Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Dossiers

Thematic Dossier XXVII: Afghanistan’s contested 2019 presidential election and its aftermath

AAN Team 23 min

A year on from Afghanistan’s fourth presidential poll since the fall of the Taleban regime, AAN is publishing all our reporting on the election and its aftermath in a new dossier. Our 37 AAN reports comprise coverage of the run-up to the election; on-the-day reporting; analysis of the controversies over counting, verifying and announcing the result, including our dogged attempts to clarify the data and; finally, reporting on the power struggles over who won, the political agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah and their subsequent conflicts over appointments. It seems important to bring this body of work together, given how greatly the repercussions of that disputed poll still rumble on.

With intermittent fighting and rocket attacks throughout the day, election workers in the Awal Baba school voting centre in Maidan Shahr, had little work to do. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2019.With intermittent fighting and rocket attacks throughout the day, election workers in the Awal Baba school voting centre in Maidan Shahr, had little work to do. Photo: Andrew Quilty, 2019.

The presidential election was delayed multiple times, but eventually took place on 28 September 2019 with 13 men running for the highest office in Afghanistan. However, it was clear from the beginning that it would be a two-horse race between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. These were the incumbent leaders of the little-loved National Unity Government established after the contested presidential election of 2014. The result of the first (and only) round turned into a fierce battlefield particularly between the two men. As in 2014, a protracted, bitter dispute arose, culminating in both men organising their own inaugurations as president in parallel events in March 2020. For some time, the debate over who had won – Ghani (a Pashtun) or Abdullah (a Tajik) – also caused dangerous conflict along ethnic lines. The political stand-off only ended after mediation from various Afghan leaders and pressure by international donors, especially the United States. It was keen to see an Afghan government formed that could negotiate with the Taleban. The result was another power-sharing agreement between the two men and their camps. That this was necessary for a second time laid bare just how dysfunctional the country’s political system has become. It also points, along with the exceptionally low turnout, to the relative weakness of the president’s mandate.

As will be seen in our reports, in 2019 as in 2014, the presidential election was marred by administrative chaos, mismanagement, and manipulation. This was even though the two incumbents had promised to carry out “fundamental” electoral reforms when they signed their previous power-sharing agreement, which led to the formation of the 2014 National Unity Government. Trying to hammer out the specifics of those reforms took years – delaying, in the process, the parliamentary elections, which had been due in 2015 for almost four years. They were finally held in October 2018 but, due to mismanagement, corruption and manipulation, turned out to be, in the words of President Ghani, a “catastrophe”. (See previous AAN dossiers on the electoral reforms and 2018 parliamentary election and the aftermath of those elections). Delay over the votes, the fact that election reform had been incomplete and needed attention before the presidential election – this included appointing a whole new slate of election commissioners – meant the Independent Election Commission (IEC) was busy sorting out the parliamentary elections when it was supposed to be starting preparations for the presidential election. 

Problems in the 2018 election had also been caused by a new technology, biometric voter verification (BVV). It was supposed to prevent the widespread fraud that had marred previous polls. The technology was ‘upgraded’ before the 2019 presidential election. However, for several reasons, in the end, manual and digital processes were employed in parallel in 2019. In addition, the BVV technology lacked certain preventive features and, it turned out, could be manipulated. Although it did prevent widespread ballot stuffing on election day (something which had also inflated reported turnout in previous elections), in the end, it also turned into a major source of contention, especially regarding a large number of ‘suspicious’ votes that were eventually largely accepted. They tipped the percentage of ballots given to Ghani over 50 per cent, meaning there was no second round run-off. 

Additionally, the election result triggered a serious debate over representation. Because of insecurity, many polling stations were never planned to be open. Then, on the day, only 82 per cent of those actually opened their doors to voters, again because of Taleban threats. Relatively few citizens who could vote turned out, even in safe areas. According to official figures, only around 1.8 million of the country’s 10 million registered voters participated in the poll. Another estimated five million from the total of 15 million Afghans of voting-age had not even registered in the first place due to insecurity or disillusion with elections, or for other reasons. 

