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Afghanistan Elections: First Round of Voting Likely to Produce No Clear Winner, Prompting Run-off

Press Release07 August 2009

Afghanistan Elections:

First Round of Voting Likely to Produce No Clear Winner, Prompting Run-off

Lack of Security to Produce Low Turnout of President Karzai’s Voting Base

Large Numbers of Dr. Abdullah’s supporters Will Likely Cast Ballots

Taliban Issues Threats Against Afghans Who Are Marked by Indelible Ink at Polling Centres

ICOS Calls for Immediate Election Contingency Plans to Avoid Political and Ethnic Instability in Wake of Election First Round
LONDON – With the growing probability of a tense run-off in the Afghanistan election, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) today called for the immediate development of a contingency plan to avoid political and ethnic instability during a run-off period.

Security fears in Afghanistan’s south and east could lead to a low voter turnout in the heartland of President Hamid Karzai’s support. This, combined with high turnout in the Tajik north of the country in support of the main challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, indicates a growing probability that President Karzai will not win the 50% of votes necessary to secure a first-round victory.

“If a run-off is needed, or there is a strong voter response to allegations of election fraud, the chances for civil unrest are high,” ICOS said in its report issued today.

The winner may have difficulty claiming a legitimate mandate if insecurity in the south means large numbers of Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, do not vote.

“If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, and elections go to a second round, Afghanistan could be plunged into political and ethnic violence, which of course will also provide more opportunities for the Taliban to step up attacks and expand their territory,” said Norine MacDonald QC, ICOS President and Lead Field Researcher.

“The Afghan government and the international community urgently need clear plans to deal with the dynamics of a run-off in this pivotal election. They must immediately identify potential election run-off scenarios and develop contingency plans to ensure stability in Afghanistan during what could be a very tense period with the potential for significant problems, particularly in the capital, Kabul,” MacDonald said.

Last December, ICOS reported that the Taliban held a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan. Poor security was noted particularly in the south, President Karzai’s key Pashtun voting base.

First Round Voting Scenarios Fraught with Issues

“The ideal scenario would see the smooth running of polls with no serious disruption by violence and voter abstinence. Afghanistan would welcome a new president, either in the first round or in a run-off, and his mandate would be recognized as legitimate by all major contenders and parties”, said Jorrit Kamminga, ICOS Senior Policy analyst. “However, the election faces a number of political, logistical and security challenges related to the lack of security in the south and the already growing rumours of widespread election fraud.”

The report lays out three main scenarios:

Firstly, in the run-up to August 20th, the day of the elections, Taliban insurgents could mount a successful campaign of voter intimidation and attacks on polling stations. This may prompt President Karzai to declare a state of emergency and postpone the elections.

Secondly, a purported first-round winner could have his legitimacy questioned by allegations of fraud which could destabilize the country and raise the possibility of political violence. Elements of the Tajik community may respond dramatically if they perceive that President Karzai stole the election from Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival and an ethnic Tajik.

Thirdly, there is also the possibility of unrest during the first round of voting and run-off period, which along with logistical issues in organizing the second round could also lead to the declaration of a state of emergency.

The first round of voting is on August 20, just before the start of the holy period of Ramadan, with results to be announced around September 3. A run-off voting day would be held on or around October 1, with the winner of that round announced around October 15.

After eight years of working to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups, the international community’s best hopes for success lie in a stable Afghan government led by a capable, legitimate president. The success or otherwise of this election will be crucial. Promises of legitimate, transparent elections may prove more difficult to fulfil than had been hoped, according to the ICOS report.

“There is little doubt that the security situation remains extremely volatile in Afghanistan. The Taliban shows no sign of weakening, and fears about corruption and bribery have led many to doubt that the election will be free and fair,” said MacDonald.

Taliban Threats Against Afghans Marked by Indelible Ink

To prevent repeat voting in the presidential elections, voters will have their fingers dipped in indelible ink, marking them as having voted. ICOS has received reports of Taliban “night letters” issued in southern Afghanistan threatening violence against Afghans marked by indelible election ink. The ink is specially manufactured to resist removal and can remain visible for up to a week.

“These elections are critical for Afghanistan’s future,” said Jorrit Kamminga. “This type of specific threat by the Taliban is unfortunately very clever. It will not only be a question of Afghans making their way safely to and from the polls on August 20. By making the decision to vote, they will be concerned about Taliban reprisals for the days following the poll. It is quite possible this type of threat will affect voter turnout in the south.”

Almost 7,000 polling centres will be opened on August 20. Out of a population of 33.6 million, 17 million Afghans are registered to vote.

TIMELINE WHICH DETAILS KEY DATES IN THE ELECTION PROCESS

Timeline

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