Afghan Election Result: For Better Or Worse?

 By Col. Anuraag Singh Rawat SM
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Preliminary results for the Afghanistan Presidential elections were finally declared on 22 Dec 2019 and although it has not brought the curtain down on the hotly debated elections, the results gave Mr. Ashraf Ghani a wafer-thin majority, i.e, 50.64%1 of the vote share. A vote share below 50% would have necessitated a second round of elections and a runoff with his nearest rival Mr. Abdullah, who secured 39.52%2 of the votes polled. However the final results could still change the present status. Thus political uncertainty about future government formation continues, with the backdrop of the ongoing US efforts to strike a peace deal with the Taliban. The question foremost in everyone’s mind is whether the preliminary results have helped in stabilising the situation or further moved it closer to a flashpoint?

The Presidential elections were held later than originally planned, on 22 Sep 2019 and the results were scheduled to be announced by Oct 2019. However the declassification of the results were repeatedly postponed, leading to allegations of fraud and manipulation and this lowered the credibility of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), as well as the results that they have finally announced.

 Result Ramifications

The holding of the Presidential elections definitely have had some positive aspects; primary being the showcasing of a working democratic process. After all keeping the security situation in mind, and the Taliban’s call to boycott the election process, many naysayers felt that it would be neigh impossible to conduct the elections. However, not only were they successfully conducted with minimum of violence, the preliminary results have now been announced.

          A successful election anywhere, remains a proof of nation building and strengthens the pillars of democracy, and in Afghanistan the complex logistical and security exercise for their successful conduct was a herculean task. The introduction of the biometric system for polling would go a long way in cutting down fraud, though the system does not seem to have stabilised as there were hundreds of votes which were invalidated, possibly due to errors in data capturing/feeding.

 A clearly mandated President was expected to lead the government out of the present imbroglio, as he would be free of the diverse pulls and pressures associated with a National Unity Government (NUG) which was often accused of not being able to implement any decision primarily because of the internal dynamics and differing agendas of Mr. Ghani & Mr. Abdullah.

 However, the elections witnessed a low voter turnout with only approximately 2.7 million voters out of the more than 9.6 million registered voters exercising their franchise3. In addition nearly one million votes got disqualified and as per the final figures put out by the IEC about 1.82 million votes were counted4. The opposition parties attributed the delay in declaring the results to manipulation of results and initially stalled the recounting process. Post the declaration of preliminary results nearly 16,500 complaints5 have been registered. All this has raised serious questions about the fairness of the polls and dented the legitimacy of the results, as also the standing of the ultimate winner.

Since Mr Ghani has avoided the runoff by a slim majority of only 0.64%, about 12,000 votes can alter this state. There are 16,500 complaints which have been filed and Mr Abdullah is disputing some 300,000 votes, the final results thus can actually go any which way. In fact the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr. John Bass has tweeted that – “It is important for Afghans to remember: these results are preliminary. Many steps remain before final election results are certified…” Thus the ambiguity on the way forward persists.

The election results also clearly accentuate the deep divisions within Afghanistan along ethnic lines. The votes polled map put out by the IEC6 shows Mr. Ghani winning by a thumping majority in the Pashtun dominated south and east Afghanistan while Mr. Abdullah has emerged a winner in north and central Afghanistan. The one sidedness of the voting can be judged by the fact that the winner in some of the provinces has almost four to five times the number of votes obtained by the person coming in second. Thus it seems that neither of the candidates has a pan Afghanistan standing, which does not bode well for the democratic process.

The divided mandate and accusations of foul play are likely to ensure that the President will not be able to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength. As it is, the Taliban considers the present Afghan government an illegal one, and have till now refused to have direct negotiations with them. When and if the US is able to negotiate a peace deal, the Taliban are likely to have some role in governance. A weak President may well be what some vested parties are trying for, however it is not likely to be in the interest of those hoping to strengthen democracy.

Stemming the escalating instability and loss of faith in governance will be one of the prime tasks for the new President of Afghanistan. However the present elections seem to echo the quandary and confusion of the last one held five years ago – with the two main candidates, fractured & divisive mandate and charges of manipulation, all being the same. The runoff between the two main candidates has barely been avoided for the moment; however the final results could necessitate one. Furthermore the sharp and bitter differences between the two main contenders, despite the fact that both of them together formed the NUG government for the past five years, may preclude them coming together to form a government again. Thus the political wrangling is likely to continue, further weakening the President’s status.

Conclusion

The deteriorating security situation and stalemate in governance was expected to diminish, post a decisive winner in the ongoing Presidential elections. A clear mandate would have strengthened Afghanistan’s tryst with democracy and sent a strong message to the Taliban and possibly put pressure on them to negotiate. However the current preliminary election results have only increased the divisions and put a question mark on the fairness of the election process. Even if the final results are in line / strengthen the preliminary ones, Mr.Ghani will have an uphill task ahead of him. However to ensure the continuity of the democratic process it would be in the interest of the world community, to reinforce the President’s hand and work at resolving the conundrum engulfing Afghanistan.

References

  1. http://www.iec.org.af/results/en/home, The Afghanistan 2019 Presidential Election Preliminary Results, Independent Election Commission, accessed on 24 December 2019.
  2. Ibid.
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-50883812, Afghanistan presidential election: Ghani set for second term after initial results, BBC News Asia, 22 Dec 2019, accessed on 24 December 2019.
  4. Ibid.
  5. https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/afghan-presidential-election-spurs-16500-complaints, Voice of America, 26 December 2019 accessed on 27 December 2019.
  6. http://www.iec.org.af/results/en/home, The Afghanistan 2019 Presidential Election Preliminary Results, Independent Election Commission, accessed on 24 December 2019