Last week, we partnered with WNET's Worldfocus and its viewers to find some of the best journalism on Afghanistan and its second-ever presidential election. Our top stories from last week's Afghanistan News Hunt cover a broad range of issues related to the Afghan election, many coming from mainstream media with resources to send correspondents to the country. Our Afghanistan News Hunt ended Monday, but our community will continue to track coverage of this important international event as the final results come in.
As Afghanistan prepared for this highly anticipated election last week, former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah emerged as a legitimate threat to incumbent President Hamid Karzai -- who has fallen out of favor with many Afghans, as well as Western leaders -- and news media portrayed a run-off election as plausible.
But as results trickle in from last Thursday's vote, in which some 7 million ballots were cast, the outcome remains unclear. Images of inked Afghan fingers gave way to claims of widespread fraud and intimidation. The Obama Administration's praise of the electoral process has been met with criticism that the vote was more relevant to Western pols than Afghans. Even reports on the impact of violence have been contradictory.
Post-election stories from major news media have offered conflicting accounts of the vote and its meaning for Afghans. Marco Vincenzino, of the Global Strategy Project in Washington, wrote in today's Boston Globe that the election was "good enough":
"Although flawed, the election process remains crucial to Afghanistan’s future. The merits of conducting an election far outweigh the alternative of not having one - even amid challenges that are simply overwhelming ... Despite the difficulties and continued violence, voter registration last spring was met with a tremendous response, demonstrating a desire among ordinary Afghans to participate in shaping their country’s future."
Jean MacKenzie, director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Afghanistan, said the opposite in a New York Times op-ed. Early praise from the United States, UN and EU, MacKenzie wrote, "would be laughable if it were not such a great shame." The idea that Thursday was
"'a good day for Afghanistan' merely served to underscore the central, if unappetizing, truth about the Afghan poll: It was never meant for the Afghans.
Instead, it was intended to convince voters in New York, London, Paris and Rome that their soldiers and their governments have not been wasting blood and treasure in their unfocused and ill-designed attempts to bring stability to a small, war-torn country in South Asia."
As the vote count continues, reports on the results have also been contradictory. BBC News said today that Karzai appears to have extended his lead over Abdullah, but the Financial Times has called the race "neck and neck." Karzai will likely win reelection, Ian Bremmer wrote in Foreign Policy today, but the vote will lack legitimacy due to "wide-scale rigging" and a second Karzai administration is "unlikely to improve the Afghan government's effectiveness."
Before the election, the Washington Post reported on (NT reviews) the seeming inevitability of Karzai's reelection. Some dozen Afghan voters interviewed by the Post said they intended to vote for the incumbent, despite his poor record:
"The fact that Karzai remains the favorite to win Thursday's election, despite his government's poor record on security and the economy over nearly eight years in power, says much about the mind-set of Afghans as they prepare to go to the polls ... That paradox reflects Afghans' deep suspicion of anyone promising change. In recent decades, Afghans have lived through periods of horrific violence and destruction, with each successive regime bringing greater deprivation than the last. Many Afghans reason that although Karzai's government has been disappointing, it could always be worse."
"Festering grievances about the president -- from the corruption that colors his government to the rising insecurity accompanying a revived Taliban insurgency -- have created a race that may deny him the majority of votes he needs for victory in the first round of balloting Thursday."
Both the Times's and the Posts' predictions seem to hold water for now. At the time of this posting, Karzai has yet to cross the 50 percent threshold that would force a run-off election with Abdullah in the fall, but some reports show him increasing his lead over his opponent. As this story continues to develop, we'll be reviewing journalism on our Afghanistan page.
For the full results of last week's News Hunt, check our top rated stories, as well as a full listing of all stories posted on that topic.
Thanks to our Partners at Worldfocus
We'd like to give a big thanks to our partners at WNET's Worldfocus, who brought us some great journalism on the Afghan election. Two of our top stories came from them, including a highly rated piece on securing the country for election (NT reviews), as told by a U.S. Marine. Thanks to Lisa Biagiotti, Katherine Combs, Ed Deitch, Mary Lockhart, Marc Rosenwasser and Neal Shapiro for being such great partners and making our Afghanistan News Hunt a success!
-- Derek Hawkins, with Fabrice Florin, Kaizar Campwala and Joey Baker