Monday, 17 August 2009

Is a flawed election better than no vote at all?

Remember this post and also this one relating to the legislation passed in Afghanistan in April which obliged Shia women to sexually submit to their husbands once every four days and to obtain her husband's permission before leaving the house? Remember the Shia women who had rocks and sticks thrown at them, were called "un-Islamic dogs" and received death threats for daring to go out on the streets and demonstrate against this barbaric legislation that many described as being "worse than the Taliban"?

I thought I would take this opportunity to expand on the post by CaptainJako who writes for a very good blog "Frank Owen's Paintbrush" which has kept me both informed and entertained during my 6 months out of the UK.

Back in April we were
almost willing to give President Hamid Karzai the benefit of the doubt when he claimed not to have fully read the legislation before signing it and he confirmed that it would be reviewed and amended prior to elections. It seemed that the international pressure from world leaders, including Gordon Brown and President Obama, prevailed over the demands of the Shia clerics claiming to have influence over the voting intentions of the Shia community in Afghanistan.

The amended legislation was quietly signed into law earlier this month. But President Karzai didn't really live up to his promise: the amended legislation is just as abhorrent and allows men to withhold food and maintenance from their wives if they do not sexually submit to them. Back in April, the
Guardian reported that Gordon Brown urged President Karzai "
You cannot have British troops fighting, and in some cases dying, to save a democracy where that democracy is infringing human rights."

But where is the international condemnation this time?

The elections will take place this Thursday against a background of alleged corruption, mounting violence across the country and of course, the unfortunate news that the British death toll in Afghanistan passed 200 earlier this week. It would appear that the international community does not want to speak out on behalf of Shia women this time around, for fear that it might upset the "smooth" running of the election.

I have three problems with this:
  1. It doesn't look as if the election is going to run very smoothly anyway, with the BBC reporting today that voting cards are being offered for sale and that thousands of dollars are being offered in bribes to buy votes;
  2. If there's any time to raise concerns that a country's Constitution has been violated and that international human rights have been breached, it's during an election campaign when the country is at its most politically engaged; and
  3. The women who fall victim to the new legislation may not even be able to vote in the elections. Because most polling stations will be operated by men, it is unlikely that women will feel comfortable turning up to vote - even if their husbands and fathers permit them to do so. Unfortunately, there are very few women-only polling stations and very few policewomen to carry out the necessary body searches upon. It's unclear just how many women would need to be recruited in order to have enough women-only polling stations, but some news outlets are reporting as many as 42,000.
So is a flawed election better than no election at all? With only 2 days until the election and with Ramadan starting very soon thereafter, let's just hope that Gordon puts the pressure back on in October and that the brave Afghan women do not give up hope and do not give up the fight for their freedom.