After all these problems and controversies, it was no wonder that there was a flood of complaints and appeals. According to a report prepared by the United Nations Election Support Project (UNESP) and seen by AAN, a total of 21,446 complaints and 6,566 appeals were registered during the various phases of the election, from the voter registration, over the campaign period, on election day, as well as during the period following the preliminary results. Around 16,500 of these complaints were about the preliminary results. However, the two bodies supposed to provide checks and balances for the vote failed to do their jobs properly. The Electoral Complaints Commission’s (ECC) adjudications of the last round of complaints and appeals – especially those dealing with contested votes that determined the final results – were patchy and indecisive. The IEC’s failure to fully implement the ECC’s adjudications then further dented trust in the final result. 

Finally, and yet again in the post-2001 era, Afghanistan’s elections were affected by considerations by Washington as to what would be good for its Afghan policy ahead of its own presidential election, in November 2020. Negotiations that had started between the United States and Taleban in late 2018 were widely assumed in Kabul to be leading an interim government. Reports from both Afghan and international circles also suggested the election could be postponed in favour of a power-sharing arrangement with the Taleban. The government still went ahead with the election but doubts over whether it would actually be held dampened the campaign. Indeed, almost every aspect of this election were significantly shaped by first, the US-Taleban negotiations and then, the 29 February 2020 agreement that envisaged US troop withdrawal in exchange for the Taleban’s giving anti-terrorism guarantees and agreeing to intra-Afghan talks.

AAN has followed all these dynamics ­and others in its reports on the election and its aftermath. To help the readers navigate the 37 reports in this dossier, we have divided them into six sections, with reports appearing in reverse chronological order. The sections are:

  • Summary report giving an overview of the 2019 presidential election
  • The power struggle between Ghani and Abdullah over the formation of the cabinet  
  • Reconciling Ghani and Abdullah and the conclusion of the 17 May political agreement
  • Preliminary results, final results and the complaints process 
  • Election day: watching the provinces, scrutinising the turnout and the debate on what votes to count
  • Pre-election preparations, debate and events
  1. Overview of the disputed 2019 presidential election 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (31): A review of the disputed presidential election and its aftermath

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 28 September 2020

On the first anniversary of Afghanistan’s fourth – and much disputed – presidential election of the post-Taleban order, we look back at the events surrounding the election and its aftermath to provide a concluding overview. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili reviews what happened before, during and after the election, looks at the votes that swung the outcome and discusses the aftermath of the contested result. He concludes that the fact that this is the second time a presidential election has led to a power-sharing government indicates that Afghanistan’s political system is dysfunctional, incentivising manipulation and contestation.

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (31): A review of the disputed presidential election and its aftermath

2. Power struggle and power sharing between Ghani and Abdullah

Peace Leadership: Power struggles, division and an incomplete council

Author:  Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 6 September 2020

Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has approved a 46-member Leadership Committee for the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), but criticisms have come in hard and fast from all quarters. The most significant rejection has come from Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who asserts his right under the power-sharing agreement to lead the peace process, including making appointments to the HCNR. Meanwhile, Ghani has appointed Abdullah’s nominees for his share of cabinet posts and made some new governorship appointments. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili looks at these developments in detail and concludes that Ghani seems determined to hold sway over the HCNR and its sweeping power over peace talks with the Taleban. 

Peace Leadership: Power struggles, division and an incomplete council

Still Preoccupied by ‘Who Gets What’: 100 days of the new government, but no full cabinet

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date:  5 August 2020

More than two and half months since Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed their political agreement, and almost five months since the inauguration of Ashraf Ghani as president, Afghanistan still has no new cabinet. The list of cabinet nominees remains incomplete and parliament, which has to vote to confirm or reject nominees, has given up waiting and gone into recess for the summer. Another key provision of the Ghani-Abdullah agreement, setting up the High Council for National Reconciliation, has also yet to be implemented. It is supposed to be leading on the peace process. AAN researcher Ali Yawar Adili looks at how, even at a time when multiple problems need urgent attention, mistrust and power struggles between the two camps has disrupted the formation of the new government. He also provides detailed backgrounds of the appointments that have been made or proposed. 

