Political Landscape

Elections 2014 (16): Final preliminary results, complaints, campaigns and negotiations


Election day 2014, Kabul university. Photo: Martine van Bijlert

Election day 2014, Kabul university. Photo: Martine van Bijlert

The preliminary results of the 2014 presidential election have been announced, with two clear frontrunners – Dr Abdullah Abdullah, with 44.9 per cent of the vote and Dr Ashraf Ghani with 31.5 per cent – and no outright winner. These are still preliminary results, not yet taking into consideration the findings of the complaints commission (IECC), but the outcome, for now, is fairly straightforward: the third and fourth placed candidates are too far behind to credibly complain and Dr Abdullah is too far from the critical 50 per cent of the vote for an outright win to be likely. The IEC has given a tentative, second round date of 7 June 2014, a little under six weeks from now. Negotiations to rally the defeated candidates’ support have begun, while talks on a possible compromise ‘unity’ government also continue. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert reports, with input from Kate Clark.

The figures

The chairman of the Independent Elections Comission (IEC), Yusuf Nuristani, announced the results in a televised press conference on Saturday 26 April 2014. The results are as follows:

  • Abdullah: 2,973,707 (44.94%)
  • Ghani: 2,082,417 (31.47%)
  • Rassul: 759,540 (11.48%)
  • Sayyaf: 468,340 (7.08%)
  • Helal: 180,859 (2.73%)
  • Sherzai: 106,673 (1.61%)
  • Sultanzoi: 30,737 (0.46%)
  • Arsala: 15.394 (0.23%)

The final turnout figure was close to 7 million: 6,892,816 votes reported cast, of which 36 per cent cast in polling stations for women and 64 per cent in polling stations for men.

The number of votes disqualified as a result of the IEC audits was surprisingly low: 234,674 (3.4 per cent), but Nuristani did mention that an additional 444 problematic polling stations had been passed on to the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) for a decision, so the figure is likely to still rise. (1)

The total number of polling stations open on election day was announced as 19,431 with 547 having been open without reporting any votes. The figures, together with the ones earlier released, do not yet add up, so it will be important to study the details once released.

To reach these preliminary results, the IEC said it had recounted 810 polling stations (no information provided on how this changed the count) and audited 1,964 polling stations. Out of these audited polling stations, 525 were disqualified in 31 provinces; the others were accepted and included in the count.

What happens now?

With the announcement of the final preliminary results on Saturday, the second hurdle of the election – polling day having been the first – has been taken. The fact that the two frontrunners have such a lead over the others has made the discussion on fraud and the possible engineering of the results – though still heated – a more abstract one than initially feared. Both Rassul and Sayyaf are too far behind to claim that, in a fair process, they would have been a runner up. And even though Abdullah’s supporters continue to claim that, in reality, he had received enough votes for an outright win, as long as there is no clear evidence, it is unlikely that their complaints will get much traction. (2)

The main implication of the current preliminary results is therefore that, although there may be criticism and suspicion over the way the IEC has handled the electoral process so far, there is – at this stage – no real controversy over the initial outcome.

The presidential candidates now have 48 hours (extended from the original 24 hours, after they protested) to lodge complaints against the announced results. The IEC, however, has been slow to release details, making it more difficult for the candidates’ teams to compare their own information with the current outcome (on Sunday evening, more than 24 hours after the announcement, the IEC website was finally updated to show the final preliminary results, but at the time of this posting no updated information had been posted on the recounts, audits and disqualifications). This means that the IEC has not only not properly briefed the electorate on what exactly it did to reach its result, it has also not released the details that would make it possible to try to track this (such details include total votes per province, vote counts per polling station, lists of disqualified polling stations, changes as a result of the audits and recounts, details on the ballot shortages and contingency polling stations, and the total numbers of blank and invalid votes). IEC chair Nuristani has said that they hope to do so in the coming days.

The process is now in the hands of the IECC that will continue its adjudication of the category A complaints (those that, if found to be justified, could potentially affect the results) and respond to appeals lodged against decisions by its provincial departments (including, most prominently, the decision in Herat to reportedly invalidate 100,000 votes). It will also need to decide on the complaints against the preliminary results and deal with the 444 polling stations that the IEC failed to tackle. The IECC has less than two weeks to do all this: its deadline is 8 May 2014 – unless it argues that an extension is due, given the two-day delay in the IEC announcement and the volume of work it faces, which it may well do.

In the meantime, the teams of the two main candidates are getting ready for a reinvigorated campaign. Both candidates made televised speeches on the day after the announcement. At the same time, Dr Abdullah and his team seem undecided how much effort they should put into still trying to fight the first round by arguing that he has been defrauded, rather than simply moving on. Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, has nothing to win from dwelling on his second place position and has already fixed his sights firmly on the upcoming competition. Both sides are waiting for the final details of where they got their votes, and where they lost them, to try to tweak their campaign strategies and widen their support bases. Talks, moreover, are on-going with the other candidates and there have been consistent rumours, for quite a while now, that Rassul and possibly Sayyaf have agreed to join Abdullah’s campaign once the fine details of a possible deal have been hashed out. Ghani’s supporters, in the meantime, will be trying to increase their appeal towards Hazara voters and in other areas where he received less votes than expected.

