Afghanistan Report

Report

Afghanistan Election: Guns and Money (August 2009)

Political Quagmire in Afghanistan Download the report

Press Release

AFGHANISTAN ELECTION UPDATE: Afghanistan’s Election: “Clear and Convincing Evidence of Fraud”

Afghanistan’s presidential elections were held on August 20. Since polling day, the Independent Election Commission, an Afghan body, has been counting votes, but is monitored by the Electoral Complaints Commission.

To take the Presidency on the first round a candidate must receive more than 50% of the votes cast. On September 8, preliminary results were released which gave incumbent President Hamid Karzai 54% of the votes. His main challenger, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, came second with 28.3%.

However, according to the Electoral Complaints Commission, the voting process was marred by indications of fraud. Hundreds of polling stations have had their results quarantined until further investigation; accusations of intimidation, ballot-stuffing and fake polling centers are rife. As a result, the Electoral Complaints Commission ordered a partial recount and audit, citing “clear and convincing evidence of fraud”.

The Afghan Constitution states an election run-off must be held “within 2 weeks after the announcement of the election results”. However, a modified schedule had been organised stipulating a second round in the first days of October. As a result of the Electoral Complaints Commission stipulating recounts and audits, this schedule cannot be maintained and final results may well not be known for several weeks.

Run-off Vote could be Delayed until Spring

If a run-off or revote is necessary, this would be hampered in the next months by the harsh winter conditions in many areas of northern Afghanistan. This would delay the second round until spring – leaving Afghanistan in a constitutional vacuum for months. There are no provisions in the Afghan Constitution to allow President Karzai to continue in the Presidency in such circumstances.

This raises the possibility of both a lack of legal authority in the Presidency, and resulting political instability and government paralysis, dragging on for many months. Great uncertainties lie ahead.

Urgently Needed: Constitutional Contingency Plan to Stabilise the Situation

ICOS repeats its pre-election warning, from its August 7 report “Afghanistan Election: Guns and Money”, that Afghan and international observers urgently need contingency plans to respond to the situation and deal with the constitutional vacuum in Kabul. Afghanistan’s future is far from decided after this disputed August vote.

An Unappealing Option: Declaring a State of Emergency

Under the Constitution, President Karzai may impose a state of emergency with the consent of Parliament, but this option holds a high risk of exacerbating rather than calming the current political tensions. The Taliban has expanded its grip on Afghanistan to the point where holding another round of voting will be even more difficult. The Afghan people who took the risk to vote in August may not be willing to risk their lives for a second round of voting – especially when the first round was so riddled with fraud.

The Constitution of Afghanistan

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Afghan Presidential Elections: a critical moment in Afghan democracy potentially fatally undermined by insecurity and unfulfilled promises

Afghanistan’s presidential elections, to be held on 20 August 2009, will be a critical moment for a country struggling to deal with a violent Taliban insurgency and a crisis of legitimacy. After eight years of working to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups, the international community’s best bet for achieving this goal lies in a stable Afghan government led by a capable, legitimate Afghan president. As such, the success or otherwise of this election will prove crucial. Yet promises of legitimate, transparent elections may prove more difficult to fulfil than had been hoped.

The good news is that the recent reassessment of policies by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation International Security Assistance Force (NATO-ISAF) and the United States is clearly demonstrating that there is ‘new management in town’. In addition, there is a growing consensus, among Afghans and the international community, that dialogue, rather than endless fighting, is the best way of sustainably ending the violence. However, the bad news is that the security situation remains extremely volatile. The Taliban show no sign of weakening and concerns about corruption and bribery have led many to doubt that the election will be free and fair. Many ordinary Afghans are unconvinced that the elites are willing to give up power.

While some engage eagerly in the democratic process, many watch and wait for answers
Despite strong government influence over the Afghan media, disillusionment engendered by the President Karzai administration’s inability to provide security, jobs, or services, combined with widespread corruption has meant that the build-up to the election has seen vigorous public discussion. The hotly anticipated and widely discussed TV debates between the candidates were clear evidence of this interest in the democratic process. ICOS field research indicates strong youth interest in the elections, and a decline in the system of voting along ethnic lines: the Afghan people are increasingly willing to vote on the basis of merit, not ethnicity.

High Tajik turnout and Low Pashtun turnout – an explosive possibility
Security concerns in the south and east could close many polling stations in the heartland of President Karzai’s support. Combined with high turnout in the Tajik north, this could lead to a tense run-off if neither of the two leading candidates wins 50% of the vote. If a run-off is needed, or if a state of emergency is declared which blocks a second vote, or if there is widespread fraud, the chances for civil unrest are high. Afghanistan could be plunged into political and ethnic violence, providing more opportunities for the Taliban to step up attacks.

Should the elections be marked by a substantial abstinence by the country’s largest ethnic group due to insecurity in the south, the winner may have difficulty claiming a legitimate mandate.

Graphic threats of violence may deter voters: indelible ink is a potential problem
To prevent repeat voting in the Presidential elections, voters will be required to dip their finger in indelible ink, marking them as having voted. However, in recent weeks, the Taliban have issued the specific threat that on August 20, people marked with indelible ink risk decapitation.

Well-publicised, widely accepted contingency plan urgently needed to prevent unrest in the event of disputed election results
The international community must develop a position on contingency plans to deal with election-related instability. If – as seems likely – the voting goes to a second round, a temporary government which is acceptable to Afghans, is essential to preserving stability and security.

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