Still Preoccupied by ‘Who Gets What’: 100 days of the new government, but no full cabinet

Between Professionalism and Accommodation: The slow progress on the new cabinet

Author:  Ali Yawar Adili and Thomas Ruttig

Date: 13 June 2020

More than three months after the inauguration of President Ashraf Ghani, a cabinet has not yet been formed. The appointments were delayed and disrupted by the dispute about the election outcome and the ensuing standoff, which had beset the country for more than two months. However, almost a month after the impasse was resolved, Ghani is moving slowly to complete the cabinet list. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili and co-director Thomas Ruttig look at the new appointments. They report that the new appointments have so far come only from Ghani’s camp and the completion of the cabinet and appointments to other high profile and provincial posts has been held up by intra-factional struggles within Ghani and Abdullah’s camp as well as their need to accommodate other political forces. Biographical background on the new appointees is annexed. 

Between Professionalism and Accommodation: The slow progress on the new cabinet

3. Reconciling Ghani and Abdullah and the conclusion of the political agreement

End of the Post-Election Impasse? Ghani and Abdullah’s new power-sharing formula

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 20 May 2020

The electoral and political standoff which had beset the country for months has been ended by a new power-sharing agreement signed on 17 May 2020 by President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah. Both had claimed the presidency and held rival inaugurations in March. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili (with input from Thomas Ruttig) reports on the signing ceremony and the details of the agreement which removes Abdullah’s title of Chief Executive but gives him control over appointing half the cabinet. He concludes that the impasse is broken, with the new institutions designed – in theory – to accommodate all major political forces in the country. However, undefined provisions regarding the structure of these institutions might prove contentious and lead to renewed conflict, while power politics and factional rivalry will likely continue to undermine governance and the peace process. 

End of the Post-Election Impasse? Ghani and Abdullah’s new power-sharing formula

From Parallel Governments to a New Form of Power-Sharing? Afghanistan’s ongoing post-election crisis

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 7 May 2020

Both parties claiming to be Afghanistan’s president are sending out signals that they are moving toward a new power-sharing formula. It is not clear, however, whether these signals indicate that the post-election political standoff is nearing its end. Possibly, they are just designed to reassure Afghans and the country’s international backers, the most important of which, the United States, has already cut or threatened to cut aid in its bid to get Afghanistan’s leaders “to compromise.” Each party has a different idea about how to share power and each has rejected the other’s proposals. Afghan mediation efforts are hampered by red lines, an unwillingness to be seen to go back to a variation of the 2014-20 National Unity Government (NUG) and the fact that the key figures involved are not neutral, but are widely believed to be manoeuvring for future political roles for themselves. In this report, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili looks at how the political impasse has evolved since the simultaneous inaugurations on 9 March of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, attempts to mediate and what underlies this latest political crisis. 

From Parallel Governments to a New Form of Power-Sharing? Afghanistan’s ongoing post-election crisis

4. From preliminary to final results and a complaints process in between

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (30): Final results… and parallel governments?

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 19 February 2020

Afghanistan’s 28 September 2019 presidential election has finally meandered to what may be its end after almost five months, with the Independent Election Commission (IEC) declaring incumbent Ashraf Ghani the first-round winner. However, the result is too narrow and disputed, and the manner of dealing with complaints not transparent enough to quash doubts in his victory. Runner-up, Dr Abdullah, has now also declared himself the winner and said he wants to form his own government. There are all the ingredients for a deepening political crisis at a time when Afghans needs a crisis least – with peace talks with the Taleban planned, talks that will need broad political consensus on the ‘Kabul side’. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig here takes a first look at the declared result, its reliability and the looming crisis (with input from Ali Yawar Adili). 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (30): Final results… and parallel governments?

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (29): A statistical overview of the preliminary results

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 8 February 2020

After four and half months, the final results of the presidential election are still yet to be announced after the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) ordered a partial audit of more than 200,000 suspicious votes and a recount of almost 600 polling stations where there were discrepancies or missing biometric data. At the point where we had hoped for a decision, the ECC has instead passed on incomplete information to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to make the final determination. In this overview of the situation as it stands, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili scrutinises the statistics of the election: for turnout, polling stations, complaints and appeals, invalidated votes, and voting patterns. He concludes that the 2019 presidential election has been marred by flawed biometric technology, limited transparency, an inability to resolve disputes and questions surrounding its inclusivity to such an extent that it threatens the prospect of the next president receiving a credible, strong mandate. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (29): A statistical overview of the preliminary results

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (28): ECC starts final, decisive phase of complaints procedure

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date:  25 January 2020

The process to determine the outcome of Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election has moved into its last phase. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has started to deal with the 6,292 appeals filed against the decisions made by its provincial offices. The ECC has 15 working days to adjudicate the appeals, but it may need more time, given that the most complicated questions have been deferred to this last phase. Moreover, the ECC decisions are likely to result in renewed recounts, which could lead to even further delays. The process is carefully scrutinised, in particular by the teams of the two runners-up, as even relatively small changes in the number and distribution of the votes could change the outcome of the election. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili answers the main questions surrounding the conclusion of the complaints process. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (28): ECC starts final, decisive phase of complaints procedure

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

Author:  Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 22 December 2019

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. 

