Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Well, as the title of the article says, Afghan Delegates Walk Out in Protest Over Vote. The circumstances seem to surround a mistake on the part of the interim leader, Hamid Karzai, who thought that applause for former king Mohammed Zahir Shah meant that he was going to win, after the former king gave Karzai his support. The mistake, however, was not on the part of Karzai, it was on the part of (former) king Zahir. Whether he likes it or not, he has assumed the role of a head of state for the nascent Afghani government, and one of the differences between a head of state and a head of government is that the former is supposed to be above politics; not promoting or attacking any particular candidates or parties, but remaining "above the fray". (This is part of the reason why an American-style presidency is so schizophrenic sometimes, but I digress.) If Zahir had not given Karzai his support until after the election was over and it was a question of national unity instead of electoral competition, then it wouldn't be a problem; in fact, it would be admirable. It is this conflict between the prestige of the role of head of state and the realities of democratic government that created this problem. He should not have supported Karzai.

Don't get me wrong: I actually think that Zahir's presence is a great boon both to the Afghani people and to the creation of a democratic government there. States need symbols, and a human symbol (such as a king or president) is absolutely vital to forming national identity and ensuring national stability. Half the reason the "character issue" exists in American politics is due to the president's role as head of state, and the wild and growing popularity of the Queen of England (and even the royal family) over the past year has only reproven how necessary these sorts of symbols are. It's prudent, however, for the people that serve in that function to be very, very careful in how they involve themselves in politics. With any luck, Zahir and Karzai's experiences yesterday will reinforce that knowledge for the Afghanis, for Zahir, and for the Americans involved in this who might not realize how symbolically powerful monarchy still is.

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