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68: Shots in the air over contentious election result

As post-election divisions escalate, Afghans worry a peaceful transition won't happen before violence erupts.
10.07.2014  |  Kabul

After several days of delay and controversy, the Afghan election monitoring body (IEC) announced July 7 the preliminary result of last month’s vote.

The result showed Ashraf Ghani won the election with 56.54 percent of the vote, while his political rival Abdullah Abdullah received 43.56 percent. More than 8.1 million people participated in the run-off, according to the IEC.

The IEC’s announcements indicate a significant change in voter behavior since the first round of the election held in April, in which Abdullah received more votes than Ghani, but failed to secure the 51 percent of votes needed to avoid a run-off. Local and international organizations put voter participation at 7 million in the first round, one million less than in the run-off.

Addressing journalists on the evening of July 7, IEC Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani said both political camps committed large-scale electoral fraud.

Both candidates have agreed with an investigation of ballots at over 7,000 polling stations, Nuristani said. Abdullah’s campaign team put forth ten conditions to their rival team to enter the election process. Ghani’s campaign team accepted four of them, and Abdullah’s team dropped four other requirements. Nuristani added that he expects the two campaign teams to reach an agreement over the two remaining conditions.

At the time of Nuristani’s comments, ties between Abdullah’s campaign team and the IEC remained severed. The candidate’s team maintains the IEC enabled vote-rigging in favor of his opponent Ghani with the support of incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

Parallel government

A day after the preliminary results were announced, Abdullah participated in a Loya Jirga tent gathering in Kabul where he described the result as unacceptable and said he would establish a Reform and Partnership government as demanded by the people of Afghanistan. Abdullah said there is no doubt that he won the first and the second rounds of elections. For this reason, he would not allow a fraudulent government to come to power in Afghanistan.

Abdullah stressed he would protect the votes of the people of Afghanistan even if he is cut into pieces. He said that should he fall, Afghanistan will fall apart. He also urged his supporters not to do anything that would instigate violence in the country. Before Abdullah’s talk, his supporters removed Karzai’s pictures from the tent’s walls and tore them apart. Abdullah objected, saying he was deeply opposed to such actions.

Despite Abdullah’s efforts to calm his supporters, the situation appears to be out of his hands. Atta Muhammad Noor, the former warlord and powerful governor of Balkh province, released a statement saying:

“We have done everything to defend the right of our people through negotiations and dialogue, and comply with the demands of the government, the international community and commissions. We have reached a conclusion that nothing will work and no decision has been made to defend the right of the people of Afghanistan. Now, we have no choice but establish a legitimate and popular government.”

“As of now, we declared a legitimate government led by Doctor Abdullah Abdullah and feel compelled to follow its orders.”

Noor urged his supporters not to fight with Afghan security forces and their international allies. He warned his followers to protect public property refrain from damaging governmental, nongovernmental and international institutions.

In an effort to calm the escalating political rift, U.S. president Barack Obama spoke with Abdullah on the telephone on the night of July 7. The unprecedented move illustrated the breadth of concern for Afghanistan’s political future by Washington.  Obama told Abdullah “there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional means, which would result in the end of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan,” according to a July 8 statement released by the White House.

In a separate statement to journalists July 9, White House spokesmen reiterated confidence that the Afghan election audit will be completed in time for the new president’s scheduled inauguration August 2. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, is expected to follow up on the situation this week.

The press reacts

In a July 8 editorial, Hasht-e-Subh Daily stressed the need to restore the legitimacy of the election processes and wrote that the future of Afghanistan depends on the outcome of the current elections. Any discussion on the structure and formation of the future government of Afghanistan is premature before transparency is restored. For this reason, the candidates must agree on a mechanism for a thorough ballot recount as soon as possible.

Mandogar Daily wrote the IEC’s decision to announce preliminary results perpetuated the political deadlock, especially when officials themselves admit to the existence of some three million fraudulent votes.

These problems had “a bitter taste” for the Afghan public, wrote Jamay-e-Baz Daily, pointing to an escalation of tensions on the street. The candidates’ agreement to a vote recount could be lone a sign of hope, but “any extralegal action…could lead the country into the wrong direction. We need to remember that there are deep social cleavages and many people of Afghanistan have access to weapons. There will be destructive and unpredictable consequences.”

The editors of Arman-e-Milli Daily described the Afghan election as one of the tensest and most problematic elections in the world and urged leaders to “not let the situation become critical.” Extending the election process over a three-month period was a mistake, the daily added. “The people of Afghanistan have had enough they impatiently want to know the final result of the elections.”

A “soft coup d’etat”

Muhammad Mohaqeq, the second vice-president to Abdullah, released a statement on his official Facebook page that he would protect the votes of the people just as he protects his eyeballs. He added the IEC did not respond to his team’s demands for transparency and increased the number of fraudulent votes to make Abdullah’s victory impossible. Mohaqeq emphasized that over one million Hazaras and Shiites, who share Mohaqeq’s own ethnic and religious background, cast their votes for Abdullah in both rounds of the election.

Mujeeb-ul-Rahman Rahimi, the spokesman for Abdullah’s Reform and Partnership Team, participated in a roundtable discussion on Tolo News TV where he objected to the election result, calling the announcement a soft coup d’état staged by the IEC, the Presidential Palace and Ghani’s political team. Rahimi warned that Abdullah’s team “may establish a parallel government if their demands are not met.”

Hela Ershad, of Ghani campaign team, said on Tolo News TV that she welcomed the election result, but voiced concern about a potential crisis. Ershad said some have devised a plan for Afghanistan. Should this plan materialize, a large number of innocent people will die, she warned.

Naeem Ayoubzada, Chairman of Transparent Elections Institution of Afghanistan (TEFA) participated in a roundtable on Ariana News where said that restoring trust is now a difficult task. Even if officials manage to purge the vote count of fraudulent ballots, the candidates will still doubt the IEC. He stressed that the only way out of the current tensions is political settlement.

A view from the ground

Meanwhile, reports have emerged from Kabul of armed pro-Abdullah firing shots into the air, and of Ghani supporters dancing in the streets.

Social media users are concerned about the escalation of the crisis in Afghanistan and predicted parallel governments would be formed in the country. “Several years ago, three governments were established in Somalia,” Shah Hassan Murtazowi, a Kabul-based journalist, wrote on his Facebook page.

“We will have the following governments in Afghanistan: An Islamic government led by President Hamid Karzai, a reform government led by Abdullah, an Evolution and Continuity government led by Ghani, the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the government of no man’s land.”

He added that with several governments in place, the people of Afghanistan will finally have the right to choose.