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

5. Election day: watching the provinces, scrutinising the turnout and the debate on what votes to count

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (26): A Q&A about the ongoing election stalemate

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date:  8 December 2019

The aftermath of Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election has now dragged on for 72 days. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has missed two dates for the announcement of preliminary results and is 50 days behind its original election timetable. The commission has not decided yet when it will announce the results. Meanwhile, the IEC’s audit and recount of votes in polling stations in seven provinces has been blocked by supporters of Chief Executive and candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who have also launched street protests. The eight-strong Council of Opposition Presidential Candidates has also called for a coalition government, and the president’s supporters in parliament are calling for the announcement of partial preliminary votes. Amid all the uncertainty and confusion, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili here tries to provide some clarity with a Q&A. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (26): A Q&A about the ongoing election stalemate

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (25): Contradictory figures and low turnout in Kandahar

Author:  Fazl Rahman Muzhary

Date:  27 November 2019

Kandahar’s turnout looks like it will be less than half the national average, pending finalisation of the numbers. There are many possible reasons for this, chief among them fraud, with limited reporting but plenty of anecdotal evidence of ballot stuffing and other irregularities. But Kandaharis also seem to have been deterred by the low level of campaigning, dashed hopes from the peace process collapsed and the silence of the Karzais. For this post-election piece, AAN’s Fazal Muzhary has been trying to unravel facts from fraud, with the help of interviews with local journalists, civil society activists, one senior government official, the deputy governor, campaigners of three contenders and a few ordinary people, most of whom chose to remain anonymous for security reasons. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (25): contradictory figures and low turnout in Kandahar

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (24): Disputed recount, threats not to accept results, and some interesting new data

Author:  Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 21 November 2019

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has overruled the demand by most of the presidential candidates to invalidate around 300,000 out of the 1.8 million votes (about 16 per cent) from the 28 September presidential election. Critics wanted these excluded before the IEC started auditing and recounting the votes from 8,255 ‘problematic’ polling stations. However, the IEC has gone ahead with the audit and recount anyway, causing some candidates to threaten not to recognise the election results. The election process now faces a stalemate, says AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili. He ends this piece with interesting new statistics about the polling stations that were open and closed on election day, turnout and ‘de-duplication’, all broken down province-by-province, here published for the first time. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (24): Disputed recount, threats not to accept results, and some interesting new data

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (23): Disputed biometric votes endanger election results

Author:  Jelena Bjelica and Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 7 November 2019

Almost 40 days after the election, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) has still not been able to give a final turnout figure for the presidential election. The latest figure announced by the IEC is just over 1.8 million, but this does not seem to be the final count. As for the 770,000 to 900,000 votes which went ‘missing’ from earlier turnout figures, there is still no explanation as to whether these votes were found to be fraudulent or simply irregular. The IEC has now set 14 November for the announcement of preliminary results, after missing its planned deadline of 19 October. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica have been trying to get to the bottom of these contradictory figures. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (23): Disputed biometric votes endanger election results

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (22): Glances at Kunduz, Baghlan, Samangan

Author: Obaid Ali

Date: 30 October 2019

Kunduz, with its eponymous capital as the centre of one of the seven multi-province regions in Afghanistan (the northeast), had the lowest turnout of all Afghan provinces in the 28 September 2019 presidential election. This applies to  absolute and relative numbers – the latter a meagre 6.4 per cent. Baghlan had the second-lowest numbers. Bad security was the main reason for this situation in both provinces. Samangan fared much better.  AAN’s Obaid Ali, who had been unable to travel to Kunduz on election day and had watched the election there (and in Baghlan and Samangan) from neighbouring Takhar province, looks back at how election day and the election aftermath unfolded in those three north-eastern provinces. Local journalists and civil society activists provided further insight (with input from Thomas Ruttig). 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (22): Glances at Kunduz, Baghlan, Samangan

