Massive fraud in the first round of Afghanistan's presidential elections, held Aug. 20, plunged the country into a seven-week political crisis that gave the Taliban its greatest strategic gains in eight years of war. As things now stand, the second round, scheduled for Saturday, will be even worse.
The runoff election faces profound challenges. Afghanistan's fraudulent first round undermined President Hamid Karzai's credibility both at home and in key countries contributing troops to the region. Electoral misconduct is one important reason that President Obama is rightly reconsidering the wisdom of sending an additional 40,000 troops. The Taliban, which benefited from chaos created by the August fraud, now has every incentive to wreak havoc in the second round. Voters, many of whom risked their lives to vote in August, are understandably cynical when they see that their real votes were diluted by 1 million or more phony ones. As a result, turnout in the second round may be very low.
But the biggest challenge to holding fair elections in Afghanistan is the body administering them, the Independent Election Commission. Aside from its name, there is nothing independent about the commission. Karzai appointed all seven commissioners, and in every important question, the commission has sided with the Karzai campaign. The commission chairman, Azizullah Lodin, has publicly said that Karzai won the first round and will win the second, statements that are among the many sound reasons that Karzai's opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has demanded Lodin's resignation. There is overwhelming evidence that commission staff committed fraud, collaborated on fraud and knew about fraud that it failed to report.