To Change

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KABUL, Afghanistan — After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of the weekend’s presidential election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.

Over 7 million voters–which equates to a 60% turnout–cast their ballots in the face of violent threats from the Taliban (which only materialized in a few isolated incidents despite very high-profile pre-election attacks). Candidates Ashraf Ghani (former Finance Minister and World Bank employee) and Abdullah Abdullah (former Foreign Minister) appear to be the front-runners, both of whom have said they will sign the bilateral security agreement if elected.

It will be weeks before results are tallied and unless one of the two leading candidates receives over 50% of the votes, there will be a runoff (likely in May). Already allegations of booth corruption have been reported, but the overall absence of violence and fraud and remarkable voter turnout have been hailed by many as a sign of success and a vast improvement from the sham elections in 2009. What implications the election has for brewing ethnic/regional tension (Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun–the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan based in the south–while Abdullah is tied very closely to the north) and what changes in governance actually occur, only time will tell.

Just as the commotion at the polls in Afghanistan began dying down, the largest democratic exercise in history began close by. Monday morning, Indian voters from the country’s northeastern states flocked to the polls by the millions.

 

Indian voters

 

Because the undertaking of elections in a country with an electorate larger than the populations of the U.S. and Western Europe combined is so large, the country is divided into sections and the election takes place in nine phases, concluding in mid-May. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be ahead in the polls and may have found a regional party with which to partner and win enough seats to form the next government. A BJP victory would mean only the second time in India’s history that a political party other than the Indian National Congress (led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty) has ruled. While many are ready to see the Congress party ago after many of the most outlandish corruption scandals India has ever seen, many are weary of BJP leader Narendra Modi’s commitment to Hindu nationalism (much concern stemming from his mishandling of and alleged complacency towards violence against Muslims in 2002). Check out this info-graphic and this website for more information about what’s happening now and, in general,  how India’s parliamentary elections work.

From a country that has never seen a successful democratic transfer of power to a country where democracy should perhaps not have succeeded, but has flourished, one things remains the same: hope. Hope for change and for the belief that each individual can make a difference in charting a new course for his or her country. For a new life.

 

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