Political Landscape

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (27): The preliminary result, finally, but no end to controversy


Almost three months after the polls: The IEC commissioners on 22 December 2019 announcing the preliminary results of the 28 September Afghan presidential election. Photo: IEC.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has finally announced the preliminary results of the 28 September presidential election. The announcement came on 22 December, almost three months after the vote and more than two months after the results announcement had been envisaged in the electoral calendar. In these preliminary results, President Ashraf Ghani has crossed the 50 per cent threshold necessary to avoid a run-off, but only by a razor-thin margin of fewer than 12,000 votes. The main other presidential candidates have already rejected the result, which they said did not take into account their complaints and demands, and have asked the ECC to rectify the “fraudulent result.” AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili gives the details of the preliminary results and explains why the electoral controversy is not over yet.

Announcement of the preliminary results

The IEC has at last announced on 22 December the preliminary result of the 28 September presidential election. In these results, which are not final yet, President Ashraf Ghani has received a razor-thin majority of 923,868 votes (50.64 per cent) of the 1,824,401 votes counted by the IEC. If confirmed this would mean a win for Ghani in the first round, making a run-off unnecessary. (1) His closest rival, Chief Executive Dr Abdullah, received close to 40 per cent of the counted votes. All other candidates were well behind the two lead contenders. Hezb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was in third place, with 3.85 per cent of the votes.

The total number of votes counted – 1.82 million (31 per cent women) – represents less than 20 per cent of the almost 9.7 million registered voters and around 12 per cent of the total population in voting age, which is roughly calculated at 15 million.

The preliminary results of the 2019 presidential election broken down by the votes for each candidate were as follows (see the original source here):

Candidate Total votes Percentage
Muhammad Ashraf Ghani 923,868 50.64
Dr Abdullah Abdullah 720,990 39.52
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar 70,242 3.85
Rahmatullah Nabil 33,921 1.86
Dr Faramarz Tamana 18,066 0.99
Sayyed Nurullah Jalili 15,526 0.85
Abdul Latif Pedram 12,608 0.69
Enayatullah Hafiz 11,374 0.62
Muhammad Hakim Tursan 6,504 0.35
Ahmad Wali Massud 3,942 0.22
Muhammad Shahab Hakimi 3,324 0.18
Dr Ghulam Faruq Nejrabi 1,606 0.09
Muhammad Hanif Atmar 1,565 0.09
Nur Rahman Liwal 865 0.05
Total 1,824,401 100.00

 

The list above includes some 1,565 votes for one candidate Atmar whose electoral ticket had fallen apart long before the election day (AAN’s reporting here) but had not officially withdrawn his candidacy.

These results are likely to be controversial, not in the least since they include a large number of votes that the other candidates, who accuse the IEC of working in Ghani’s favour, had demanded to be annulled. This includes almost all those votes that had been flagged for failures in the biometric verification data: out of 300,000 votes – representing around 16 per cent of all remaining votes after a process of ‘de-duplication’ (AAN reporting here).

The announcement of the preliminary results became possible after the main contender Abdullah, who had been boycotting the process, asked his supporters to allow the audit and recount in the remaining seven provinces where they had blocked the IEC’s work for some weeks. (Originally, there were such protests in 14 provinces.)   The stalemate was broken after a public debate organised by the ECC with the IEC, representatives of the various presidential candidates, civil society and the media (see here). ECC chair Zuhra Bayan Shinwari assured them that the law and procedures would be carefully and thoroughly implemented and that only the biometric votes that had been cast during the specified polling hours would be counted as valid.

At the time Abdullah had stressed (see the video here) that allowing the recount did not mean that they accepted the suspicious votes. These included 102,012 votes cast outside the polling hours; 137,630 votes which he said were “suspicious” for other reasons; and some votes of 2,423 ballot boxes whose biometric data were missing, and that the IEC had referred for audit and recount but, apparently, included in the final count. The decision to no longer block the recount was, he said, merely a gesture of goodwill to both electoral commissions to encourage the IEC to reconsider its “illegal decision” and the ECC to act within the framework of its authority.

