Coalitions and Counting Votes

With about 3 weeks before the presidential run off in Afghanistan, the wheeling and dealing, but also alliance building becomes more complicated.  In some ways it seemed like things might actually be simple.  With a 14% lead over Ghani, Abdullah’s 45% of the popular vote seems close to the threshold of 50% plus 1.  The announcement by third place finisher Zelmai Rassoul with 11% of the vote that he would be supporting Abdullah, seemed to push him easily over the 50% mark. (For all the results and an interesting province by province break down, see the IEC results page here.)

 -Dr.Abdullah Abdullah 2972141 45.00%
– Dr.Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai 2084547 31.56%
– Zalmai Rassoul 750997 11.37%
– Prof-Abdo Rabe Rasool Sayyaf 465207 7.04%
– Eng- Qutbuddin Hilal 181827 2.75%
– Mohd. Shafiq Gul Agha Sherzai 103636 1.57%

However, it’s long been clear that these elections are about personalities and coalitions, not about ideologies.  So when Rassoul’s running mate Ahmad Zia Massoud along with some of Rassoul’s other key advisors declared that they were splitting with Rassoul and supporting Ghani, it became clear that Rassoul’s votes won’t simply be moved from his column to Rassoul’s.  This raises some really interesting questions, not simply about who will win the vote, but also how voting blocks and coalitions are being formed in Afghanistan today.  Old adages about ethnicity are no longer entirely true (and probably never were).  Ethnic identity plays a role, but its a complicated one that is in dialogue with regional identity, political and economic interests and several other key variables.  Will voters for losing candidates even turn out on election day?  It’s one thing to go out and support your favorite candidate, but would you wait in line for 2 hours for a different candidate because your favorite leader told you to?  In some cases, it seems yes (analysts often point to the Uzbek vote as incredibly unified), but other voters might hesitate (this seems particularly possible with the youth vote).  So the question leading up to election day that matters most is not which political leaders are supporting Abdullah or Ghani, but to what extent are these leaders reliably bringing voters out to the polls.  With 3 weeks to go there is still much room for negotiation and work to be done by the candidates to get voters back out to vote again.

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