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (21): BVV devices and a delay in announcing preliminary results

Author:  Thomas Ruttig, Jelena Bjelica and Ali Yawar Adili

Date:  25 October 2019

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has completed the transfer of data from the biometric devices to its central server. Those 1,932,673 votes now need to be gone through using a verification process to weed out duplicate, underage and ‘photo-proxy’ votes. Only then, will the IEC know the final number of biometrically-validated votes. It has also, therefore, delayed its announcement of preliminary results. Throughout the transfer of the biometric data, the public, political elite and Afghanistan’s international backers have been locked into a politically-charged debate about the BVV devices and which votes to count. In this dispatch, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili, Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig look at the issues surrounding the BVV devices, verified votes and voters, and the consequences of the delay in announcing the preliminary results. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (21): BVV devices and a delay in announcing preliminary results

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (20): Even lower turnout figures

Author: Ali Yawar Adili, Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig

Date:  22 October 2019

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has published the first turnout figures which are backed up by biometric voter data. After weeks of ever greater turnout figures being successively announced, this latest update has reversed the trend: the IEC is now saying only 1.7 million ‘BVVed votes’ were cast, a decrease in reported turnout of almost one million from its previously-announced figure of 2.7 million. It has also delayed the announcement of preliminary results. In this dispatch, Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica (with input from Thomas Ruttig) analyse the IEC’s latest turnout figures and calls for more clarity, especially in regards to why the IEC earlier included ‘non-BVVed’ votes. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (20): Even lower turnout figures

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (19): An ambiguous picture of E-day civilian casualties

Author: Thomas Ruttig

Date: 17 October 2019

The latest UNAMA report and other figures paint a mixed picture of the level of violence Afghanistan experienced on election day. On one hand, the day remained calmer than many feared, without the massive terror attacks threatened by the Taleban. On the other hand, 28 September was the second-most violent election day the country has ever experienced. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig looks at the figures in context, also the mute media reporting of violence on E-day and the propaganda war playing out around incident and casualty figures. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (19): An ambiguous picture of E-day civilian casualties

Afghanistan’s 2019 election (18): How the people of Bamyan, Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal voted

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date:  16 October 2019

The election in the largely Hazara provinces of Bamyan and Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal district of Ghor province went relatively smoothly, albeit with two technical problems that were ubiquitous – slow and (temporarily) malfunctioning Biometric Voter Verification (BVV) devices and disturbing instances of voters being turned away because their names were not on the voter list noted everywhere. However, turnout was low compared to past elections, despite the fact that these are relatively safe provinces with a highly-motivated electorate. Most votes appear to have been cast for Dr Abdullah, with voters blaming Ghani rather than Abdullah for the national unity government’s failings. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili spent a week traveling in the region and here describes the election day, reasons for the low turnout and what people said about why they had voted, or did not, for the major contenders. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 election (18): How the people of Bamyan, Daikundi and Lal wa Sarjangal voted

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (17): IEC tally process underway but figures remain murky

Author: AAN Team

Date:  12 October 2019

The IEC aims to announce the preliminary results of the presidential elections on 19 October 2019. It is however struggling with the logistical challenge of gathering and vetting even the most basic electoral data. There is also the question of how to deal with the aftermath of yet another instance of a patchily implemented, sophisticated anti-fraud system. While waiting for the first preliminary results, the AAN team takes another look at the evolving turnout figures and notes that the patterns remain remarkable and worthy of very close scrutiny. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (17): IEC tally process underway but figures remain murky

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (16): Signs of fraud in Zabul

Author: Aref Zabuli

Date: 8 October 2019

In largely Taleban-controlled Zabul province, there are considerable discrepancies between the reported turnout and what was observed on the ground. After a very quiet campaign and fighting near the provincial capital and in all districts on election day, it was not a surprise to see very few voters in the polling centres in Qalat city. At the end of the day, however, local Independent Election Commission staff claimed that between 30 and 90 per cent of registered voters had turned out to vote in various polling centres in the city, with matching figures from some of the districts. It is unclear what these high turnout figures are based on and to what extent they will be supported by the biometric data, the results sheets and the number of ballots in the boxes, but the discrepancy between what was observed and what is being reported suggest that somewhere in the process numbers have been inflated. In what may be a close election, implausible turnout and vote tallies – and how well they are scrutinised and addressed by the IEC – will be one of the main issues to watch. Aref Zabuli* brings this report from Zabul (with input from Thomas Ruttig). 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (16): Signs of fraud in Zabul

