Afghan presidential rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah on Sunday signed a power sharing deal to form a National Unity Government. The signing ceremony took place at the presidential palace in Kabul with outgoing President Hamid Karzai and Afghan elders as well as religious leaders present on the occasion. The two candidates shook hands and hugged each other after singing the long-awaited political deal. Karzai then briefly addressed the gathering and congratulated both Ghani and Abdullah on reaching the power sharing arrangement.
Afghanistan faces its most serious crisis in a decade. This time, however, it is not caused by an emboldened Taliban but by growing friction between the two contenders for president. Only a determined effort by the United States and other NATO allies can prevent an escalation into violence. Many Westerners and Afghans embraced this year’s presidential election as an opportunity to move on from President Hamid Karzai, whose relationship with Western leaders dramatically deteriorated in recent years. But the election results have been contentious. The first round of voting was in April. No candidate secured 50% of the vote, though former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah led with 45%. The two candidates with the largest shares, Mr. Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, went to a run-off on June 14. The preliminary results showed Mr. Ghani ahead with roughly 56% of the vote, yet allegations of fraud mounted.
Nearly thirteen years since the United States and its allies undertook one of the largest efforts at nation building in recent history, prospects for Afghanistan’s future peace and prosperity are facing critical threats. The Taliban and affiliated insurgent groups continue to destabilize much of the countryside. Uncertainty as to prospects of a negotiated peace deters capital investment and propels the flight of the country’s best and brightest. Following the second round of presidential elections in June, the equitable and constitutional transfer of executive power from President Hamid Karzai to his successor is in a state of jeopardy. In May this year, President Barak Obama announced a near total drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2016. At the moment, the fate of the Afghan people is most uncertain. Yet as dispiriting as this state of affairs is, Afghanistan is not yet lost. While its insurgency is persistent, the Taliban lack the means and popular support to retake control of the state. Warlords-cum-politicians recognize that they have more to lose by taking guns to the hills than by brokering negotiated deals. Its increasingly educated and globally aware youth comprise nearly two-thirds of its population. And given its mineral resources and position as a geographic bridge for regional trade and energy transit, Afghanistan is not without economic opportunities.
As the recounting of votes cast in June 14 Afghan presidential runoff is continuing, President Hamid Karzai has said that this militancy-plagued country should have new president and new government by the end of August. Addressing a press conference here on Sunday, spokesman for Afghan election commission Noor Mohammad Noor said that 45 percent of the votes cast in the second round of presidential election held on June 14 had been completed. “So far 10,231 ballot boxes or 45 percent of the whole ballot boxes have been recounted,” Noor said at a press conference here. The total number of ballot boxes used in Afghan presidential runoff is 22,828, he said, adding the recounting process is going on and the election commission would do its best to complete the auditing and recounting process of the votes in its earliest.
July 7, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced the preliminary results of the country’s presidential election. According to the IEC’s chairman, Ashraf Ghani received 56.44 percent of the votes in the June 14 runoff; he had placed second during the first round of elections, with 31.56 percent. His opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, who fell just short of an outright majority in the first round with 45.00 percent, only received 43.56 percent in the runoff. The fact is that although the magnitude and scope of the fraud is unclear thus far, the integrity of the election has been tainted beyond repair. This has caused some, including Abdullah’s vice presidential running mate, Mohammad Mohaqiq, to describe the preliminary results as a “coup” against voters. Election observers have already noted that the number of votes cast in the runoff was not anywhere close to the 8.1 million quoted by the IEC; nor have they accepted the notion that 37.6 percent of that number reflects votes of women.
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory in defiance of preliminary vote results showing he lost and considered forming his own government, despite U.S. warnings that the country risked losing financial and security aid. “There is no doubt we are the winners of this election,” Mr. Abdullah told supporters during a boisterous rally in Kabul. “We will not allow a fraudulent government for a day.” Before the rally, President Barack Obama called Mr. Abdullah and urged him to await a probe of ballot-stuffing allegations, telling him that “there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional measures,” said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. “We’ve been clear that any such move would cost Afghanistan the financial and security assistance of the United States,” she added. Mr. Abdullah said he would decide within a few days whether to form his own administration, a statement his supporters jeered because they wanted him to say he was taking power immediately.
