OP-ED                                                               
for week of January 31, 2005  

                                                 Afghanistan and Iraq: The World's Newest Democracies

By Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-2)

        Iraq is the latest country to embrace democracy after millions of its citizens participated in the first free election in a generation. Afghanistan led the way with elections which saw millions vote, including for the first time, Afghan women.  This is something that would never have occurred under the iron grip of the Taliban. Voices in Afghanistan and Iraq who have endured years of forced silence can finally be heard.

        Last October, the people of Afghanistan joined the growing club of world democracies. Afghan leaders expected to have between four and five million people register, and maybe three million people vote.  They were thrilled to see eleven million people register, and more than eight million people vote. The elections were also symbolic because for the first time women were allowed to participate.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai told stories of women preparing themselves to die with sacred rituals, so sure were these women that to vote meant death.  The Afghan women still chose to vote because of the importance of this election.

        Afghanistan and Iraq both still have a long road ahead of them.  President Karzai said that his country's recovery from the outdated and dangerous policies of the Taliban will take a long time.  Because of the wide spread destruction to most of Afghanistan's infrastructure, only six percent of the country has reliable power.  President Karzai's job is a difficult one as he struggles to take his nation into the modern age.  The Afghan people understand the long road of ahead of them, but they are already enjoying their new freedoms. Just ask the women who had the opportunity to vote, and young girls who are now allowed to go to school and learn. 

        The Iraqi elections are especially significant. These elections should not be confused with the ones held by Saddam Hussein in which he enjoyed 100% approval. Iraq's diverse population participated the voting process. They proudly displayed a new mark of democracy, a finger stained with ink to show that they had voted. While the elections in Afghanistan were dangerous, the terrorist insurgents in Iraq vowed to do everything they could to disrupt the elections. Millions of Iraqis, almost a sixty percent of those eligible, turned out to vote. The immediate success of the election is that it actually took place.

        Both Iraq and Afghanistan have a long way to go, but they have taken an important first step. Most importantly, the recent votes in Afghanistan and Iraq show that democratic principles are universal values and know no boundaries.


       

****************************************
Joe Brenckle
Press Secretary
Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (NJ-2)



  February 1, 2005