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Opinion: A Flawed Success

Opposition candidates in Afghanistan's presidential elections have called for a repeat because of irregularities. It's a demand that could seriously harm the country's budding democracy, according to DW's Karen Fischer.

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Permanent or non-permanent ink?

It's a strange situation: A country struggling to overcome a recent war is holding its first, free presidential elections, which take place under relatively calm and peaceful circumstances -- and none of the horror scenarios many predicted become reality.

But then a pen is supposed to invalidate it all. A pen, which marks a voter as a voter as it's used to paint thumbs in polling stations to prevent people from voting several times.

Does the paint stay on the finger or doesn't it? That's the question everyone was suddenly talking about: a rubbing test to measure democracy and an excuse for political infighting.

A few hours after the elections began, 15 of 18 presidential candidates -- everyone except Interim President Hamid Karzai and two other candidates that had asked their supporters to vote for Karzai -- called for a repeat. They said that irregularities in the polling stations had prevented a legitimate election from taking place and added that they would refuse to accept the result.

Focussing on what's essential

Wahl in Afghanistan 2004, Wahlregistrierung

Afghans waited patiently for their turn to cast their vote

But discussing permanent and non-permanent ink as well as a stop or continuation of the elections, most forgot to focus on the essential: The enthusiasm of the Afghan voters about electing a president. Even before polling stations opened, lines had formed in front of them -- at least in Kabul. Voters -- men and women alike -- patiently waited their turn.

From a logistical standpoint alone, elections are an extreme challenge in a country like Afghanistan, where half of the male population and 80 percent of women cannot read or write and where it remains very difficult to access many provinces.

That's why it's impossible to impose the standards that have to apply to western, established democracies. Of course there are many things that can be improved until the next elections -- especially concerning voters' education.

To call the entire election into question -- especially when voting is already underway -- also means depriving the Afghan people of their appetite for political participation. Westerners seem to see it that way, as the first reactions show.

The decisive question remains whether Afghan politicians will keep demanding a -- completely unrealistic -- repetition of the election or whether they will think again and instead get involved in the "adventure democracy" that's happening in Afghanistan.

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