On Tuesday, Afghanistan’s electoral commission announced that it would likely delay the preliminary result of last month’s presidential runoff until the weekend at the earliest. The result was originally scheduled to be made public on Wednesday. “The announcement of preliminary results is likely to be delayed until Saturday,” election commissioner Sharifa Zurmati said. “Around 2,000 polling centers are to be recounted because of alleged fraud.” In June, Afghans defied Taliban violence to vote in a presidential runoff between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank official Ashraf Ghani. Ballots were cast at 6,000 polling stations across the country. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) reported that 99.7 percent of the ballots had been logged into its database. IEC chief Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail resigned his post last week after Abdullah’s campaign released a phone conversation in which Amarkhail allegedly called for ballot boxes to be stuffed. Amarkhail claimed the recording was fake but said he was stepping down so that Abdullah would end his boycott of the vote.
Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday defended himself against electoral fraud allegations that have tipped the country into a political crisis, vowing to fight for every ballot cast for him. Ghani’s poll rival Abdullah Abdullah has said he will reject the result of the ongoing vote count due to what he claimed was “blatant fraud” committed by Ghani, the election authorities and outgoing President Hamid Karzai. “I ask Dr Abdullah as a national figure to respect the rule of law,” Ghani told supporters in his first speech since the dispute over alleged fake votes erupted. “We are all tired of the language of threats and unlawfulness… Our votes are clean, and we will defend each vote,” he said. Ghani, who travelled abroad for dental treatment after the June 14 election, returned to Kabul to deliver an uncompromising message to Abdullah, who has boycotted the Independent Election Commission (IEC). “It is the people’s right to elect their leader through votes. Some people have created a situation where they threaten that right,” he said.
Less than 48 hours after a runoff election to choose the next president of Afghanistan, the first signs of a looming political crisis emerged on Monday, with the campaign of Abdullah Abdullah claiming there had been widespread ballot stuffing and suggesting he was being set up for a defeat he would not accept. A senior campaign official for Mr. Abdullah, who won the most votes in the election’s first round, said the candidate believes President Hamid Karzai and a coterie of advisers around him orchestrated the fraud. The aim, in the estimation of the Abdullah campaign, was either to install Ashraf Ghani, the other candidate for president, or to see Mr. Karzai use a postelection crisis as an excuse to extend his own term in office.
Some 60% of Afghan voters went to the polls Saturday for the second round of presidential elections. Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani was in a tight race with former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and it will be weeks before we know the final outcome. But the fact that both men are pro-Western moderates should put to rest the notion that the Afghan people and their leaders are not ready for democracy. The election marks an improvement over the 2009 ballot that re-elected Hamid Karzai, which was marred by low voter turnout and credible allegations of widespread fraud. The turnaround is a testament to the success of the U.S. surge in routing the Taliban from their old strongholds, and of the ability of Afghan security forces—army and police—to maintain security at thousands of polling places.
Afghans head to the polls Saturday for a second-round election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, with the threat of Taliban attacks and fraud looming over the country’s first democratic transfer of power. April’s first-round vote was hailed a success as turnout topped 50 percent and Islamist militants failed to launch any high-profile attacks on polling day. But Saturday presents another major challenge in the prolonged election process, which began with campaigning in early February and will end when the final result is announced on July 22.
The two top vote-getters in Afghanistan’s presidential election alleged widespread fraud and other irregularities in the April 5 vote, with the leading contender saying he could still emerge as victor without a runoff once all the complaints are adjudicated. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai’s main rival in the 2009 election, is leading with 44.9% of the vote, according to preliminary results released by the Independent Election Commission on Saturday. His nearest opponent, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, received 31.5%. If these preliminary results hold and Mr. Abdullah doesn’t manage to cross the 50% mark once all the fraud allegations are examined, a runoff between the two men is expected to be held in early June. Mr. Abdullah rejected that prospect, and said on Sunday he believes he will emerge with an absolute majority if his complaints are properly addressed. “Nobody can claim that the election has gone or will go to the second round,” he said. “Our assessment and our documents clearly show a victory for our team.”
