Political Landscape

AAN Election Blog 34: Rumours of a Run-off


The Afghan electoral process has gone into yet another phase. The audit results were passed onto the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) a week ago. They have been endlessly mulling on how to calculate the number of polling stations that are to be annulled and are expected to hand over their conclusions to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) today or tomorrow. In the meantime the city is buzzing with rumours pointing to the possibility of a second round. What is going on?

Over the last few days there seems to have been an interesting convergence of, on one hand, the UN-led process of trying to arrive at some kind of numerical figure (under or over 50%) and, on the other hand, an Afghan process of negotiations on the size of the share of government that Abdullah’s supporters are to be given in exchange for his cooperation. The Abdullah camp however seems to have wildly over-asked, and when Karzai consulted his supporters he was reportedly told that the demands were unacceptable and that they were ready to follow him into a second round.

It is unclear whether the figure cited as rumoured election result (which varies, but tends to be around 48 or 49%) has actually been leaked by the IEC or the ECC and whether it is actually based on a finalised calculation. Don’t forget that this is a negotiating game. The whole prospect of a possible second round is seen by many Afghans not so much as the outcome of an investigative statistical process, but rather as a means to force a preferred outcome – whatever that may be. And so it seems that the Karzai camp is calling Abdullah’s (and the international’s) bluff. You want a second round, you can have one – very much in the same way as Karzai caught the opposition off guard earlier this spring when he suddenly gave them what they wanted: an election date within the Constitutionally prescribed deadline (but logistically impossible and politically impractical).

So we are left with two dominant tracks, neither of which addresses the heart of the problem. The UN-initiated audit process lacks local legitimacy, as it is seen by most Afghans as an elaborate cover for behind-the-scenes dealmaking – which will only conclude once the internationals have received what they want. The process also does not tackle the devastating impact fraud has had on popular confidence in the democratic process (voters having a say in choosing their leaders etc. etc.) and on the practical reality of who has managed to get into the provincial councils for the coming four years.

The current Afghan process of negotiating a political settlement, on the other hand, totally disregards the popular demand that rulers stop treating the government as their personal property. If Abdullah wants to stay true to his slogans of fundamental change he needs to call back his negotiators and start talking about reform and a more inclusive government, rather than this bare-boned attempt at factional power sharing.

And then we haven’t even talked about the fact that there are probably at least seven good reasons why really you don’t want to have a second round, now or anywhere in the medium term future…

(think winter, violence, disaffection, disbelief, even lower turnout, even more and possibly more subtle fraud, if no fraud then localised disenfranchisement, etc. etc.)

The Afghan electoral process has gone into yet another phase. The audit results were passed onto the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) a week ago. They have been endlessly mulling on how to calculate the number of polling stations that are to be annulled and are expected to hand over their conclusions to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) today or tomorrow. In the meantime the city is buzzing with rumours pointing to the possibility of a second round. What is going on?

Over the last few days there seems to have been an interesting convergence of, on one hand, the UN-led process of trying to arrive at some kind of numerical figure (under or over 50%) and, on the other hand, an Afghan process of negotiations on the size of the share of government that Abdullah’s supporters are to be given in exchange for his cooperation. The Abdullah camp however seems to have wildly over-asked, and when Karzai consulted his supporters he was reportedly told that the demands were unacceptable and that they were ready to follow him into a second round.

It is unclear whether the figure cited as rumoured election result (which varies, but tends to be around 48 or 49%) has actually been leaked by the IEC or the ECC and whether it is actually based on a finalised calculation. Don’t forget that this is a negotiating game. The whole prospect of a possible second round is seen by many Afghans not so much as the outcome of an investigative statistical process, but rather as a means to force a preferred outcome – whatever that may be. And so it seems that the Karzai camp is calling Abdullah’s (and the international’s) bluff. You want a second round, you can have one – very much in the same way as Karzai caught the opposition off guard earlier this spring when he suddenly gave them what they wanted: an election date within the Constitutionally prescribed deadline (but logistically impossible and politically impractical).

So we are left with two dominant tracks, neither of which addresses the heart of the problem. The UN-initiated audit process lacks local legitimacy, as it is seen by most Afghans as an elaborate cover for behind-the-scenes dealmaking – which will only conclude once the internationals have received what they want. The process also does not tackle the devastating impact fraud has had on popular confidence in the democratic process (voters having a say in choosing their leaders etc. etc.) and on the practical reality of who has managed to get into the provincial councils for the coming four years.

The current Afghan process of negotiating a political settlement, on the other hand, totally disregards the popular demand that rulers stop treating the government as their personal property. If Abdullah wants to stay true to his slogans of fundamental change he needs to call back his negotiators and start talking about reform and a more inclusive government, rather than this bare-boned attempt at factional power sharing.

And then we haven’t even talked about the fact that there are probably at least seven good reasons why really you don’t want to have a second round, now or anywhere in the medium term future…

(think winter, violence, disaffection, disbelief, even lower turnout, even more and possibly more subtle fraud, if no fraud then localised disenfranchisement, etc. etc.)

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape