With the last week before the run off, we’re back in Kabul with our team of researchers. Candidates are making there final campaign pushes, while voters and analysts try and figure out what it all means. Here are some key issues that we are following that we will write more about later in the week at some point:
- What will happen to turn out? Several people I have spoken with in the international community seem to have high expectations for voter turn out. There are several reasons, however, that it seems likely that turn out will fall. If turn out is low (and particularly if results are close), this could cause a serious challenge.
- What will happen with security? While there is some debate over how secure the last round of voting was, most felt that election day was surprisingly calm, compared to the weeks leading up to it. Recently, Dr Abdullah was directly targeted, but there have been fewer high visibility attacks and more low level attacks in the provinces. Will this shift in approach shape the likelihood of voters to turn out on election day?
- The potential for post-election violence: While both of the presidential candidates have mostly said the right things about respecting the results of these elections, not all of their supports have, with Ghani’s running mate Dostum perhaps being the most overt. Afghan voters are currently asking are there certain results or ways in which the process plays out that will make it more or less likely for their to be violence after the elections?
- Will there be any other major political shifts? Most of the key political actors have come out in support of one of the two candidates, but there are still a handful that have not. Similarly, President Karzai has remained rather quiet. While time is running out, there is still the possibility that one of a handful of key political actors will try and make a real move.
- Ethnicity. While ethnicity is always a part of Afghan politics, it rarely is a simple case of political allegiances falling along basic ethnic lines, this round of voting is no different. While Abdullah, widely perceived as Tajik, and Ghani, a Pashtun, running, there was the possibility for this to turn into a minority v Pashtun referendum. Abdullah, however, has picked up some key Pashtun supporters and Ghani continues to court the minority vote, suggesting again, that while ethnicity will remain an issue, it is unlikely at this point to dissolve into a question of whether the Pashtuns should lead the country.
- Are the IEC and other electoral bodies prepared for the second round? Most indicators suggest that they are, but the bodies were certainly caught somewhat off guard by the high turn out last round. It will be interesting to see how well they have recovered from this.
- Do candidates have money left to spend? With votes being bought and sold all during the first round, do the remaining candidates (or more accurately, their supporters) have the funds to purchase votes again? Already, both campaigns appear more subdued (there are far fewer posters around Kabul these days than there were in April), are donors going to be as generous this time around? As one voter told me yesterday, “their pockets are infinite,” and perhaps there is plenty left for a final push, but vast sums of money have been spent so far, suggesting that the entire process may be further solidifying the role of corruption in Afghan elections.
- How will this round shape local politics? The first round of voting including votes for provincial councils. This most likely drove up the turn out numbers. In some areas people are already discussing the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year. Is this going to be a factor in how voters mobilize?