Professor observes Afghan election

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September 29, 2009

1:26 AM

A College of William and Mary professor took an important role in America’s mission to establish a successful democracy in Afghanistan this summer. Rani Mullen, assistant professor of government at the College, utilized her specialized knowledge of Afghan self-determination issues while serving as a volunteer international observer of the controversial Afghan presidential election Aug. 20.

Mullen was in Kabul for one week in August with Democracy International, a worldwide organization that is currently focused on evaluating the legitimacy of the results of the hotly contested Afghan election.
Mullen — one of 80 DI volunteers who observed the election — was working with a team of a dozen observers in Kabul.

“As an expert on Afghanistan, I supplied background information for the rest of the DI observation team in Kabul, and I tried to bring in some of my contacts, friends of mine from the U.N., to speak with us,” Mullen said.

DI took extreme security precautions to ensure the safety of the volunteer observers.

“We stayed in a hotel that was essentially headquarters central for the elections,” Mullen said.

“Because there was an attack near the U.S. Embassy only a week before the elections, everyone was on high alert. Our movement outside the hotel was extremely restricted, and many presidential candidates and representatives actually came to the hotel to meet with the
observer delegation.”

The electoral process Mullen and her team witnessed on Election Day was a peaceful procedure with high
voter turnout, despite the widespread reports of electoral fraud and violence.

“My observations were limited to Kabul, and from what I saw on Election Day, it seemed like a very peaceful process,” she said. “However, the wholesale fraud probably occurred in less secured areas, such as Helmand and Kandahar, where there were not many journalists or international observers.”

Mullen explained that international observers came under hostile fire in Helmand and were forced to retreat back to their compound.

In Kandahar, observation teams were unable to leave the city due to security concerns.

“As a result, the voter-turnout rate in that city was probably only five to 10 percent, but figures are showing a much higher turnout,” she said.

Mullen believes that the pervasive reports of fraud are accurate, especially considering that Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who was re-elected, garnered the same majority vote that he received in the 2004 election.

“This is very hard to believe, as the Asia Society and the International Republican Institute have done surveys that show that Karzai seems to be much less popular than he used to be,” Mullen said.

In response to strong evidence of fraud in this crucial Afghan election, Mullen thinks that the most equitable and assertive response would be for international actors to push for a second round of elections.

“This election is so important because it sets a precedent,” she said. “Afghans turned up despite huge security issues regarding the Taliban. They turned up because we told them it was important. If we let the results stand as they are, then it undermines the whole premise that their votes, and the entire democratic process in Afghanistan, really matter.”

Mullen co-wrote a Sept. 18 Foreign Policy magazine article titled “The Nightmare Scenario in Afghanistan” with two other professors on the DI observation team.

Should a second election be required, Mullen said she would repeat her work as an international observer.

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