When Afghans go to vote in September for a new Parliament, everyone they see at the voting booth will owe their jobs to one man. The person who checks their names against the register; the people who compiled the register in the first place; the person who hands them a voting slip, the person who counts the ballots after they are cast; and finally, the people that the voters can go to if they have complaints about the fairness of the process: the President will have selected them all. If he has not chosen them directly, then he will have appointed the people who will choose them.
And this person, who now runs the entire electoral process, is by no means impartial. He no doubt feels that he represents his entire nation, but there is a peaceful opposition which disagrees. This opposition won millions of votes last year and its supporters will feel disenfranchised by a process that so blatantly favors the government.
Do we think Afghans will be inspired by democracy if this is what it has already become, even when their government is propped up by the money and soldiers of the world's best-known advocate for freedom and electoral democracy?
Yet this will be the effect of President Karzai's decree, signed Monday.
It is therefore urgent that voices should be raised against this decree -- within Afghanistan and outside it. It is not for or against President Karzai personally, which is often the feeling that leaders have when threatened by democratic challenges. It is about the principle of having a credible elections process, as an alternative to violent means of protest.
Still less is this an issue of Afghan versus foreigner, as has sometimes been suggested. The Presidential decree does not empower Afghans. It disempowers them, and empowers only the President and his allies.
There are all kinds of ways in which President Karzai should rightly be empowered -- as his country's elected leader. It is a scandal if, as he claims, he has been excluded from decision making on military operations prior to the present one in Marjah. He is entitled, furthermore, to appoint whoever he chooses as Ministers. But the one thing no country's leader has the right to do is to take control of the process of elections.