Afghan Presidential Election
Prospects for Peace
Mairaj ul Hamid Nasri
Afghanistan had its 5th presidential election in the last week of September. Although the announcements, which was originally scheduled for October 19, has been delayed, many people in Afghanistan are hopeful that the outcome of this election will pave the way for peace and strengthening democratic culture in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, what will be the future of presidential system after successful negotiations with Afghan Taliban is still vague and unclear.
Since decades, Afghanistan has been persistently struggling to get out of chaotic and anarchic situations owing to the foreign invasions and internal wars and feuds. The current political setup was started after the holding of Loya Jirga in 2003, followed by the adaptation of a Working Constitution in February 2004 under the Resolute Support Mission Program of NATO and ISAF. Hamid Karzai was the first one to be elected as President of Afghanistan for a five-year term, and he stayed in power till 2014 after winning a re-election in 2009. Mr Karzai was replaced by the incumbent president Dr Ashraf Ghani after a political deal with his rival candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah to make the National Unity Government in September 2014. According to the agreement, Dr Abdullah was appointed the Chief Executive of Afghanistan but with no constitutional amendments, and he worked for five years with Dr Ashraf Ghani in NUG. However, this period saw persistent internal rifts between the two groups led by Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah, and the constitutional anomaly remained dominant regarding the powers and functions of the Chief Executive. Now, both of them were vying for the presidential slot in the September elections.
These elections were originally scheduled in April but due to security reasons, institutional crises and financial constraints, the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan kept delaying them as the IEC was itself passing through internal crisis due to lack of team, funds and proper security arrangements required for holding elections in a war-torn country. About 19 candidates registered for Presidential election 2019 of whom the leading figures were Dr Ashraf Ghani, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Engr Gulbuddin Hekmatyar . Election day was relatively peaceful. Turn out remained low as usual but some areas where the candidates belonged to, saw more people come out.
As per media reports and exit poll it seems that Dr Ashraf Ghani is leading the competition and it is due to several reasons. First, election has been held with the support of the United States, and Dr Ghani is still in their good books. Second, he is a Pashtun and Pashtuns constitute 42 percent of the Afghan population; therefore, in Pashtun-majority provinces Dr Ghani and Engr Hekmatyar have majority votes. Third, he has soft corner for political settlement with the Afghan Taliban and in case of a peace deal with them, Dr Ghani can be easily persuaded for future adjustments in the political offices. Dr Abdullah is second in race to the Arg. He has the support of Persians, Tajiks and Uzbeks. He is stronger than Dr Ghani on political grounds due to his affiliation with effective political group. Former Prime Minister of Afghanistan Engr Hwkmatyar is head of his own political party; however, since he remained in exile for 21 years, he has considerably lost his followership. But his peacemaking with the Afghan government has given him another opportunity to reinvent his political charisma. Although he was warmly received by his followers when he returned to Kabul, his political standing during the elections was unfavourable to him, and the results may not be encouraging in his case.
Moreover, the US-Taliban talks officially stand cancelled but the prospects for its restoration are bright. According to Taliban spokesman, almost 90 percent of the things were finalized but due to a small incident of killing of an American soldier, the process was rolled back. Taliban are open for talks but are not ready to stop their attacks in different areas as they want to hold a bargaining chip in their hands. The Taliban representatives visited Islamabad in the first week of October and met with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other high officials for restoration of peace process. The question that arises here is that what will be the possible scenario after the success of the peace process and future of the extant presidential system in Afghanistan.
In this scenario, the role of regional players and stakeholders is crucial. Most of them have established contacts with the Taliban and are in a position to play their role in bridging the gap between the negotiating parties. Pakistan, Turkey, China, Russia and Iran can influence Taliban in a better way. The United States may be waiting for restoration of the process until the results of the presidential elections in Afghanistan are out. The Trump administration will go for every possible option which will ensure their face-saving while effecting a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Taliban will be persuaded for signing the deal and some guarantors will also be there in this regard. Nevertheless, the success and effectiveness of the possible deal is another question that will need immediate attention. The wielding of different stakeholders having different political ideologies and orientations in one single government is more difficult than success of the talks. Afghanistan’s population is constituted of six major ethnicities and all of them have different culture so governing them by a single entity from the center has never been successful. Thus, before finalization and implementation this aspect should also be kept in front of the interlocuters for effectiveness of the deal and implementation in its true zeal and zest. The new government and the successive peace deal with Taliban, both of them will be facing the same challenge of taking all the stakeholders with them for ensuring long term stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.
Preliminary results delayed
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has confirmed that it had delayed the planned release of preliminary results of the Sept. 28 presidential polls. The commission’s chief, Hawa Alam Nuristani, made the widely anticipated announcement at a late evening news conference in Kabul on 19th October, the day the commission was supposed to officially deliver first results. Nuristani apologized to Afghans for not being able to meet the deadline, but she defended the decision to delay the results, saying it would “further ensure the transparency of the [electoral] process” and restore the people’s confidence in it.
Election officials reported troubles from the beginning in collecting and transferring massive amounts of information to the main IEC computer server from biometric devices used to record voter fingerprints and pictures. A time-consuming exercise of identifying fraudulent votes was cited as another major factor for the slow data entry.
With 9.57 million Afghans registered to vote on September 28, estimates indicated that a little more than 2 million had gone to the polls, a turnout of just over 20 percent. Fifteen candidates were on the ballot, but the election was widely seen as a two-horse race between Ghani, seeking another five-year term, and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Under the Constitution, a presidential candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to be declared the winner. If no candidate wins the simple majority, a second and final round between the top two candidates of the first round will be held on Nov 23.