As the counting, re-counting and complaints processing progresses, more and more Afghans (and indeed international observers – see here) are talking about the pros and cons of a deal between candidates in place of a run off. On the one hand, a deal would completely undermine the electoral process, and would set a precedent for final electoral outcomes to be negotiated by elites rather than voted in. On the other, with the prospect of widespread fraud and a bruised Taliban determined to restore their reputation as the arch-nemesis of anything vaguely western, or Karzai-connected, or both – a run-off may be just as likely to represent unrepresentative political bargaining as an outright deal. A deal in (relatively transparent) democratic clothing.
This is the dilemma, then, that presents itself. Would the long-winded and precarious process of organising a run-off actually reassure people and restore their faith in the system? Or would it simply confirm their suspicions that the system is simply a tool for manipulative politicians to bend to their own advantage?
April’s electoral turnout demonstrated the desire of many Afghans for a change – a change against the Taliban but also against the corrupt and predatory Karzai administration. Also, talking to a number of voters it is clear that perceptions of the elections remain positive and their relative success is often attributed to the Afghan electoral institutions and ANSF. For a short window of time, this positive view of national institutions could translate into a mandate for the government to bring about the change people want. But this window will quickly disappear the longer the counting process takes, and the more suspicions there are of interference (particularly on the part of Karzai and his cronies).
One thing is clear: whether the new president comes to power through a run-off or through a deal, the critical issue will rather be whether voters consider their participation to have been worthwhile, or simply wasted.