June 8, 2014 by civilvision
By M. Shafiq Hamdam
For the first time in its history, Afghanistan will experience a runoff election. Many people are excited about the second round of voting to be held June 14. The first round of the election campaign was extensive and incredibly logistically complex. While the second round of the presidential election was expected by all parties, neither the candidates, the voters, nor the government is well prepared, as they were in the April 5th elections. There are new coalitions, divisions, and higher expectations. The process is a new, historic and challenging one as well. But Afghans have to be well-prepared and they should realize that the situation is special.
The first-round election results have been accepted by all candidates; most have already declared their positions and joined one of the two leading candidates. As a part of new coalition, presidential candidates Dr. Zalmai Rassoul and Gul Agha Sherzai, along with former spy chief, Amrullah Saleh, have endorsed Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Presidential candidate Daoud Sultanzoy, Dr. Rassoul’s 1st VP Ahmad Zia Masoud (also the brother of the late Ahmad Shah Masoud) and former Afghan president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi endorsed Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. These endorsements by political and other influential figures are likely to continue. The Karzai family appears to be split between the candidates; President Karzai himself has not officially endorsed anyone and claims to remain neutral.
In the first round of elections there were 7 Pashtun candidates and only one non-Pashtun (or rather, half-Pashtun). But in the runoff there is only one Pashtun, Dr. Ghani and one Tajik, Dr. Abdullah, who is half-Pashtun on his father’s side. Both candidates have served as key members of President Karzai’s cabinet. An ophthalmologist, Dr. Abdullah served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, while anthropologist Dr. Ghani served as Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Transition Coordinating Committee. Both of them are critical of president Karzai’s strategies and have presented entirely new agendas, but they still have mostly the same old faces on their teams.
Dr. Ghani was lacking a strong Tajik figure on his ticket, but with the endorsement of Ahmad Zia Masoud, former 1st VP and a key influential Tajik figure, Dr. Ghani believes that his ticket is changed from a triangle to a “square,” claiming that his team is broadly inclusive of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks, which can lead him to success. But Dr. Abdullah believes that his endorsement by Dr. Zalmai Rasoul and Gul Agha Sherzai, who secured 11.7% of the vote in the first round of elections, will ensure his win. The public is not concerned about the ethnic balance. They want to see a merit-based selection and competent Afghan leaders in the new regime. What concerns the Afghan people is seeing the same faces again and again: faces associated with negative memories.
In the April 5th elections, the massive turnout was unexpected and very impressive. In part, the the high turnout was due to simultaneous provincial council elections. These localized elections fielded 2,591 candidates across the country and drew many to participate in local politics. This was despite significant weather challenges, with some parts of the country still covered by snow. Although it was a challenge for voters to walk those hard trails to the voting stations, the weather also proved to be an obstacle for the insurgents and terrorists, who use those same trails for their supply routes and movements. In the June 14th runoff, the weather will be much less of a challenge for voters as well as insurgents, who are now at the peak of their fighting season (late spring through summer in Afghanistan). Insurgents will do their best to interrupt security, especially around the election. Meanwhile, the latest attacks by Pakistani military across the Durand Line have served to further deteriorate Afghan-U.S. relations in a critical time due to the silence of the U.S. government on the matter. The announcement by President Obama of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 and the release of five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo in exchange for captured American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl just before the runoff have also added to the tensions.
President Karzai has welcomed the U.S. full withdrawal decision and called this part of the ongoing security transition and agreed-upon strategy. But insurgents considered this their victory in the war against Americans in Afghanistan. Many analysts think that the announcement of U.S. withdrawal will impact the election turnout, with many voters afraid to vote due to an uncertain future. Some experts, on the other hand, see withdrawal as a positive point that will urge more Afghan citizens to take part in elections for a strong government, in hopes of preventing the country from falling into the hands of the Taliban again. After President Obama’s withdrawal announcement, the Afghan government accelerated peace talks with the insurgents, results of which would certainly affect the election process.
Despite the challenges, there are many hopeful signs that this runoff election can succeed. The successful labors of the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) during the April election has assured the nation that they can do the job, even in the absence of the U.S. and NATO troops. (Let us hope for their continued morale, recently impacted by President Karzai’s imprisonment of the commanders of three special operations units.).Time is short, both for the Election Commission and for the security institutions, but they have pledged appropriate preparation. And although serious doubts remain about the willingness of president Karzai to transfer power peacefully to an elected president, he has announced that the new president’s inauguration date will be August 2nd.
As June 14th approaches, ANSF will need to undertake extra security measures since the previous election security plan and election sites have already been compromised. Voters can help by cooperating with their security forces. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) needs to consider the significant issues, such as deficiency of ballot papers in many election sites, scarcity of polling centers, and accusations of fraud and partiality of thousands of local IEC staff.
Finally, recent deadly attacks on election campaigns show that there are also external actors who would like to disrupt the election. Despite all of theis, Afghan have proven their courage and determination to participate in building a free and stable future. They respect the wisdom of the candidates’ acceptance of election results in the first round. But this does not mean that the IEC and Afghan government should assume Afghans will overlook irregularities in the future. Afghans are carefully watching the runoff and they will not accept fraudulent results or undue influence from the palace. They expect the candidates to be smart, mature, and professional as they have demonstrated their capacity to be. They also look to the security forces to help deter any chaos or disruptions to the election process, which may result in an illegitimate continuation of the current administration.
Mohammad Shafiq Hamdam is a senior research fellow at Civil Vision International (CVI) and chairman of the Afghan Anti-Corruption Network (AACN). Follow him on Twitter @shafiqhamdam