Suddenly there it was: the final announcement of the preliminary results of the Afghan Presidential election. The event itself was a bit of an anticlimax, but the announcement means that there is one thing less to wait for, although the wait is by no means over. It means that the focus has shifted and that all eyes are now on the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). It also means that the problem has shifted: it is no longer fraud, but a system that does not deal with fraud.
Suddenly there it was: the final announcement of the preliminary results of the Afghan Presidential election. The event itself was a bit of an anticlimax. The results were along the lines of earlier announcements – 54.6% for Karzai; 27.8% for Abdullah; 9.2% Bashardost – and the press conference was a rather tame affair. Not in the least because the very late start meant that there was little time left before iftar. So by the time the results were announced and one or two questions had been asked, the patience of most journalists had run out and it was time to pray and break the fast and go home.
The announcement of the results means that there is one thing less to wait for, but the wait is by no means over. It also means that the focus has shifted and that all eyes are now on the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC); to see what they will do with the results they have been handed, with the complaints they have received and with the apparent refusal of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to deal with the suspicious polling stations.
In the meantime there are still a few things to watch. First of all, there is still quite a bit of data pending. The IEC has released a national turnout figure (38.7%, or almost 6 million out of an expected 15.3 million votes cast), as well as the overall percentages for male (58.4%), female (38.8%) and kuchi (2.8%) votes, but these figures have yet to be released on provincial and polling station level. There is no list of the 600 polling stations that have reportedly been excluded from the count and there is a continued lack of clarity on which polling stations were claimed to have been open on polling day.
Secondly, the count in the provincial council election continues. It seems reasonable to assume that the triggers for suspicious results have also been removed in this process, while reports from the ground indicate that fraud was equally prevalent – often implemented in tandem with the ballot-stuffing for one of the presidential candidates. The provincial council results will help further analyse the patterns of fraud and are thus also relevant to the investigations in the presidential elections. But they are also relevant in themselves. Provincial council elections may seem a bit too local for outside observers to follow, but provincial councils that have been blatantly fraudulently elected – unopposed – will further undermine local confidence in the viability and desirability of this political system.
So now the wait is for adjudication and certification by the ECC. The work of the ECC, which was never simple to start with, has been seriously complicated by the fact that the IEC has largely ignored the ECC ruling that suspicious polling stations be quarantined and investigated following their own internal procedures (see earlier blog). This has left the ECC with the thankless task of auditing and possibly excluding large numbers of votes after the announcement of the preliminary results. In essence, it means that the problem has shifted. The question is no longer how to deal with electoral irregularities and large scale fraud, but it is now how to deal with an electoral institutional system that does not deal with this.
The ECC is still to finalise its investigations and can be expected to do so seriously and rigourously, but the ECC is in essence an anomaly in what was supposed to be a fully Afghan-led process (the only reason why we still have a joint complaints commission is that the Electoral Law was not changed in time for the elections). And so the electoral process has illustrated quite a stark reality. The problem is not just that there was fraud and intimidation – by the supporters of several candidates, not just one – the real problem we are faced with is the open partiality of institutions that are supposed to be independent and the refusal of those in power to submit themselves to the vote of the people and to the law. It is quite difficult to see how this could be the basis for a future cooperation towards greater government reform, rule of law and the fight against corruption.
The government, in the meantime, has largely closed ranks in support of its President, arguing that he is being unfairly and unhelpfully undermined. The pro-government press is promoting a narrative which argues that the international community doesn’t want a President with a mind of his own and is for that reason seeking to either block his re-election or seriously weaken his position, through trumped up fraud allegations. In Afghanistan everything is personal.
Relationships with the main international actors have soured as a result. There have been several reports of awkward and tense meetings with high-level US officials, including Holbrooke and Eikenberry. UNAMA’s deputy head has just left on a “temporary mission to New York” due to internal disagreements within UNAMA over how to deal with the unraveling electoral process, and in particular on how tough and how public to be on this. And the EU Election Observation Mission was quoted as having said that one in three votes for Karzai was “faked”, which led to strong statements by the Karzai campaign team describing the comments as “partial, irresponsible and against the Constitution” and the Minster of Information and Culture, who called it “blatant interference”.
[The EU EOM has since then clarified that the point it meant to make, in response to a question, was that the polling stations which met the ECC audit criteria contained up to 1.5 million votes, 1.1 of which had been cast in favour of Karzai. This was initially phrased as 1.5 million votes that were “suspicious and fraudulent”, which was then clarified (these votes are suspicious and need further investigation), but apparently still quoted. It is not fully clear how the EU EOM has calculated the total figure.]
So far all parties have acknowledged that the results are only preliminary, pending ECC investigation and certification (although the Karzai team has stated that “only a miracle” can still prevent Karzai from becoming the next president of Afghanistan). But it will be a huge challenge to find a way out of this, a resolution that can somehow restore both the credibility of the system and the relationships of trust that are needed to face Afghanistan’s challenges. And it is not clear who will take the lead in finding that way.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020