Political Landscape

Elections 2014 (38): Candidate positioning after the preliminary results


IEC staff member checks votes in an audit in the first round of the presidential election. Kabul, 2014

A day after the announcement of the preliminary results, the US and the UN have sought to temper the shock and anger in the Abdullah camp, as well as the joy among Ghani’s supporters, by stressing that the results are not final. Both Abdullah and Ghani have sought public positions that could allow for a continuation of the electoral process, although it will not be easy. It is, moreover, not clear to what extent the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) are willing and able to play the key role that will be cut out for them. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert takes a closer look.

On 7 July, the IEC surprised the country with the announcement of preliminary results that involved not only a considerably higher turnout than expected and only a negligible removal of suspicious votes, but also no clarity on whether the ‘deep audit,’ that had been the subject of prolonged negotiations between the two teams, was going to take place at all. Today both candidates staked out their positions, as did the UN, the US and president Karzai.

In a large emotional gathering in the Loya Jirga tent, Abdullah, sought to tread a thin line: on one hand firmly declaring his determination to fight until the end, while, at the same time, implicitly keeping open the option of a possible re-engagement with the process. He declared himself the winner of the election and the custodian of both the people’s votes and their desire for justice. He stated that the people of Afghanistan had asked him to establish a government and that he could not ignore their voice, but resisted calls from supporters to declare a ‘parallel government’ and stressed his commitment to Afghanistan as a single country (watch full speech here). The most important message of the meeting, and one that was not well received by supporters bent on a much more fiery stance, was his request for a few days time to decide how best to deal with the situation. He told the crowd that he had received phone calls from both US President Barack Obama and State Secretary John Kerry and had been told that Kerry would make a stop-over in Kabul on Friday. It was clear he wanted see what could come of that.

The US government had also been the first to publicly react, seemingly in response to early reports of armed supporters on the streets  and a belligerent statement by General Atta announcing the establishment of “a legitimate government” headed by Abdullah. In a short and somewhat blunt press release  Secretary of State John Kerry called for both restraint and a continued review of the vote. (1)

The next to release a statement was President Hamed Karzai, who welcomed the announcement as a further step in the completion of the electoral process, reiterated that the winner would only be known after the announcement of the final results, and touched on the need to deal with both the complaints and the separation of clean and dirty votes. (2)

UNAMA, who had played an important role in the negotiations between the candidates, followed not much later with a sober press release in which it “note[d] that the results are not final and are subject to change, and that it would be premature for either of the candidates to claim victory.” Of the three, the UN was the most specific in its recommendation on how to arrive at a credible final result:

The Mission urges the IEC and IECC to cooperate within the framework of their mandates to conduct additional audits – notably, those supported by both candidates and which would provide for the investigation of ballots from more than 7,000 polling stations – in a rigorous, timely and expeditious manner. Other measures that would enhance the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy and acceptance of its outcome should also be considered. (3)

The day ended with a press conference by Ashraf Ghani, which in terms of atmosphere was almost the opposite of Abdullah’s emotional and barely controlled gathering in the morning. Seated behind a table and reading from notes, he delivered a measured statement in which he stressed that, though he had full confidence in the integrity of his votes, these were only preliminary results and he would wait for the final outcome. The most important part of his statement was the request for the IEC and the IECC to engage in the agreed audit of 7100 polling stations, that according to him contain a total of over three million votes – stressing that such an extensive audit, of half of the total number of votes cast, was unprecedented anywhere. Abdullah’s camp has not yet responded. The level of trust however is low, as illustrated by Abdullah’s accusations – repeated in the morning’s speech – that a Karzai-Ghani-IEC triangle had been responsible for massive fraud.

The way forward seems obvious: a rigorous audit, of at least the 7100 polling stations that the candidates had (almost) agreed on earlier. This, however, is not without problems. It is, first of all, not a new plan and up till now the candidate teams have been unable to agree on the final details – and not without reason, as both teams are probably seeking to leverage the scope that they believe could swing the outcome (or not).

The IEC and IECC have not yet officially reacted, but during the announcement of the preliminary results IEC Chair Yusuf Nuristani seemed to indicate that as far as he was concerned the IEC’s job was over and it was now up to the IECC to deal with the votes they had passed on. The reluctance that the IEC and the IECC have shown to engage in such a far-reaching audit, and the fact that both commissions seem split over its necessity, complicates both their work and their credibility. Moreover their track record in terms of rigour has not been stellar (see here for the IEC, and here and here  for the IECC).

