Democratic illegitimacy

R.T. Rybak has more public support than Afghanistan’s president.

by Hadley Gustin

On Nov. 3, the citizens of Minneapolis spoke loud and clear when they re-elected R.T. Rybak as mayor for the third consecutive time. Garnering 73.6 percent of the popular vote, Rybak undoubtedly has a majority backing by constituents in Minneapolis. Still, winning the election is one thing, but gaining mass encouragement for your policies is quite another. According to the Star Tribune, âÄúvoters lopsidedly slapped down the charter amendment to overhaul the Board of Estimate and Taxation.âÄù This was an initiative heavily backed by Rybak and the City Council. What does this mean then for the future of RybakâÄôs policy plans? Will voters continue to oppose him on the cityâÄôs most critical issues? The answer is simple: of course not. This latest plan to consolidate government control over property taxation was denied for obvious reasons. Several months earlier, Rybak proposed a 6.6 percent property tax increase to compensate for the cityâÄôs pension bills and augmented health care spending. Therefore, it is understandable why people would be hesitant to give him and the City Council complete control over the fate of real estates taxes. On the other hand, RybakâÄôs main platforms on crime reduction, creation and growth of businesses and supporting the up-and-coming generations of youth are well supported. While it is inevitable that not all of RybakâÄôs policy proposals will be met with overwhelming espousal, it is still safe to say that his authority as a local leader is respected and uncontested. In contrast, on the other side of the world in Afghanistan the political clout of leaders like President Hamid Karzai are essentially fictional. Unfortunately, unlike the agreeable outcome seen in the Minneapolis mayoral election, the Afghan presidential runoff that was scheduled for Nov. 7 was cancelled days in advance. When Abdullah Abdullah, KarzaiâÄôs main opponent, withdrew from the presidential race Nov. 1 citing anticipated corruption and voter fraud as his reasons for departure, Karzai was declared winner of the Afghan presidency once again. For eight years now, Karzai has led Afghanistan under the watchful guise of the United States. Nevertheless, allowing for cronyism and nepotism to overrun his government, KarzaiâÄôs constituency largely remained disillusioned with his efforts to democratize Afghanistan. In fact, most saw him as nothing more than a puppet of the West. While Rybak can rest assured that his validity as mayor will not be challenged despite policy disagreements by voters, Karzai has no such guarantee. On the contrary, if he does not coalesce to the will of the United States âÄî a nation hell-bent on winning a war against the Taliban âÄî then he risks losing the authenticity of his leadership to AfghanistanâÄôs militants. Judging from the results âÄî or lack thereof âÄî of these last two elections, there is no question that only Rybak can claim a mandate of the people. Therefore, what does that say for democracy in Afghanistan? In short, it appears as though the majority sentiment of the Afghan people at present would be to return to traditional tribal/clan leadership. That is not to say that democracy will never prevail in Afghanistan, but realistically speaking, government changes must represent a natural progression of the Afghan people and not the interests of external actors like the United States. Hadley Gustin welcomes comments at [email protected]