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (15): Administrative and technical problems in Kabul city

Author:  William Maley

Date: 7 October 2019

Continuing our reports of how the 2019 Afghan presidential election went, we take a close look at the voting in Kabul city. With the most registered voters of any city or province by a long way, Kabul is one of the most electorally-significant. With its mixed population, the voting intentions of its population are difficult to predict. William Maley, Farkhondeh Akbari, Srinjoy Bose and Nishank Motwani,* who were special guests of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), bring us their observations of the vote and report multiple technical and administrative failures. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (15): Administrative and technical problems in Kabul city

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (14): In Herat, power and comms failure, district insecurity and low turnout

Author:  S Reza Kazemi

Date: 5 October 2019

There was a slight increase in campaigning in the last few days ahead of the poll, especially in the provincial capital, but E-Day itself suffered from electricity and telecommunication failures in many parts Herat province. Worse, the Taleban launched attacks on areas near polling centres in districts across the province with a view mostly to intimidating voters into staying at home. Widespread voter disillusionment, particularly since the previous mismanaged parliamentary elections in 2018, all contributed to a significantly low turnout: with about 20 per cent of registered voters casting their ballots, according to the latest figures released by the central Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul. Reporting on both macro-provincial and micro-level of a few polling centres in Herat city, AAN researcher Reza Kazemi details how the poll went off in this populous and therefore electorally-significant province. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (14): In Herat, power and comms failure, district insecurity and low turnout

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (13): Observations from Kandahar, Takhar, Wardak and Balkh

Author: AAN Team

Date:  4 October 2019

Observations from the provinces show an election that, in general, saw less violence than anticipated, although some provinces were still very violent. Despite this, turnout was low, even in the relatively safe provincial capitals. Problems with the biometric verification process also meant that some voters who were registered were sent away. In this dispatch, AAN observers present detailed findings from four provinces.  Fazl Muzhary reports from Kandahar, Obaid Ali from Takhar, Andrew Quilty from Wardak and Rohullah Sorush from Balkh, compiled by Martine van Bijlert and Kate Clark. Separate AAN reports are forthcoming about how the elections went in Herat, Zabul, Bamyan and Daikundi. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (13): Observations from Kandahar, Takhar, Wardak and Balkh

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (12): Scrutinising the IEC’s partial turnout figures

Author: AAN team

Date: 30 September 2019

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has provided partial turnout figures for Saturday’s presidential election, but the numbers and the manner in which they have been released are somewhat baffling. Two days after the vote, it is also still not clear how many polling centres opened on polling day. The fluidity of the figures and a sudden jump in reported turnout, from one to two million voters, raise important questions that the IEC will need to answer swiftly to avoid confusion and allegations that they may not be in control of their own process. The AAN team takes a closer look at the figures that have been released so far and explains why they may be troubling. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (12): Scrutinising the IEC’s partial turnout figures

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (11): A first look at how E-Day went

Author: Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig 

Date: 28 September 2019

The Independent Election Commission has given its first rough estimation of turnout in Afghanistan’s 2019 Presidential Elections. It was low, with fewer than two million voters out of 9.66 million registered, about a quarter, coming out to vote. The Taleban only managed to conduct one large-scale attack, in Kandahar city, but committed 400 other, mainly smaller-scale acts of violence against the poll in 29 provinces. However, turnout appears to have been dampened not just by Taleban threats, but also voter disinterest. The day also saw a number of technical shortcomings, from biometric devices not working to IEC personnel not finding voters’ names on the voter lists to election material sent to the wrong provinces. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig and Jelena Bjelica (with input from Kate Clark) have put together descriptions and data on how E-Day went, sent in by AAN’s five provincial observers, Obaid Ali, Rohullah Sorush, Ali Yawar Adili, Reza Kazemi and Fazal Muzhary, with Ali Mohammad Sabawoon and other team members in Kabul who also spoke to sources in other provinces (information only attributed when not from AAN sources). 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (11): A first look at how E-Day went

6. Pre-election preparations, debate and events 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (10): What to watch out for on election day 

