Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
By Hamid Shalizi
For Afghanistan’s recently elected MPs, a political crisis that threatened to stop some of them ever taking up their seats had a silver lining – they all moved into a five star hotel.
Nearly all 249 MPs booked rooms in one of Kabul’s most luxurious hotels, the hill-top Intercontinental, after President Hamid Karzai said he would delay the inauguration of parliament by a month.
The government will foot the bill for the stay by an army of MPs and their families’ – with full board – at the $150 to $400 a night hotel, hotel sources said. The move was to ensure they were together at one place so they could make collective decisions about the inauguration crisis, MPs said.
So for a week the hotel, more often home to visiting business groups and once the top tourist lodging in the Afghan capital, was packed with parliamentarians.
What is a worse prospect for an Afghanistan election – election fraud on an industrial scale or a quiet campaign of intimidation that keeps voters away from the polls, or forces them to vote for the most powerful candidate?
That seems to be the choice facing many Afghan voters ahead of the Sept. 18 parliamentary election, particularly those in the Pashtun tribal belt in the south and east where so much of the fraud that marred last year’s presidential ballot was committed.
Afghan voters can be excused for feeling ballot fatigue. The September vote will be their fourth in six years.
There have been some improvements but the key questions of poor governance, corruption and security remain unanswered despite the number of ballots they have cast. To turn out again will be a real test of their commitment to democracy, a right taken for granted by many in the West and grumbled about when they are asked to exercise it. It would hardly be surprising, given the risks, if many decided not to vote.