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66: Post-election stability hangs in balance

Zafar Shah Rouyee
Afghanistan's media is reporting political dissonance over fraud allegations and the public's growing security concerns after candidate Abdullah's challenge of the ballot count.
19.06.2014  |  Kabul

“Rampant, shameless and systemic fraud” during the June 14 runoff has led Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two presidential candidates, to sever ties with the Independent Elections Commission (IEC). He urged to immediately halt ballot counting, claiming the citizens’ right to free and fair elections had been disrespected.

On the day of the presidential elections, Kabul police accused the IEC’s Chief Electoral Officer Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail of attempting to commit fraud in favor of Abdullah’s rival candidate Ashraf Ghani. On the day of the presidential elections, Kabul city police announced Amarkhail attempted to transfer two vehicles filled with election materials to an unidentified location and commit fraud in favor of one of the presidential candidates.  Abdullah immediately disputed the election’s legitimacy and pushed for Amarkhail’s suspension.  In response, the IEC said it lacked evidence against Amarkhail. In a separate announcement, Ghani’s political team questioned the legality of Abdullah’s demands.

Winners and losers

Abdullah also accused Afghanistan’s current president Hamid Karzai of taking sides in the election process, adding that President Karzai set up the run-off system in a way that enabled election commissions to favor a certain presidential candidate. According to Abdullah, the IEC fired five thousand of its local employees accused of involvement in electoral fraud, and replaced them with people favorable to Ghani.

President Karzai told BBC Pashtu and Dari TV on Wednesday “They both love Afghanistan. Dr. Abdullah loves Afghanistan. He is a good person and he is in touch with me. And I am in touch with Dr. Ashraf Ghani. He is in touch with other leaders. This country is stronger than what it is thought of and we have proven this."

"We did not expect our elections to be without problems, because there is competition in the elections and there is the question of winning and losing. The winning and losing entail happiness and sadness."

"I am confident that god-willing Afghanistan is on the right path and all Afghans will accept the results of the elections and whichever candidate wins, the other will support him."

Sayed Agha Hussain Sancharaki, one of Abdullah’s spokespeople, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday June 19 that Abdullah has been in constant contact with millions of people who want him to protect their votes. He said that Abdullah also talked to President Karzai on Wednesday night on phone to find solution for the issue. 

Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman told reporters in New York "The announcement by Dr Abdullah Abdullah on the suspension of his cooperation in the electoral process is regrettable. At the same time the mission will continue to work with both campaigns and the commissions, consulting on the way forward. The UN mission believes that due process should continue.

"The mission needs to learn more about Dr. Abdullah’s idea for creation of a commission under the UN supervision. It remains ready to assist with any way forward which supports the due process. The United Nations urges the candidates and their supporters to act responsibly and avoid any statements or actions that could disrupt due process and political solutions."

Count must go on

Meanwhile, IEC representatives have said the commission will continue counting ballots. In a televised roundtable discussion on Tolo News, IEC Deputy Chairman Abdul Rahman Hotaki said the commission offered to meet with Abdullah to resolve the issue, but Abdullah refused.

He added the IEC had shown Abdullah’s team that over seven million voters participated in the elections. He added the Interior Ministry had formed a fact-finding commission to investigate the charges against Amarkhail.

Ahmad Behzad, a member of Parliament of Afghanistan who also participated in the Tolo News roundtable noted the government has formed fact-finding commissions to investigate controversial issues in the past but failed to produce conclusive findings.  

A member of Abdullah’s campaign team, Abdul Rahman Orya pointed out that their candidate had lobbied for reform prior to the election. The current controversy could have been avoided if Abdullah’s reforms had been implemented, he said.

This view was supported by Ali Amniati, an expert on political affairs who participated in a different roundtable discussion on Noor TV. He described the current situation as fragile and said that if election commissions lose the trust of the candidates and the public, Afghanistan will descend into chaos.

Fraud on both sides

Fowzia Kofi, a member of Parliament who spoke on Ariana News, said that from the outset, the government of Afghanistan tried to keep the elections institutions within the circle of the Presidential Palace, which is responsible for appointing IEC officials. If political tensions escalate, the elections institutions and the presidential palace will be responsible, she said.

Shukria Barekzai, a Parliament representative for Kabul province, noted that did not react to fraud cases during the election’s first round, when he was declared the frontrunner. She said that if Doctor Abdullah Abdullah did not trust elections commissions, he shouldn’t have participated in the run-off.

Both presidential candidates committed fraud to the extent they could in the run-off elections, Kako Jan Niazi, an expert on political affairs, told Meetra TV. Now, they should at least refrain from escalating the problem for their own political gain. But Aasef Ashna, another expert who participated in the Meetra TV discussion said he has access to several videos and documents that show systemic fraud in favor of a certain candidate.

Other pundits noted the culture of elections is new in Afghanistan.  “Election problems in countries like Afghanistan are natural, but there should be no concerns, as we have institutions to legally address complaints,” said Shah Hussein Murtazowi, a Kabul-based journalist.

Many Facebook users voiced serious concern over the current controversy, fearing their country would face another war if the situation remained unresolved. Some users shared pictures of Afghan young men in traditional clothes and holding machine guns. The title said that if their votes are not respected, they would resort to violence. However, many Afghans on social media call for calm. 

Nadir Turkmen, one of the Facebook users wrote on his page “The people voted for peace and stability not for crisis and violence. We have to learn from Iraq’s crisis and prevent the country from facing the same kind of problems.” 

Zahra Ashoori, another Facebook user, wrote on her wall, “It looks like the people of Afghanistan will once again witness another devastating war. It is now up to the people to stop politicians from playing with the destiny of Afghanistan and sending the country back to the earlier decades of war.”