ON SATURDAY, the people of Afghanistan went to the polls in elections to determine the course of the first democratic transfer of power in their nation’s history.
Of Afghanistan’s population of 33 million, around 12 million people were eligible to vote. Despite the heat, heavy rainfall in many places, long queues, technical hitches and, most significantly of all, threats of violence by the Taleban against those who dare to take part, millions of Afghans waited patiently in line to exercise their democratic right.
According to Afghanistan’s independent election commission, 58 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots. Encouragingly for a country long-associated with the oppression of women, observers noted a large number of first-time female voters.
Conversely, just 50 per cent of those eligible voted in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections. We live in a prosperous, developed and peaceful state, with a long tradition of efficient elections and smooth, democratic transitions – what is our excuse?
That the electoral turnout is lower in Scotland than in war-torn Afghanistan is both baffling and unacceptable. The people of Afghanistan, living amid poverty and violence, voting under threat of death, put us to shame. There are more Afghans courageous enough to defy terrorism and lay down their lives for democracy than there are Scots that can be bothered to drive to their polling station.
In Scotland, we are blessed to be able to vote safe in the knowledge that our elections are free from violence and fraud. Such a privilege should not be casually squandered. Hopefully, May’s European Parliament elections and September’s independence referendum will attract the high turnouts befitting their significance. The referendum gives us the opportunity to determine our nation’s destiny without so much as a nosebleed – something Afghans would be prepared, it appears, to give their lives for.
DR JOHN Cameron (Letters, 5 April) clearly subscribes to the widely held view that the Afghan war has been a waste of life and money.
Of course, those of us who did not have friends or family involved in the conflict cannot imagine the stress and anxieties suffered by those who did.
But the Afghan government is about to change not from force of arms but from the will of the people, expressed through the ballot box. It may not last, the warlords and thugs and fanatics may prevail, but the country has a chance. And surely our service personnel and their families can take pride and comfort from that.
Graham M McLeod