Together with the preliminary result, the IEC finally provided the long-awaited figures on how many polling sites out of those planned were indeed open on election day. It said it had been able to provide election materials to 5,373 polling centres with 29,586 polling stations (11,119 for women and 18,467 for men). After the final security assessment by security institutions, it was decided that 431 of the 5,373 polling centres should remain closed. On election day, a total of 26,580 polling stations were open according to the IEC, while  3,006 polling stations were reported as closed.

The votes from 2,299 polling stations were invalidated in full by the electoral commissions, without explaining why and how many votes they represented. In the end, 24,281 polling stations are included in the primary results of the presidential election.

The IEC also published a map indicating the provincial breakdown of the votes cast for each candidate (now removed from the website; provincial results still available – see here). It shows that Ghani has won the most votes in all 16 provinces of the south, southeast (except Ghazni), east, plus Kabul (which had the highest number of votes cast) and Ghor. Abdullah‘s strongholds are the entire northern and north-eastern region plus Bamiyan, Daykundi and Ghazni as well as Maidan Wardak, Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir.

Provincial breakdown of majority votes for candidates of the 28 September 2019 presidential election in Afghanistan (green for incumbent Ghani, blue for challenger Abdullah). Source: IEC.

The same map, with scaled majorities. Source: Roger Helms for AAN.

A second round is still possible, given the very small margin of less than 12,000 Ghani votes above the 50 per cent threshold and the fact that the pending complaints procedure, depending on which way the changes go, could easily push Ghanis share under the threshold.

Reactions to the announcement of the preliminary result

Minutes after the IEC’s announcement of the preliminary results, Abdullah’s Stability and Integration ticket issued a statement saying the IEC had announced a “fraudulent result (…) without separating the clean from the unclean votes”, which was “not legitimate.” The statement said it hoped that the ECC, based on the commitments made to candidates’ representatives, political parties and civil society organisations at a meeting on 13 December, would “address the complaints and legal demands of this campaign and other electoral tickets based on the electoral law, procedures and regulations.”

Hours later, Abdullah assured his supporters in a Facebook post that he would not allow “a rootless and fraudulent group to rule” the country. In a third round of reactions, he talked to a gathering of his allies and supporters (see the video here), saying that “for the people of Afghanistan the damage of fraud and suicide operation is the same.” He called on the ECC to invalidate the above-mentioned 300,000 votes. He also claimed that the votes of 300 out of the 2,423 polling stations with missing biometric data constituted around 40,000 additional votes, which he sees as controversial, had been included into the preliminary results. Because the IEC has not released the details of the audit and recount in general and particularly of those 2,423 disputed polling stations, AAN cannot comment on whether Abdullah’s claim is valid.

The Justice and Security ticket of Rahmatullah Nabil who was in fourth  place so far also issued a statement, saying that the announced result represented “systematic fraud without addressing the legitimate demands” of his team and other electoral teams and that this constituted “a coup against democracy.” The statement said it hoped the ECC would impartially separate the “black votes from white votes.”

President Ghani flanked by his running-mates, Amrullah Saleh and Vice-President Sarwar Danesh, delivered a triumphant speech in front of allies and supporters in the presidential palace the same evening, just stopping “short of declaring himself winner”, as the AFP reported (see the video here). He congratulated the IEC for the announcement, saying “we are moving from ambiguity to clarity.”

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the announcement of the result and called on candidates “to raise any concerns they may have through the appropriate mechanism and within the prescribed time, in accordance with the relevant legal frameworks, regulations and procedures.” It also said that “the ECC has an obligation to adjudicate any complaints it receives transparently and thoroughly, so the election process may conclude in a credible manner.”

