This blog post is also published on Development Progress (See here)
The preliminary results of Afghanistan’s contested presidential election indicate a win for former World Bank Social Development specialist and anthropologist, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, with a 13% lead on his rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah. In response to Abdullah’s claims of ‘industrial-scale’ fraud, Ghani attributes his success to a strategic campaign to seize the vote between the first and second rounds and to the votes of women in Eastern Afghanistan.
Monday’s announcement of Ashraf Ghani’s preliminary success in the Afghan presidential polls marks another step backwards for democracy in Afghanistan. This is not because front-runner Ashraf Ghani would pose a necessarily worse option as president than his rival Abdullah Abdullah – but because the announcement of preliminary results before fraud has been accounted for symbolizes yet more pandering on the part of the Election Commission to an old system of corrupt, negotiated Afghan politics that alienates voters.
The deal that John Kerry appears to have brokered between Abdullah and Ghani – basically a full recount of all votes cast in the June election – is good news for the short term stability of the country. A process that seemed on the verge of collapse has been supported by external pressure and demonstrators with the potential to become violent are likely to return home for the coming days. Taking a longer term view, however, especially looking back at the 2009 vote, there are some real reasons for worry.
In 2009, then-Senator Kerry flew to Kabul to pressure President Karzai to submit to a second round of voting – a process that was adverted when Abdullah withdrew. While, again, good in the short term, numerous Afghan voters have pointed out to us in interviews about how this was a crucial turning point away from democracy in Afghanistan. At this moment, it became increasingly clear that Continue reading →
In one of the odder responses to electoral fraud and growing tensions between the supporters of the two candidates, the Afghan government has decided not to ban Facebook during the ongoing electoral crisis (for more see VOA). While the general tenor of rhetoric surrounding the election dispute has become increasingly, and worryingly, ethnicized, it seems like something of a leap that slurs on Facebook would lead to violence. It does seem to indicate, however, the deepening concern of the government that the current dispute could lead to violence along ethnic lines. For now, however, they seem to have decided that seriously infringing on freedom of speech is not yet necessary…at least not yet.
There are few surprises today as the Independent Electoral Commission announced preliminary results from the run off five days late. With Ghani winning 56% of the initial votes and fraudulent votes still waiting to be discounted, Abdullah declared that the announcement was in effect “a coup” against the votes of the people (see Reuters article here). We’ll have more analysis later on, but here are a couple of quick reactions:
The fact that Ghani is leading with 56% of the vote is significant. Regardless of how many votes eventually get cast out, it seems very unlikely that Abdullah will be able to make up that much ground.
That being said, the math surrounding what ballets and stations get excluded now becomes crucial. Counts from the South and East where there was more insecurity on Election Day are the most likely to be scrutinized.
The following are some observations from Munir Salamzai, who has been conducting research in Kandahar recently:
“It seems in Kandahar based upon some of the interviews that I have been conducting, the people’s participation in runoff election was less than the first round election or, perhaps, equal to it. The main reason for this is counted that in first round people were motivated more by provincial council candidate who were running their own campaigns, but, in runoff, there was not this external motivation to get people to the polls.
While counting votes, it’s clear that there was a large amount of fraud in the second round of voting, very possibly much more than in the first. The problem is, there also seems to be a much higher turnout in many parts of the Pashtun south and east where accusations of fraud are also highest. Untangling the difference between fraud and higher turnout is going to be instrumental in terms of getting the count right. Doing this in a transparent manner, that is accepted by both sides, will be even more important in the hopes of avoiding bloodshed. One of the issues, however, is that different districts and provinces had rather different experiences during the voting process and it’s not easy to make wide conclusions for the entire country. For an analysis of the Loya Paktya region, one of the key Pashtun areas in the southeast (and one of the regions we focused on in Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan), see this excellent AAN report by Pakteen Ibrahimi and Kate Clark: Elections 2014 (32): A second round surge in turnout in Loya Paktia?
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?