A voting lesson from Afghanistan


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I am currently in Islamabad.

All of the focus here has been on the first round of the Afghan elections.  I have met a few international humanitarian workers who have come here out of caution to avoid the potential danger the elections posed.  Prior to Saturday, the feeling was tense.

Fortunately, though, the predicted violence has not arisen.  Yes, there have been some incidents, including the terrible shooting of two journalists in Khost.  The death of Anja Niederinghaus was a useless and reckless end to an amazingly creative and inspiring life.

But, overall, this first round has been deemed a success, with three million more voters turning out than the 2009 elections, according to BBC reporting.  Despite the very real and tangible threats from the Taliban and other anti-government elements, the people have turned out to participate in their governance.

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Can you imagine that?  Risking your life to vote.

To stand in a long line outside a polling booth with people running around all over the place in a sense of seemingly organized chaos.

You stand outside, waiting for that chance to participate in your democracy, and the whole time you are exposed.  You look at every approaching motorbike or car with caution.  You want the line to hurry up.

But, you are going to vote.

Yet, in New Zealand, we can’t get 800,000 to turn up when there are no physical threats.

Guess what?  This government doesn’t want you to vote.

This government knows that the fewer of you who really engage in our governance, then the less likely this government will be able to convince the electorate that it is generally acting in everyone’s best interests.

This is not unique to New Zealand.  We are seeing in other western “democracies” captured by neo-liberalism a strong conservative movement with the underlying aim of denying informed and full enfranchisement.

The recent United States Supreme Court decision McCutcheon was a natural and further step from the earlier infamous Citizens United decision viewing campaign donations as expression and thus worthy of constitutional protection.  The result of McCutcheon is to lift campaign donor limits to US$3.5million.  Music to the Koch brothers, but not the destitute people of East Detroit (where, actually, real music is made).

At the same time, more Republican controlled States in the US have taken up the Supreme Court’s invitation in a 2013 decision called Shelby County.  This removed fundamental protections in the Voting Rights Act to avoid voter suppression disproportionately affecting black voters, particularly in the South.

Further north?  The Conservative Canadians are having a go too.  According to an excellent article by Sally Young in Melbourne’s The Age dated 1 April 2014:

“the [Canadian] ‘’Fair Elections Act’’ seeks to insert partisanship and inequality into Canadian electoral procedures in a manner reminiscent of 19th century processes. The proposed act will reduce voting rights, foster partisan bias in election administration and weaken campaign finance laws.”

Those sneaky Canucks, eh?

But, what about Aotearoa?  We haven’t seen an aggressive attack by the National Party on anything around voting rights, have we?  Well, with 800,000 not turning up, they probably feel they don’t need to.

Of course, this could be on the agenda were National to prevail in this election.  We don’t know.  Actually, we know very little about what National plans to do, apart from applying corporate models to education.

It helps that National has a compliant media.  A media more interested in personality than accountability.  A media so suppliant to government spin that the election has been called before we are even out of the blocks.

And, what happens?  We get a governance structure that is concerned with a consistent transfer of public wealth into private hands and a prioritizing of interests relevant to a small elite.  We see a narrowing of our private space and a growing subservience to international corporates.

What we don’t get is better outcomes for more New Zealanders.  We don’t see more money in more people’s pockets.  We don’t have a society where we prioritise and support the vulnerable.  We certainly don’t have anything approaching a long term plan to deliver a working and sustainable economy borne out of the lessons of the Global Financial Crisis.

So, there is one lesson we can take from Afghanistan.  It’s worth voting.


  1. “Guess what? This government doesn’t want you to vote. ”

    Well, not only will we be voting but we’ll be going up and down our street encouraging everyone to vote. If we can get a handful of extra votes from our neighbours, then we’ve done the job!

    Good post Michael!

  2. “This government knows that the fewer of you who really engage in our governance…”

    This idea that that voting once every three years is the same as engaging in governance is pure propaganda. Nothing could be further from the truth. Voting in elections is choosing your preferred dictators, nothing more. Binding Referenda would be engaging in governance. Liquid Democracy where people get to vote themselves (or delegate their vote in an instantly recallable fashion) would be engaging in governance.

    If we had that level of democracy, Labour wouldn’t have got away with the shit they did in the 1980s, and National wouldn’t be getting away the shit they’re doing now. You want to know who is helping the neo-liberals and neo-conservatives who control both major parties stay in power? It’s the useful idiots telling us that the rigged system that gives these people total dictatorial power for 6-9 years is democracy, and the best we can do.

    >> So, there is one lesson we can take from Afghanistan. It’s worth voting. <<

    This reminds me of the sort of cheerleading articles written by western socialists about the regimes in Russia and China. The Afghan "elections" are just like the Timorese "elections" run during the Indonesion occupation. You cannot have a free and fair democratic process in a country that is still under military occupation by a foreign power, where the modern equivalent of the French Resistance are being smeared as "terrorists". It's just sad to see a supposed 'leftist' buying into this Pax Americana imperialist bullshit.

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