US ambassador John R Bass noted the IEC’s “release of the preliminary results” in a Tweet. He thanked the commission and said that it was important for all Afghans to remember that these results were only preliminary and that many “steps remain before the final election results are certified, to ensure the Afghan people have confidence in the results.” Not congratulating anyone yet, he said that the US supported the “vital work” of the ECC in “adjudicating complaints before a final result is certified.”

What happens next?

The candidates have three days to lodge complaints about the result and the procedure that led to it. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said in a press conference that it was ready to receive complaints and that it would start work at 8 o’clock in the morning of 23 December (see media report here).

ECC spokesman Muhammad Qasem Elyasi said during the press conference that the ECC had 37 to 39 days to address the complaints in two phases. According to Article 91 of the electoral law, candidates or their agents can register objections or complaints with the ECC within three days after the announcement of the preliminary results. There are 15 days for the provincial ECC to adjudicate those objections and complaints. If a candidate is not satisfied with the decisions by the provincial ECC, they can file objections with the Central ECC within three working days and the central ECC should adjudicate them within 15 days. According to the original electoral calendar – which has already proven to be overly optimistic – the Electoral Complaints Commission would be given two weeks to rule on the complaints and then two days later the final result would be announced.

The complaints of the other presidential candidates are likely to focus on two issues. First of all, candidates will focus on the fact that almost all of the 300,000 votes have been counted after all. These complaints may well find a favour with the ECC, since they have already appeared to disagree with the way that the IEC has dealt with the controversial votes.

According to a source from the ECC, the IEC and ECC commissioners had agreed in a meeting on 10 December 2019 that:

  • The IEC should invalidate the 2,423 suspicious boxes
  • The ECC should invalidate the 102,012 votes cast outside the polling hours
  • And that the remaining 137,630 votes should be audited again.

On 11 December, Hasht-e Sobh quoted a deputy spokesperson for the ECC, Zarmina Kakar, as saying that the ECC was already reviewing complaints regarding the 300,000 controversial votes and that many of the arguments the IEC presented at the meeting had lacked legal basis and had not been acceptable to the ECC. (2)

Second, the candidates will aim their complaints in particular at the fact that the recount in 27 provinces went ahead while his campaign had boycotted the process. On the day before the announcement of the results, on 21 December, the spokesperson for Abdullah’s campaign Faridun Khozun still said they hoped the IEC would re-do the audit in the 27 provinces. He told Radio Azadi, “We announced [showed] our good will to break the electoral stalemate and resolve the electoral crisis, it is now up to the commission to return to the law, determine the fate of 300,000 votes, and in 27 provinces where they [the IEC] in collusion with one fraudulent team went and conducted the audit, that audit should be conducted [again] in the presence of all election observer organisations and [agents of] all electoral tickets so that it becomes clear what has happened there.”

However, IEC commissioner Daneshyar  told AAN on 22 December that the IEC had informed all the electoral tickets about the audit and recount and could not be held responsible for the fact that they did not send their agents.

With the announcement of the preliminary results, the controversy around the 28 September presidential election is far from over. The ball is now in the court of the ECC that is already showing indications it does not agree with how the IEC has dealt with a large number of suspicious votes. Relatively small changes in which votes are counted could melt President Ghani’s small margin that has put him over the 50 per cent threshold. This in turn would call for a second round, which in the current polarised climate would simply be a repeat of the current controversies.

Edited by Thomas Ruttig and Martine van Bijlert

 

(1) The constitution stipulates in its Article 61 that the president shall be elected with more than 50 per cent of the votes. If in the first round none of the candidates gets more than 50 per cent of the votes, elections for the second round shall be held within two weeks from the date election results are proclaimed. In this round, only the two candidates who have received the highest number of votes in the first round shall participate.

(2) Hasht-e Sobh story explained that the ECC had earlier said that it could not register and address complaints regarding election day (those 300,000 votes), but Kakar said that the complaints about the 300,000 votes were “exceptional” and needed different adjudication. The executive director of election watchdog, FEFA, welcomed the ECC’s decision to deal with these complaints after all.

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