Author: Ali Yawar Adili, Jelena Bjelica,  Martine van Bijlert and Thomas Ruttig

Date: 26 September 2019

Past Afghan elections have frequently been bewildering and surreal, even for those following the politics of the country for a long time. With this in mind, and taking into account the recent measures adopted to try to stave off a repeat of the chaos, AAN’s Thomas Ruttig, Martine van Bijlert, Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica (with input from Obaid Ali) have put together this brief guide. It discusses crucial issues on and around election day that could both affect the election and indicate how the rest of the process might go. They discuss: the implications of the lack of reliable data, the likely impact of insecurity on turnout and vote shares, the likely role of social media in the election, the potential improvements and risks provided by biometric voter verification, the role of observers and agents, and the thorny issues of turnout and voter disenfranchisement. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (10): What to watch out for on election day

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (9): Presidential poll primer

Author: Ali Yawar Adili, Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig
Date: 25 September 2019

After two delays and the cancelation of a peace deal which might have scuppered the poll altogether, Afghanistan’s presidential election is finally to happen, on Saturday 28 September. It will be the country’s fourth presidential election and seventh election in total since 2001. In this primer, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili, Jelena Bjelica and Thomas Ruttig (with input from Obaid Ali) list some basic facts about: the number of registered voters, polling centres and stations, the candidates and observers and the security provisions for election day. The authors have had to struggle to gather the baseline data due to contradictory official figures, leading them to conclude that, despite 18 years of efforts to bring Afghanistan closer to democracy, Saturday’s elections are characterised, yet again, by murky data and limited transparency. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (9): Presidential poll primer

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (8): Greater insecurity, fewer votes and pre-election politics in Herat

Author: S Reza Kazemi

Date: 23 September 2019

Security has been deteriorating in the western province of Herat with the government and Taleban continuing to hit each other hard, particularly in districts farther from the provincial capital. Insecurity, together with the disillusionment after the previous mismanaged elections, is likely to result in fewer voters going to the polls on 28 September compared to past elections. Presidential hopefuls are, still, keeping an eye on this electorally significant province, although their campaign activities have been lacklustre in the provincial capital and nearly non-existent in the districts. AAN’s Reza Kazemi* reports on the pre-election mood in Herat province. He notes that only the provincial government seems enthusiastic about the elections while those in the opposition are wavering, instead prioritising reconciliation with the Taleban. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (8): Greater insecurity, fewer votes and pre-election politics in Herat

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (7): Dithering over peace amid a lacklustre campaign

Author: Ali Yawar Adili and Thomas Ruttig

Date: 16 September 2019

One ticket has fallen apart and one candidate has withdrawn his candidacy in favour of another. This has reduced the number of presidential candidates from 18 to 16 and left the two incumbents, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah, as the main contenders in the race. In this piece, AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Thomas Ruttig discuss the campaigns that started, the threats to boycott the election, the security concerns and the presidential tickets that have fallen apart. They conclude that the campaign that started on 28 July and will continue until 48 hours before election day has, so far, been uninspiring and marred by disbelief that the election will take place on 28 September. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Election (7): Dithering over peace amid a lacklustre campaign

Afghanistan’s 2019 elections (6): Presidential campaign kicks off amid uncertainty

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date:  28 July 2019

The campaign to become Afghanistan’s new president will be launched later today. As 18 candidates approach the starting line, AAN researcher Ali Yawar Adili looks at lingering doubts that the election will actually happen, at the rules on campaigning, and the divisions and splits in the various political parties that have taken place in the run-up to the campaign. As an annex to this dispatch, he also re-publishes brief biographies of the 18 men hoping to become Afghanistan’s next president, along with their running mates. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 elections (6): Presidential campaign kicks off amid uncertainty

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (5): Slow preparations for a high-stake election

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 17 June 2019

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has announced the new electoral calendar and started a 22-day top up voter registration process across Afghanistan. The announcement of the electoral calendar involved several key decisions, including that the IEC will hold only the presidential vote on 28 September 2019, that it will not change the electoral system ahead of the election and that it will not use biometric technology for the current voter registration. With these decisions, the IEC has now officially forsaken its original plan to also hold provincial council elections across the country as well as the pending Wolesi Jirga elections in Ghazni. AAN researcher Ali Yawar Adili (with input from Martine van Bijlert) gives an overview of the most important decisions, activities and reactions as the IEC struggles to prepare for a high-stakes election under difficult circumstances. A new, updated electoral calendar is annexed. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (5): Slow preparations for a high-stake election

