The mood in Kabul in the days following June 14th’s presidential run off has been somber. Relief over another round of voting without major attacks has been replaced by concern over fraud, elite manipulation and the increasing ethnic tone of political debate. Afghanistan is agonizingly close to its first democratic transition of leadership since the American invasion, but the process is in jeopardy and a strong message from the international community could do much to preserve the process.
The assumption of many of the voters that I have interviewed after the vote is that Ashraf Ghani, the second place candidate in the first round, has made significant gains. If this is the case and, particularly if the margin between Ghani and frontrunner Abdullah Abdullah is smaller than the number of voters said to be fraudulent, there will be plenty of space for discord and, potentially, violence.
One of the problems is that Ghani seems to have successfully mobilized more of the Pashtun base for this round of voting than he did in the first round when it was split with other candidates. There have been reports of high turn out in certain southern and eastern areas in particular. Problematically, these are the same areas where there have been numerous reports of fraud and where insecurity made rigorous monitoring almost impossible. It is the job of the Electoral Complaints Commission to respond to these accusations, while the Independent Election Commission counts the votes. The problem is that these bodies have already become embroiled in controversy.
Some interesting responses being passed around through Afghan social media in response to violence in Saturday’s voting. Here’s a photo of a couple of the men from Herat, showing off the fact that the Taliban cut off their fingers:
As media and observer reports trickle in from across the country, a more complete picture of what happened on election day is coming into view. Or perhaps, more accurately, narratives about what happened are in increasing competition. With both campaigns claiming strong turnout, I’m not going to address winners and losers in this post, but two other issues that will do much to shape the legacy of the election, corruption and fraud.
One of the most talked about issues around Kabul today was the stopping of Amarkhail the IEC’s number two at the election commission while leaving the commission headquarters apparently with a truck full of ballots (for the article, see here). His defense was that while police were supposed to deliver them, they got sick of waiting and decided to deliver them on there own. Most in the international community seem to think this is a legitimate excuse, especially since he is so high, such a move would be amateurish and would really only net a few thousand votes. That being said, there is a youtube video of it going around and Afghans I spoke with about it seem less willing to buy this excuse, with several insisting that he was doing this to support Ghani. It would be a little ridiculous if someone with Amarkhail’s experience was trying to pull such a stunt, however, that being said, you’re really not supposed to be driving around with a pickup truck filled with ballots, even if you are an elections official…
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that while the Taliban were not successful in launching any major attacks on election day, they were successful in carrying out numerous smaller ones. Probably the most disturbing was reports that they had cut the fingers off of 11 voters in Herat province (see the article here). As the days go by we should get a much fuller picture of the actual amount of violence that occurred on election day, particularly in provinces further afield.
Spending today talking to a few voters and other Afghans who were out at the polls observing. Here are some excerptions from Farid Bayart’s reflections on his visit to a series of different polling stations:
People were not expected such high participation in the second round of election but once again participation was very good. Some of the people at the polling station were saying that there were fewer voters in the second round of election, but it seemed to me after speaking with the people from several different neighborhoods that around the same number participated. The only big difference was that the process was so much easier this time around and I think that is the reason why there were not that many long lines around some of the stations….
It also seemed to me that ethnicity was more of a concern in this round than in other rounds and this was something that was discussed at many of the polls…
In the stations that I visited the process was transparent and simple. Some people were completing the entire process in just one minute, while some others were taking more like five minutes…
Early in the morning people seemed concerned about security, but as the day went by and there was no big attacks, people began to have more faith in the security forces and increasingly headed out to the polling stations…
Back from visiting some stations and talking with researchers at other stations. Of the four of us, two went to new stations, two went to stations that we had visited in previous rounds for a total of about 14. In terms of turnout it is a tough call in comparison with the April 5 vote. Most stations seemed to have a similar turnout, though we had researchers report both on places where lines were much shorter than they were last time and places where they seemed much longer than last time.
Part of the difficulty of estimating turnout is the fact that voting was much faster this time round. With only two candidates on the ballot, there was Continue reading →
Sunny, warm and quiet in Kabul thus far this morning. It’s a much nicer day for voting than it was for the first round in April. We’ll see if that gets voters to the polls earlier. More updates over the course of the day.
Looking to travel across Kabul today or tomorrow? Plan extra time. With the election tomorrow, security has increased drastically around the city. There are new checkpoints set up where there are normally none and the normal checkpoints are being much more thorough than usual. At a couple of key choke points (like on the road at towards parliament), police are funneling cars down to a single lane and checking all of them. The city has also apparently been closed and they are not allowing anyone to enter until the polling is over tomorrow evening. If there are any attacks in Kabul tomorrow, it will certainly seem likely that police at one checkpoint or another had been paid off. Hopefully though the security forces will repeat there solid performance in Kabul from last time.
The April 5 elections don’t just have a political impact, but with the economy in such dire straits, the outcome will have serious consequences for Afghanistan’s economy locally and nationally. Click on the QR code to listen to Noah discuss the impact the upcoming election could have on the country’s financial stability with the BBC’s World Business Report.
Compared with 2009 and 2010, voting today felt tenser than it had in the past. Though one should keep in mind that the last elections took place in the summer and that local campaigns often brought goods for voters giving them a somewhat festive atmosphere. This time Provincial Council campaigns felt a little more subdued. In the past we saw candidate supporters distributing cards, hats and food right by stations, but if they were there this time they had been pushed back by the police. Many roads were closed in Kabul and those that were opened where dotted with checkpoints.
Within and around the polling stations themselves, security was tighter than it had been in the past. Police were more diligent frisking every voter and those that had voted were asked to move along quickly. Crowds often gathered across the street from polling stations to watch the action and were occasionally dispersed by the police. Security forces had, for a while, shut all the entrances to Kabul (you could leave, but not re-enter) and were threatening to keep the entrances closed until 9 pm. Luckily our driver was a pretty good talker and they eventually allowed us to sneak in behind a police vehicle.