The IECC rushed the first round of the presidential complaints process, left the provincial council complaints process pending and now seems to be again rushing the second round of the presidential complaints. The IEC, in the meantime, was unfazed by the fact that its audits in the second round had invalidated fewer than 12,000 votes (934 based on its original guidelines and 10,855 based on a trigger that was later added). This is 0.15 per cent of the total number of votes, which is extremely low (particularly compared to past elections where the invalidation rate has generally tended towards 20 per cent, or even compared to the limited audits in the first round that led to the disqualification of 233,219 votes).  An audit outcome like that, in the face of a traditionally high level of petty fraud, an implausibly high turnout of over 8 million votes (even higher than the already disputed first round), and fairly detailed fraud allegations should have prompted the IEC to take a closer look.

As a result the situation is now intensely complicated, even though the way forward seems obvious. Both candidates claim that the process so far has proven that they are the rightful next president of Afghanistan. And even though both of them may (but even that is not sure) agree to wait for the audited final results, it will be an uphill struggle to ensure that the process is credible enough to keep both sides on board – in the face of the ticking clock of a 2 August inauguration date.

It is however a relief that, for now, all sides have positioned themselves in a way that negotiations, re-engagement and agreements at least remain possible. The wish to accommodate the US, and to ward off the threat that aid may be cut off, will obviously have played a role. Both candidates have repeatedly stressed their desire to maintain good relations with the US. Both candidates have also called on their followers to show patience and restraint. Although both sides have firebrand supporters who seem ready to stir some trouble, there is on the whole a strong desire to not let this descend into prolonged political turmoil.

 

(1) The full text of the John Kerry’s statement (7 July 2014):

I have noted reports of protests in Afghanistan and of suggestions of a “parallel government” with the gravest concern. The United States expects Afghan electoral institutions to conduct a full and thorough review of all reasonable allegations of irregularities.  At the same time, there is no justifiable recourse to violence or threats of violence, or for resort to extra-constitutional measures or threats of the same.  The apolitical role of the security forces must be respected by all parties. We call on all Afghan leaders to maintain calm in order to preserve the gains of the last decade and maintain the trust of the Afghan people.  Any action to take power by extra-legal means will cost Afghanistan the financial and security support of the United States and the international community.  

See also here for an interview with the outgoing US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, on the elections preliminary results.

(2)  Unofficial translation of President Karzai’s statement (8 July 2014)

The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan welcomes the announcement of the preliminary results of the second round of presidential elections as a further step in the completion of the electoral process.

The wide participation of the people in both rounds of the election has again shown the Afghan’s commitment to strengthen democracy and consolidate Afghan sovereignty.

Our dear people waited with patience and solidarity for the announcement of the preliminary results. The winner will be clear once, after the complaints and separation of the valid and invalid (literally: right and wrong) votes have been finalised, the final results are announced.

The Independent Electoral Commissions have a duty to with full transparency and an understanding of their historical responsibility to implement the vote audit. We hope the candidates will cooperate with the Electoral Commissions in this matter, and make the process succeed.

The candidates will surely, taking into account the benefit of the country, choose the way of agreement.

The holding of the elections would have been impossible without the dedication of the Afghan security forces. The people of Afghanistan will never forget the sacrifices of their children for the holding of the elections.

(3) UNAMA’s full statement (8 July 2014)

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) notes yesterday’s announcement of the preliminary results for the country’s 2014 Presidential election run-off.

The Mission further notes that the results are not final and are subject to change, and that it would be premature for either of the candidates to claim victory.

UNAMA encourages the electoral institutions – the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) – to demonstrate their commitment to the future of the country by taking the responsibility to fully discharge their mandates while demonstrating the utmost impartiality, transparency and responsibility.

The Mission urges the IEC and IECC to cooperate within the framework of their mandates to conduct additional audits – notably, those supported by both candidates and which would provide for the investigation of ballots from more than 7,000 polling stations – in a rigorous, timely and expeditious manner. Other measures that would enhance the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy and acceptance of its outcome should also be considered.

UNAMA reiterates its call for the candidates to exercise restraint and take all steps necessary to control their supporters to prevent them from making any irresponsible statements and from taking steps that could lead to civil disorder and instability.

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Thematic Category: Political Landscape