Three weeks after Afghanistan’s presidential election, the tortuous counting process is over. And the voters appear all set to finish the job—by going back to the polls. As was widely expected, none of the eight candidates managed to secure more than 50% of the vote. A run-off election will be used to pick a winner. The top two place-getters will be returning to the colourful and vibrant hustings. Abdullah Abdullah, the polished, cravat-wearing former foreign minister (pictured to the right, with an ordinary necktie), who finished second in the deeply flawed presidential election of 2009, has emerged as the clear front-runner. He secured 44.9% of the vote when the Afghanistan’s election watchdog announced the full preliminary results on Saturday April 26th. His closest rival is Ashraf Ghani (pictured left), an urbane academic and former official with the World Bank, who won 31.5%. Zalmai Rassoul, who was regarded as being the preferred choice of outgoing president Hamid Karzai—who was himself forbidden from standing for a third, five-year term by the constitution—was the only other candidate to finish with a total in the double digits (11.5%).
The Afghan presidential race is set for a June runoff between former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, according to official results released Saturday. The preliminary tally showed Abdullah winning nearly 45% of the 6.9 million votes cast, and Ghani 31.5%. Election officials will examine hundreds of reports of voting irregularities before issuing final results on May 14, but the allegations didn’t appear widespread enough to change the results substantially — or to give Abdullah the absolute majority needed to avoid a runoff. The two men, both polished technocrats well known to the international community, had been regarded as the favorites in the April 5 election. Both have pledged to sign a security agreement that would allow some U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, a strategic priority for the Obama administration.
Afghanistan: Election commission delays release of full results to allow recounts, audits | Associated Press
Afghanistan’s election commission delayed a planned release of full results from the April 5 presidential election to allow for recounts and audits, officials said Wednesday, a development that adds to the confusion surrounding the balloting to replace President Hamid Karzai. The results were expected on Thursday, but Independent Election Commission director Ziaulhaq Amarkhil said in a statement they would be postponed until at least Saturday to ensure they are not tainted by fraud. “The commission is responsible to the Afghan electorate,” said Amarkhil. The winner will replace Karzai, who is ineligible for a third term, and oversee a tumultuous period as the U.S. and NATO are expected to withdraw most of their troops from the country by the end of this year, leaving Afghan forces to fight the fierce Taliban insurgency on their own.
It is not true to say that Afghanistan lacks good-news stories. It’s just that they are not the kind to generate headlines: 8m children at school, two-fifths of them girls, compared with 1m when the Taliban were in power; a tenfold increase in those Afghans with access to basic health care; some 20m who own mobile phones; and proliferating television channels, radio stations and newspapers. By contrast, the good-news story of the presidential election on April 5th was generating both headlines and surprise—and that is even before a result has been announced. The expectation was for another flawed election like the one in 2009. Jeremiahs predicted that a combination of fraud, intimidation and violence would produce only a tainted, illegitimate government. That would give weary donors of international aid all the excuse they needed to stop signing the cheques keeping the country afloat. The only real winners would be the Taliban. Yet in this election Afghans of all kinds rejected that account of their country. Despite the threat of Taliban reprisals (and rotten weather), over 7m Afghans, about 60% of those eligible, appear to have voted, half as many again as in 2009. Around 35% of those who cast a ballot were women. Burka-clad voters raising an ink-stained finger as they left the polling booths became a symbol of defiance.
Afghanistan has begun tallying votes from the weekend’s historic presidential elections, a process that will take weeks to complete, but rough early counts suggest that the country is heading for a second-round showdown between two former ministers. Voters defied Taliban intimidation, turning out in unexpectedly high numbers on Saturday to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai, who has ruled for 12 years and is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. The Taliban mounted nearly 700 attacks nationwide, said General Zahir Azimy, spokesman for the defence ministry, but fears of a bloody, dramatic attack in the capital or another major city during the election proved unfounded. The day ended with an outpouring of support for the 350,000 police and soldiers on duty around the country, who for the first time secured an election without foreign support.
Former World Bank executive Ashraf Ghani and opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah appeared to be the two front-runners in Afghanistan’s presidential election, sidelining a candidate viewed as President Hamid Karzai’s favorite, according to partial results tallied by news organizations and one candidate. A victory for Mr. Abdullah or Mr. Ghani could significantly reduce the influence of Mr. Karzai, who has ruled Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Both candidates say they will sign the bilateral security agreement, which is needed to maintain American aid and a limited U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the international coalition’s current mandate expires in December. Mr. Karzai has infuriated Washington by refusing to complete the deal. The Wall Street Journal tallied partial election results from visits to roughly 100 polling stations, out of more than 20,000 nationwide, in the capital Kabul and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, Kandahar in the south, and Gardez and Jalalabad in the east. At nearly all these stations, Messrs. Ghani and Abdullah were the clear leaders, according to counts posted by local poll supervisors. Mr. Karzai’s former foreign minister, Zalmai Rassoul, trailed far behind.
Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats and rain on Saturday, underscoring their enormous expectations from an election that comes as the country’s wobbly government prepares to face down a ferocious insurgency largely on its own. With combat forces from the U.S.-led coalition winding down a 13-year presence and the mercurial Hamid Karzai stepping aside, the country’s new leader will find an altered landscape as he replaces the only president Afghans have known since the Taliban was ousted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. But for some, progress — particularly with women’s rights — the country’s situation is inauspicious, especially with its poor security and battered economy. Yet despite spiraling carnage and grave disappointments, Afghans by the millions crowded mosque courtyards and lined up at schools to vote, telling a war-weary world they want their voices heard. Nazia Azizi, a 40-year-old housewife, was first in line at a school in eastern Kabul. “I have suffered so much from the fighting, and I want prosperity and security in Afghanistan,” she said. “I hope that the votes that we are casting will be counted and that there will be no fraud in this election.”
Afghans are excited about the upcoming presidential poll. For the first time in history the war-torn country will see the transfer of power from one elected president to another. But for Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, the April 5 election will just be another ordinary day as they have been officially disenfranchised. The Afghan election commission says it does not have sufficient resources to make proper polling arrangements for the Pakistani Afghans, most of whom dwell in the refugee camps along the Pakistani-Afghan border. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are around 2.6 million registered Afghans in Pakistan, most of whom had migrated to the neighboring Islamic republic during the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviet forces. After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent toppling of the Islamist Taliban government in 2001, many Afghans moved back to their homeland. A large number, however, preferred to stay back in Pakistan. Afghanistan allowed its citizens in Pakistan to vote in the 2004 presidential vote, but in the 2009 election, they were excluded due to security risks. Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai was successful in both elections.
For Afghanistan’s “Generation America,” Saturday’s presidential election marks a vital rite of passage. Almost two thirds of Afghans are younger than 25, and millions have come of age during the 12 years since U.S. troops and development dollars arrived. Despite a violent Taliban insurgency and rampant corruption, young Afghans have enjoyed unprecedented freedoms and opportunities, and many of them will be voting for the first time to preserve them. A smooth election is hardly assured. On Wednesday, a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the entrance to the ministry of interior, killing six officers in one of central Kabul’s most heavily guarded spots. An election critically disrupted by the Taliban—or stolen through fraud—could push Afghanistan into renewed civil war, reopening old ethnic fissures and imperiling many gains of the past decade. As Afghanistan prepares for the first transfer of power since the U.S. installed President Hamid Karzai in 2001, the vote will determine whether the gains of the American era will be sustained after most U.S. troops go home in December.
On April 5th, the scheduled date of Afghanistan’s upcoming Presidential election, there will be around a dozen polling centers in Chak, a narrow valley of mud homes and alfalfa farms that lies some forty miles from Kabul. A few of the centers, which are essentially rooms with a section curtained off for voting, will be in schools; others will be in mosques. At least two will be in tents pitched on mountain slopes, near the grazing ranges of nomadic herders. Freshly painted campaign billboards loom over the road into the valley. Tens of thousands of ballots are ready for delivery, and officials are considering a helicopter drop for some of the valley’s most remote reaches. None of this will matter, though, because on Election Day there will not be a single voter or election worker in any of Chak’s polling centers. When I asked a U.S.-backed militia commander in the area, whom I will call Raqib, to explain why, he drew a finger across his throat, and said, “Taliban.”
Afghanistan: Taliban’s Onslaught to Disrupt Presidential Elections Has Failed to Curb Voter Enthusiasm | Wall Street Journal
Lining up behind hundreds of fellow Afghans, Ghazanfar spent up to six hours each day over the past week waiting to register for Saturday’s elections. “Sun and rain, none of that has been a problem for me,” said Mr. Ghazanfar, a 46-year-old laborer in Kabul, who like many Afghans has only one name. “I am here to support a better future for Afghanistan.” The Taliban have launched a violent onslaught on Kabul and other Afghan cities in recent days, trying to disrupt the historic election. But, so far, the Taliban intimidation has failed to tamp down the enthusiasm of ordinary Afghans like Mr. Ghazanfar for the election, in which the country will pick a new leader after 13 years under President Hamid Karzai. Notwithstanding occasional violence and bureaucratic weakness that requires such registration waits, the country has gone through a full-fledged campaign, with crowded, nationwide rallies by the main candidates, and lively televised debates.
