in a
second election with all the people that wrecked the first one? And then are you going to hire new
people and train them?

I mean, there's a lot of logistical problems here and I think the chances they will all be solved
in time indeed are slim.

ELEANOR HALL: If Mr Karzai wins this second round, and it isn't proved to be any cleaner than the
first round, what options are there for world leaders like President Barack Obama?

ARTURO MUNOZ: Well he's going to face a real, you know, tough choice, you know, the validation that
he would like to have is not going to be there. Karzai has demonstrated good faith in a certain
sense by submitting to the runoff.

I think we'll probably just finesse it. I mean, if you ask me I think everybody will say look this
is good enough and let's just assume Karzai won.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Munoz, thanks very much for joining us.

ARTURO MUNOZ: It was a pleasure talking to you.

ELEANOR HALL: That was political analyst, Dr Arturo Munoz from the US RAND Corporation. He has
recently returned from Afghanistan and was speaking to me from Virginia.