Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

AAN Election Blog No. 25: Balm for Election Sores

Thomas Ruttig 3 min

The partial results presented by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in a well-attended press conference today in Kabul are mainly meant to calm down the tense atmosphere of accusations and counter-accusations that has developed since E-Day by applying a dose of transparency. It does not say much about what the outcome of the elections will look like.

The figures released today do not hurt anyone. After 2697 of the 24,367 ballot boxes – that’s ten per cent – have been counted, the two main contenders Hamed Karzai and Dr Abdullah Abdullah are head-to-head, with 212,927 for the incumbent against 202,889 for the challenger. Both are well below the 50 per cent mark. Populist MP Ramazan Bashardost is a surprise third in the race but trails far behind with 53,740 votes.

555,842 votes have been tallied according to the IEC. Of them, 524,444 are valid, 21,170 are invalid and 10,228 more have been invalidated because they were cast for candidates that had withdrawn from the race but still appeared on the ballot paper.
Due to the lack of credible polls and a sound statistic basis in Afghanistan, no one can be sure what these first results are worth. Daud Ali Najafi from the commission accordingly remarked that the trend can change ‘tomorrow or the day after’.

The figures, however, suggest that all in all almost 5.56 million votes have been cast during the 20 August elections for the presidential vote. (There might be less for the provincial council candidates because many voters – police and others – voted outside their own province and only voted for a president.) This does not mean, though, that 5.56 millions voters have participated in the elections. Many of the inflated number of voter cards handed out during the (new) voter registration process in late 2008 and early 2009 have been (mis-)used for proxy and multiple voting. So, the real turn-out is lower than the 5.56 million and makes ostensibly 17 million registered voters look more inflated than ever.

The votes tallied so far and announced today, can still be subjected to possible investigations if complaints come in. The independent Election Complaints Commission (ECC) – composed of three internationals and two Afghans, chaired by Canadian Grant Kippen – has received 790 complaints against violations of elections laws and regulations by now, a hundred of which alone have been filed by Abdullah’s campaign. 54 are categorised as ‘high priority’ because they have the potential to influence the outcome of the election according to the ECC. These investigations might take weeks.

Whatever the outcome, the international community will face a dilemma at the end of the counting. Due to the bad quality of the elections, it either has the choice to legitimize the result and risk more of its credibility in the eyes of the Afghans or it can choose to openly criticise the manipulations and regain some of the lost trust. Of course, this would mean to challenge the credibility of the future government. The latter would also add problems at home – where governments already face difficulties explaining what they are doing in Afghanistan. Voters will ask why such kind of elections and, if warlord favourites are prioritized again in the distribution of cabinet posts over those who the Afghans call ahl-e kar, ‘people who can do the job’, why this kind of government is supported. This dilemma has been made public by a high but unnamed UN official in the London Guardian on Sunday already.

As a way out, the establishment of a ‘government of national unity‘ is currently being discussed in Kabul. It would first of allbring together Karzai’s and Abdullah’s camps and prevent a second round of elections. A run-up is considered too expensive and too risky in Western capitals since it could lead to an even stronger ethno-political polarization and make the election process even messier with more rigging taking place.

In the eyes of many Afghans such a combination would look neither new nor particularly inspiring. It simply would be a rehash of what was there after late 2001 and stood at the beginning of the spiral down into the current situation – a coalition of Jihadi leaders tested before (and failed) and a corruption-ridden alliance of technocrats and other warlords. Abdullah, at least for now, has rejected such an option on Monday.

What might be in the offing on the US side, was explained by former Ambassador Ronald Neumann in an AP piece dated 24 August. “If Karzai wins,” [or anyone else] “we need to work out a reasonable number of things that we really care about and try to get agreement on those while allowing him some space, if we don’t want him to govern as ‘an American puppet’.”

The scope of Afghanistan’s sovereignty, it seems, will continue to be determined by Washington.

PS Already on Sunday, there were other results published. Based on sources apparently close to the Karzai campaign, the Afghan PajhwokNews Agency published that the incumbent had received 4,514,084 (over 70 per cent) versus 1,029,467 for Abdullah what would give the latter some 23 per cent. Abdullah’s campaigns countered with figures of its own on Monday: 1.56 against 1.18 million votes in his favour, all based on information collected by both campaigns’ observers.


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