Unique election in Uruzgan
Afghanistan's first local election in living memory took place in Uruzgan last Saturday when people in the province's Chora area went to the polls to elect their own district leader. Dutch soldiers are stationed in Uruzgan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
By RNW's Security and Defence Specialist Hans de Vreij in Chora
Exactly a year ago, the Chora area was overrun by Taliban and foreign militias. Dutch and Afghan troops fought a campaign of unprecedented ferocity to drive them out, with dozens of civilians killed in the 'Battle for Chora'. They were either killed by the Taliban, or were the victims of ISAF air raids on farms sheltering rebel fighters. Saturday's election was won by Rozi Khan, a local tribal leader whose militia fought alongside Dutch forces last year. Uruzgan's Governor Asadullah Hamdam says people are still complaining about the loss of civilian lives.
"Why do civilians have to die? We are doing our best to avoid such mistakes in future. We are discussing the matter with the Afghan people, tribal elders and religious leaders."
(Photo right: Governor Asadaullah Hamdan (c) Hans de Vreij/RNW)
The turnout was higher than expected: 2600 men cast their votes. Women still do not have the right to vote in the area. People cast their ballots in Chora's main village, Ali Shirza'i. An outer 'security ring' was manned by Dutch and Afghan soldiers. Afghan troops and police were in charge of the immediate vicinity of the polling station and searched voters as they entered the building. Members of the Dutch Provincial Reconstruction Team distributed voting cards, photographed voters and put dye on their right thumbs to prevent them from voting twice.
Differences of opinion
Almost all voters appeared to have already decided which way to vote: they looked for the photograph of their candidate on the voting slip and put it into the appropriate box without hesitation.
"We put the ballot boxes in one room, we didn't allow anyone in and we left it up to the people to chose the pers
on they wanted. There shouldn't be any influence from
the tribal leader or warlord or anybody else." (Photo left: Election in Chora (c) Richard Frigge, AVDD)
Governor Hamdam and the commander of the Dutch troops in Uruzgan, Colonel Richard van Harskamp, were satisfied with how the poll passed off. Colonel Van Harskamp points out that there are tensions and disagreements between the different tribes and sub-tribes in Uruzgan. He does not expect these to disappear immediately following Rozi Khan's election and says it will probably take some time before the local council can operate smoothly.
(Photo above: Chora valley (c) Dutch Ministry of Defence)
"Afghanistan will eventually get the democracy that suits its culture and its history. And that is where the tribal leaders and differences come in. It's a very important role that the tribes have here - it's the social fabric which could lead to a lot of good things."
Now it is up to the Kabul government officially to appoint Rozi Khan district leader for Chora. In theory, he could still be rejected for the post, but the chance of this happening is slim given the result of Afghanistan's first district election.
* RNW translation (nc)
10 June 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]