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Cheers and jeers for final election result

Zafar Shah Rouyee
Afghan newspapers welcome an end to deadlock but foresee trouble for the nascent government
23.09.2014  |  Kabul

After months of uncertainty and post-election deadlock, the Afghan media welcomed the announcement of a unity government deal by former presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Under the agreement, Ghani will take the presidency while Abdullah will play a prime-ministerial role as "Chief Executive Officer." Following a controversial audit that lasted two months, the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced Ghani had won the election but refrained from publicizing the final vote tally. The editors of major Kabul dailies expressed a mix of apprehension about the agreement’s viability and relief that a crisis of greater proportions had been avoided. 

In a Sept. 22 editorial headlined “The end of the political deadlock and election dramas," Hasht-e-Subh Daily wrote that the international community warmly welcomed the signing of the agreement. So did the people of Afghanistan. The editor of Hasht-e-Subh added that the agreemend allayed public fears about the possibility of political deadlock turning into large-scale civil war.

Mandogar Daily congratulated the people of Afghanistan and wrote that the world’s lenghtiest and most controversial election had ended.  The editors added that the agreement brought hope back to the Afghan political environment.

But Etla’at Daily noted the unity government, as well as the people and the political elite still have serious questions to answer. What happened to the votes of the Afghan people and what the is the actual result of the election? The people of Afghanistan twice risked their safety to go to the ballot boxes. The daily asked where the votes of those who lost their fingers are. What happened to the votes of the people who risked their lives?

Etla’at-e-Roz Daily adds that every election has only one winner determined by the the votes of the people. The people of Afghanistan went to vote to have an elected government. They did not vote for the establishment of a weak government created through political deals. Etla’at-e-Roz wrote, “These questions will never be answered and it will discourage people from voting again.”

Sokhan-e-Jadeed Daily wrote that the unity government is actually dishonoring a people who took extreme risks to vote. The editor of this daily added that all political and social capabilities should be employed to manage the country in the right way.

Such disillusionment was also voiced by experts who described the agreement as the “death of democracy.” In a televised debate on Tolo News, political analyst Abdul Hameed said that Ghani and Abdullah had wasted voters’ time. He insisted that political dealings should not have overshadowed the electoral process and foretold “serious issues” for the future government.

But Waqef Hakimi, a member Abdullah’s campaign team, said the unity government reflects the will of the people. “The political agreement and the announcement of the result of the presidential elections by Afghanistan Independent Elections Commission are intertwined,” he said on Tolo News.

Abdul Ali Muhammad, a spokesman for Ghani’s campaign team, said the presidential election lacks both a loser and a winner. “The unity government is a direct result of consensus-based democracy,” her added.

Muhammad Eshaq Atmar, an expert on political affairs, said on Metra TV that a unity government was not the will of the Afghan people, but of foreigners. Although an agreement has been reached, he doubted the parties’ ability to form such a government.

Others pointed out that the newly forged power sharing scheme is not in line with the current constitution. Under the Afghan Constitution, there is no place for a post of Chief Executive Officer akin to the one assigned to Abdullah, Sayeed Hossein Alemi Balkhi, who ran for the vice presidential seat as part of Gul Agha Sherzai’s campaign team in the first round of presidential elections said on Kabul News. However, he noted that the Constitution neither sanctifies nor prohibits such a post, and gives the president power to implement institutional reforms.

The Taliban reacted by tuning into the public misgivings regarding the constitutionality of a power-sharing agreement and the United States’ role in the political process. Calling the election “bogus and humiliating” and the results “shameful,” Taliban spokesmen said the unity government agreement was “meaningless under the shadow of occupation.”

Meanwhile, on his Facebook page, Amrullah Saleh, one of Abdullah’s main supporters, welcomed the end of electoral deadlock and wrote, “The policy of removal and gaining power through fraud has failed.”

Mr. Saleh stressed that what happened on Sunday might not be an ideal outcome, but it was symbolically important. “Amending the constitution, exterminating corruption and removing greedy corrupt officials from election institutions and sharing power at every level are the important parts of the agreement.”

Ata Muhammad Noor, Governor of Balkh Province and an avid Abdullah supporter, welcomed the agreement over the establishment of a unity government. “Thank God that after a lengthy fight and with lots of effort, an agreement on the formation of a national unity government has been reached,” he said in a statement. “It saved the country from an imminent crisis. Without  doubt, we would have been a part of this crisis. Despite all the problems, I welcome the agreement.”

Voter apathy

On his Facebook page, user Jawed Nader wrote that after the IEC announced Ghani’s victory, he went out to the streets of Kabul but failed to find any signs of public enthusiasm. “Announcing the end of the elections and the new government did not have a special impact on the lives of the Afghan people,” he wrote. “Nobody went to the streets to play drums and dance. Nor did I see caravans of vehicles celebrating.”

“These elections have taught me that the votes of the people do not count,” wrote another Facebook user, Zahra Ehsani. “The word ‘election’ should be replaced by the word ‘agreement.’”