Militants launched a gun and suicide attack on an Afghan election commission office in Kabul on Tuesday, police said, less than two weeks before the presidential poll. The Taliban have vowed a campaign of violence to disrupt the ballot on April 5, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces in the run-up to election day. Blasts were heard at an Independent Election Commission office in the western Darulaman area of the Afghan capital, close to the home of Ashraf Ghani, who is seen as a frontrunner in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai.
The candidate strode down the aisle separating hundreds of male and female supporters at a campaign rally in Kabul. She shook hands with the women filling the chairs to her right. To the men on the other side, she simply nodded. Habiba Sarabi is the most prominent woman running on a ticket in the April 5 election to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Sarabi once served as Afghanistan’s first female governor, and her current bid to become Afghanistan’s first female vice president is part of an effort to get out the women’s vote as candidates scramble for every ballot. Women “can affect the transition, the political transition,” she said in an interview after addressing the rally to support Sarabi and her running mate, presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul. The event was held in a wedding hall in a Kabul district dominated by her ethnic minority Hazara community.
The Taliban threatened voters Monday and warned they will “use all force” possible to disrupt Afghan presidential elections next month, posing a crucial test for the country’s security forces seeking to show they can bring stability as the West prepares to end its combat mission by the end of the year. The Taliban’s first direct threat against the vote was one half of a double blow to hopes for a peaceful outcome from the elections. Observers said the death of the influential vice president over the weekend deprives the country of a powerbroker who could have prevented bitter recriminations among factions after the new leader is named.
The Taliban today vowed to target Afghanistan’s presidential election, urging their fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the April 5 vote to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai. Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence, with at least 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day alone in 2009 as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls. Another blood-stained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.
The posters are printed. The rallies are organized. A televised debate is planned. Campaign season for Afghanistan’s presidential election kicks off Sunday, and the stakes are high for the 11 candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai and oversee the final chapter in a NATO-led combat mission. The April 5 vote is a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history, its outcome seen as make-or-break for the country’s future and key to the level of foreign involvement here after nearly 13 years of war. Billions of dollars in funds are tied to the government’s holding a free and fair election — the first independent vote organized by Afghanistan without direct foreign assistance. Amid a surge in violence from the Taliban ahead of the NATO combat troop withdrawal at the end of the year, the poll also will be a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable transition. And the West will be watching the vote as means of gauging the success of its efforts to foster democracy and bolster security over the past 12 years.
An American organization tasked with furthering democracy in developing nations said Monday that while elections next April in Afghanistan are unlikely to be perfect, they should be better than previous polls marred by widespread fraud. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs said its assessment mission to Afghanistan believes there is “guarded optimism” about the April 5 polls that will elect a new president to succeed Hamid Karzai, along with local council members for the country’s 34 provinces. But the organization said the elections still face serious challenges, including security, potential fraud and even weather conditions that could affect voter turnout. The 2009 presidential election was so soiled that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than 1 million votes — enough to force a second round. Many observers blamed much of the fraud on Karzai’s supporters, but he blamed the U.S. for allegedly interfering against him. In the end, the opposing candidate dropped out and Karzai was elected was elected to a second and final five-year term. Since then, reforms in the voting process have tried to make the elections commissions more independent of the presidency.
With Afghanistan’s next presidential election just five months away, authorities say they are facing a possible repeat of the abuses that have discredited the country’s efforts to build a democracy. Election officials say they can only estimate how many voters are really on the rolls. Added to the confusion are millions of additional registration cards from the elections of the past. Taliban threats cast a further damper. “This is the reality of this country. We are conducting elections in a difficult situation, with poor security, but we must conduct elections,” said Noor Mohammed Noor, the head of the Independent Election Commission. “It is the only way for our country to succeed.” A credible election would do much for the West’s efforts to foster democracy in Afghanistan after allegations of fraud marred the 2009 vote that handed President Hamid Karzai a second term. He is banned by the constitution from running for a third.