A Snapshot of the Week: Has Ghani consolidated his extended presidential term?
Author: Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica

Date: 26 May 2019

Kabul has been on heightened security alert, as the presidential term of President Ashraf Ghani approached its constitutional end on 1 Jawza (22 May 2019). The authorities responded to calls by the political opposition for Ghani to step down in favour of a caretaker government and threats that protestors would take to the streets by increasing security forces in the capital – literally – overnight. Containers were put in place, in case they were needed to block roads, and access to the palace was restricted, resulting in massive traffic jams and public exasperation. AAN’s Ali Yawar Adili and Jelena Bjelica (with input from Martine van Bijlert) unpack the events that led to this week’s political and traffic tensions in Kabul, lay out the contours of the proposed caretaker government, and explore whether Ghani has successfully secured an extension of his tenure until the next election scheduled for 28 September 2019 takes place.

A Snapshot of the Week: Has Ghani consolidated his extended presidential term?

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (4): What will happen when the presidential tenure runs out on 22 May?

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 30 April 2019

The Supreme Court has ruled that President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani and his vice-presidents shall continue to serve until the election of a new president. This ruling comes in the wake of mounting pressure by a number of presidential candidates and their political backers, who have called on the government leaders to step down after 22 May, when their constitutional term ends. The ruling also comes after the Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced yet another delay in the holding of the presidential elections. These are now scheduled for 28 September 2019, more than four months after the president’s five-year constitutional term ends on 22 May, sparking political debate over whether the current president should remain in office thereafter. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili looks at the continuing constitutional crisis. He notes that while delays in elections and the extension of the presidential tenure beyond its constitutional timeframe are nothing new, there are differences this time that could lead to political deadlock. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (4): What will happen when the presidential tenure runs out on 22 May?

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (3): New electoral commissioners, amendments to the electoral law

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 5 March 2019

President Ashraf Ghani has appointed new commissioners and heads of secretariats for both electoral commissions, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Election Complaints Commission (ECC). This follows a busy few weeks in which the election law was amended, all the old electoral commissioners were dismissed and new electoral officers voted in by the presidential candidates. The commissioners’ first job will be trying to sort out parliamentary election results for the 15 provinces which are still pending. They also have to prepare for the all-important presidential poll. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili has been scrutinising the selection of the new commissioners and amendments to the Electoral Law, asking if the changes will help Afghans get a fair presidential election in July. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 Elections (3): New electoral commissioners, amendments to the electoral law

Afghanistan’s 2019 elections (2): Who is running to become the next president?

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 11 February 2019

The Independent Election Commission has published the preliminary list of the 2019 presidential candidates. The list includes 18 candidates. It should now go through a vetting process and a challenge and appeal period before it is finalised and published on 26 March, according to the electoral calendar. AAN’s researcher, Ali Yawar Adili, looks at the list and provides a brief background on the 18 presidential tickets. He also points out that there are still doubts about whether the election date, 20 July 2019, can be adhered to, not least because new rifts between the president and the other candidates about some necessary electoral reform steps have appeared (with input from Thomas Ruttig). 

Afghanistan’s 2019 elections (2): Who is running to become the next president?

Afghanistan’s 2019 elections (1): The countdown to the presidential election has kicked off

Author: Ali Yawar Adili

Date: 23 January 2019

Afghanistan has just concluded its candidate nomination period for the presidential election, which has been moved from the initial date, 20 April, to 20 July 2019. The election will now involve four votes at the same time: provincial elections, district council elections, parliamentary elections in Ghazni province, and the presidential poll. With this, the country has been plunged into an important period that will be characterised by demands for electoral reform, as well as uncertainty about the sequencing of elections and peace. AAN’s researcher Ali Yawar Adili (with input by Martine van Bijlert) lays out the background to the delay of the election date, the competing demands of the process and the likely obscurity of the year ahead. He concludes that the calls for reforms, including changing the electoral commissioners, may well turn into a new battlefield between various factions and forces inside and outside of the government. 

Afghanistan’s 2019 elections (1): The countdown to the presidential election has kicked off

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