Conflict and Post Conflict Study
Afghanistan’s election stalemate shows no sign of abating amid fraud and recount controversy
Constitutional vacuum looms if impasse is not broken
ICOS proposes formula for interim government in a bid to help country emerge from political quagmire
LONDON AND KABUL – Urgent leadership is required in guiding Afghanistan out of its electoral deadlock, according to an elections update released today by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS).
Election stalemate – run-off likely to be necessary
The presidential election on August 20 was marked by heavy fraud and widespread manipulation, says the report. Nearly a month after the first round of voting, the independent Election Complaints Commission has ordered a partial recount of 2500 polling stations, or 15% of the total ballots cast (according to the head of the IEC).
According to ICOS, this recount could easily take President Hamid Karzai below the “more than 50%” needed to secure victory in the first round of voting, triggering a run-off, for which the country is ill-prepared.
Second Round in the Spring?
Under Afghan electoral law, a run-off should be held within two weeks of the final election results. The protracted electoral fraud investigation means that it will not be possible to hold a run-off before November. By this time, Afghanistan’s harsh winter will have set in, making it impossible to hold a vote in many areas of the country. A second round would be delayed until spring – “leaving Afghanistan in a constitutional vacuum for eight months”, according to ICOS President Norine MacDonald.
However, as ICOS warned in its August report, “Afghanistan Elections: Guns and Money”, there are no logistical plans in place for holding a second round of voting or for maintaining political stability in the country during the interim period.
‘Few Viable Options Available’ says ICOS
ICOS reports that, given constitutional and logistical problems, there are few options available to help Afghanistan out of this political wasteland.
If President Karzai chooses to impose a state of emergency (which would allow him to legally continue governing) current political tensions would be exacerbated. After four months of a state of emergency, the President is legally bound to hold a Loya Jirga, a Grand Council, in order to extend the suspension of the Constitution.
However, a Loya Jirga cannot be held for a number of legal and procedural reasons. The members of the Loya Jirga stipulated under the Constitution include the heads of provincial councils. The elections for those positions were held on the same day as the currently disputed presidential elections – and those votes have not yet been counted. Until the presidential election results are verified, the chairmen of the provincial councils are unconfirmed, and the current office holders would have no authority to attend a Loya Jirga.
The Way Out of the Quagmire: An Interim Government
In the words of ICOS Policy Analyst Alexander Jackson, “an interim government is the only option left to lead Afghanistan out of the political quagmire”. President Karzai’s main challenger, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, has agreed to an interim government, but only if it did not contain President Karzai or himself.
A formula must be devised that would satisfy both Dr Abdullah and President Karzai, allow the international community to have a stable government authority to work with and, crucially, convince the Afghan people that their government is legitimate.
ICOS Formula for Interim Government
ICOS calls for an interim administration that would govern until a second round of voting, based on the following formula:
Norine MacDonald of ICOS stated that “we [ICOS] argue that this formula for a “Supervised Cabinet”, or one like it, could allow an interim government to steer Afghanistan through the turbulent winter months ahead.” In the meantime, the report continues, the international community would begin serious preparations for a spring run-off vote. Increasing the number of independent monitors is essential in preventing fraud in the second round; the international community must devote more effort and resources to deploying sufficient observers.
The Afghan Constitution became law on January 4 2004 when the 2003 Loya Jirga approved it by consensus. The interim President Karzai and his transitional government entered into power in June 2002, and the President signed the Constitution on January 26 2004. President Karzai was elected to a five-year term later in 2004, following the October 9 presidential elections.