The candidates are also still watching President Karzai. Whereas some Afghans believe Rassul’s poor showing and Abdullah’s current lead has put Karzai on the back foot, indications are rather that he continues to be very much at the centre of the current process. Rather than choosing a preferred candidate – and risking a loss of face and influence, if the candidate did badly or was caught red-handed steeped in fraud – Karzai has instead stayed in touch with all sides and is playing his hand as the game progresses, focusing less on personalities and more on the opportunities offered by unfolding negotiations.

Additionally, since the beginning of this whole process – even before candidate registration – there has been continuous talk of a possible bypassing of the vote, altogether, by getting the main candidates and players to buy into a coalition government. The idea was that voters, nervous about the risks of both polling day and the protracted political tension afterwards, would not mind as long as the outcome was seen as fair and acceptable. (A variation on this theme was the early efforts to agree on a single candidate, in essence deciding the election before the vote, which came to nothing.) The difficulty with these negotiations is that they are inherently slippery; nobody is sure of the real intentions of those they are talking to and whether the offers on the table may be real or rather a trick; additionally, the field of relative strengths seems continuously in flux, encouraging everyone to hedge their bets as long as possible.

Personalities from the diaspora, such as former presidential candidate Sattar Sirat, have also returned to Afghanistan to offer their services in case the situation may call for outside mediation or an interim government. It is, however, very unlikely that he, or anyone else, would have the clout or backing to play such a role, as it is one that Karzai may well have in mind for himself.

Where can it still go wrong?

The IEC has managed to finalise the count, but it has done so in a cloud of opaqueness, side-stepping several issues surrounding the “separation of the clean and dirty votes.” It has defined its anti-fraud and audit measures in such a way that they affected only a small part of the vote, and has now effectively passed on the problem to the IECC. The IECC may do something similar, focusing mainly on a very limited handling of the complaints and on meeting the timeline, now that the likely outcome of the first round is more or less clear. It is however also possible that some of its members may try to influence the campaign period by changing the relative distance between the candidates, or even trying to work out whether a first round win is still possible. (3)

But even if the IEC and IECC manage to reach a result without too much controversy, the ambiguities and suspicions will spill over into the second round, which is likely to be far more tense than the first. If the IEC and IECC by then have not been fully transparent on how they have dealt with the vote and the suspected fraud, and how they intend to do so in the second round, the accusations of an ‘engineered’ result, that can now be dismissed as of little practical relevance and possibly over-blown, will be much harder to deal with.

Finally, the way the legal framework has been set up, it basically fosters potential disagreements between the IEC and the IECC with regard to who has the last say in determining the final results. According to the Law on the Structure, Duties and Authorities of the Election Commissions, both the IEC and IECC have a role taking decisions that are “final and unalterable.” The wording of the law seems to suggest that the IECC has the final say, but a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that was recently signed by the two bodies suggests the IECC’s decisions can be overruled by the IEC. (4) Such ambiguity provides ample scope for improvisation (which is seldom impartial), disagreements and a negotiated messy solution.

 

(1) In addition to the 234,674 votes that were disqualified after the fraud investigations, an additional 40,476 votes were invalidated because they were cast for presidential candidates who had already withdrawn (Qayum Karzai, Rahim Wardak and Nader Naim). This brings the total of disqualified/invalidated votes to 275,150. No figures have been released yet for the total number of blank and invalid votes.

(2) The difference between Abdullah’s current vote count (2,973,707) and the 50% plus one of the valid votes needed to win a first round victory (which in this case would be 3,308,834) is 335,126. This is not a huge margin, but still significantly more than the total number of votes that the IEC disqualified (234,674).

(3) The IEC may also still seek to tweak the results. According to an MoU between the two electoral bodies to clarify their working relations, the IEC can still include polling stations/centres that had not been included in the results or correct any mistakes, prior to the decision of the IECC. Although the MoU stipulates that the IEC shall inform the IECC of its undertakings, it says nothing about letting the electorate know.

(4) Article 26.12 of the Structure Law states that “decisions made by the central [IECC] shall be final and unalterable,” while, according to article 14.16, “the announcement of the final election results [by the IEC] based on the decision of the [IECC] shall be final and unalterable.” The wording seems to suggest that the IECC’s decisions are leading and that the IEC should simply implement them.

According to the MoU that was signed later, however, “the IEC shall implement the decisions of the IECC, except in the case of the final results. The decisions of the IECC regarding the final results of the elections shall be implemented after the approval of the IEC. … The IEC may raise an objection if it does not assent to the decisions of the IECC, specifically in regard to the final results. The IECC shall provide, in writing to the IEC, the justified reasons for its final decision. The decision of the IECC shall be final after responding to the objection or objections.” [italics added]

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape