Russia, the United States and powers from Europe and the Middle East outlined a plan on Saturday for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, but differences remained on key issues such as President Bashar al-Assad’s fate. A day after gunmen and suicide bombers went on a rampage through Paris, killing at least 127 people, foreign ministers and senior officials from more than a dozen countries agreed to work for a ceasefire in Syria’s civil war, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it would not apply to Islamic State. French President Francois Hollande pledged a “merciless response” to the attacks, which he said had been organized by the Islamist militant force. France is part of the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the group in Syria and Iraq.
Last May, I shared in an extraordinary moment. I had the privilege, together with many leaders from across Africa, of bearing witness to the first peaceful, democratic transition of power between two parties in Nigeria. I traveled to Lagos earlier this year to emphasize that for the United States, Nigeria is an increasingly important strategic partner with a critical role to play in the security and prosperity of the region. I also said that it was imperative that these elections set a new standard for democracy across the continent. There is no question that this is a decisive moment for democracy in Africa. Later this month, four countries – Guinea, Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic – are scheduled to hold presidential elections, and soon after we hope to see elections in Burkina Faso. People across Africa must seize this opportunity to make their voices heard; and leaders across the continent must listen. The challenges are real. For decades, poverty, famine, war, and authoritarian leadership have held back an era of African prosperity and stability. These and other challenges should not be underestimated, but neither should we ignore the gains that are being made.
Concerned that Nigeria could face postelection turmoil, Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged President Goodluck Jonathan and his principal political rival to respect the results of next month’s presidential vote and to discourage their supporters from carrying out violent protests. “It is imperative that these elections happen on time, as scheduled, and that they are an improvement over past elections,” Mr. Kerry said in a news conference at the end of his visit here. But a major attack by Boko Haram militants on Sunday in Maiduguri, a major city in northeastern Nigeria, demonstrated the challenge that confronts the Obama administration as it tries to develop a strategy to help stabilize the strategically important nation. Mr. Kerry said there was evidence that the militants from the Islamic State group, which has declared a caliphate in eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, were now making an effort to forge alliances with terrorist groups in Africa.
For about five short minutes in June, everyone sitting around my lunch table in Kabul thought the Afghan government had shut down Facebook. Attempts to load news feeds were met with an abrupt, uninformative “network error” message, so, naturally, two of us jumped on Twitter to break the news. The others, also expatriates, but less swept up in the politics of the moment, continued eating, though no doubt they were somewhat dismayed at the prospect of their window to life back home being shuttered. It was less than a week after millions of Afghans had commuted to polls around the country to vote in a runoff election, the second round in 2014’s historic, if protracted, presidential race. Heralded as the country’s first democratic transition of power, the election process had taken an ugly turn. And social media followed suit. When former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah accused election officials and then-President Hamid Karzai of coordinating ballot stuffing in favor of his opponent, former economic minister Ashraf Ghani, Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with progressively violent and inciteful rhetoric from both sides. Unsurprisingly, the factions largely split along ethnic lines — Pashtuns versus Tajiks — the same antagonists of Afghanistan’s four-year civil war in the 1990s.
The presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah once more brought Afghanistan’s troubled electoral process to the brink on Monday, insisting that he had won the disputed vote and vowing to reject any government formed on the basis of it. An audit of 100 percent of the ballots cast in the June runoff election is expected to conclude this week, and nearly all observers expect Mr. Abdullah’s opponent, Ashraf Ghani, to be declared the winner. Mr. Abdullah’s supporters have been suggesting that he form a parallel government, which Western diplomats have worried could lead to disorder or even civil war. But Mr. Abdullah made no mention of a parallel government in a speech to his top officials, running mates and supporters, or at a brief news conference afterward, and did not ask his supporters to take to the streets to protest the results.
“The best solution for the current situation is the announcement of final results. The international community has shown readiness to support the results,” Ghani said. Ghani was declared the winner in preliminary results from the June 14 run-off ballot with 56 percent of the vote, giving him a lead of some 1.2 million votes. But his rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, charged that massive fraud of more than two million votes had denied him victory, and on Monday he said he would reject the outcome if the audit did not throw out enough ballots to make him president. The United States brokered a deal between the feuding parties to form a unity government that would include the new position of chief executive, who would enjoy significant powers despite losing the election. The aim of the deal was to prevent the dispute from descending into street demonstrations and possible ethnic conflict.
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.
It seems everyone wants the Afghan presidential election to be over and done with. Except, maybe, for the two contenders. In the latest attempt to derail an audit of the votes, which was set in motion six weeks ago, Abdullah Abdullah (pictured above) declared on August 27th that he was leaving the process—less than a week before the next president is supposed to be inaugurated. Mr Abdullah, who claims his opponent, Ashraf Ghani, rigged more than 1m votes, has accused auditors of keeping fraudulent ballots in the tally. Faulting the United Nations for not taking his concerns seriously, he said the criteria for invalidating votes are not thorough enough to weed out all the fraud. Wednesday morning, August 27th, no observers from his team were to be found at the headquarters of the Independent Election Commission when the day’s audit began. Consequently, Mr Ghani also withdrew his observers.
Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election was rocked by more turmoil on Wednesday as both candidates vying to succeed Hamed Karzai pulled their observers out of a ballot audit meant to determine the winner of a June runoff. First, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, pulled his monitors from the audit to protest the process that his team claims is fraught with fraud. Then, the United Nations, which is helping supervise the U.S.-brokered audit, asked the other candidate, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, to also pull out his observers in the interest of fairness. The U.N. team said the audit then proceeded without both candidates’ teams. It was not immediately clear if the pullout meant the two candidates would reject the audit results — and thereby also the final result of the election. That could have dangerous repercussions in a country still struggling to overcome ethnic and religious divides and battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency.
New strains have emerged in Afghanistan’s delicate political transition, just a week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Kabul for the second time in a month to defuse a political crisis concerning who will take over from President Hamid Karzai. As the vote audit for a disputed election remains painfully slow and a crucial deadline looms, fresh suggestions of political fraud have emerged along with provocative comments from a key player. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani are vying to succeed Mr. Karzai, who must step down after more than a decade in power. But the failure of a June 14 runoff to produce a clear winner led to a political standoff that brought the country close to civil war.
Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit here on Thursday to press Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates to form a government of national unity and rescue the political agreement he negotiated almost four weeks ago. The Obama administration is urging Afghan politicians to accept the result of an internationally monitored audit so a new president can be inaugurated before NATO nations hold a summit meeting in Wales in early September. “We would like to see the president inaugurated and arriving at NATO as part of a government of national unity,” said a senior State Department official who is traveling with Mr. Kerry.
A massive operation to check eight million votes in Afghanistan’s disputed elections has resumed in Kabul. Vote-checking restarted on Sunday after a holiday break without the involvement of one of the candidates, but Abdullah Abdullah later rejoined the process. Mr Abdullah had claimed that “widespread fraud” denied him victory over his rival Ashraf Ghani. The vote will see power transferred from Hamid Karzai, the only president since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Around 23,000 ballot boxes from 34 provinces will be brought to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) headquarters in Kabul. … The boxes have been stored in provincial capitals around Afghanistan since a second round of polling on 14 June.
Three airless aluminium warehouses, shaped like giant armadillos, sit hunched on the outskirts of Kabul. Inside hundreds of volunteers and international election observers have been bustling around in stifling heat, arguing over the shape of tick-marks on individual ballots. During Ramadan the lack of food and drink made the stale atmosphere inside the godowns all the more draining. The Ramadan fast has since broken, but the counting goes on. Until it has finished, the presidential election that was supposed to replace Hamid Karzai hangs in suspension. After a surprising reversal of fortunes suddenly favoured Ashraf Ghani in the second round of the presidential elections, his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, cried foul. Alleging fraud, several of his powerful supporters threatened to establish a breakaway government. It took an emergency agreement brokered by John Kerry, America’s secretary of state, to keep the process alive, but the deal is starting to show some of its inherent flaws. Mr Kerry has moved on and the two presidential hopefuls are now left to wrestle over its shortcomings.
The full audit of votes cast in Afghanistan’s presidential election was again suspended on Saturday, underscoring the fragility of the political deal between the two camps brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. On Saturday, the recount was stopped for a third time since it began 10 days ago, after supporters of one of the candidates, Abdullah Abdullah, walked out, claiming one of the audit criteria wasn’t being adhered to. The sticking point concerned a technical issue related to ballots from polling stations that saw a surprising jump in votes in the June-14 runoff election compared with the first round of voting on April 5. The two camps on Saturday did reach an agreement on a separate issue that had been slowing down the audit: how to disqualify fraudulent votes.
Afghanistan’s audit of millions of ballots from the presidential runoff vote is being slowed down by disputes. But Thijs Berman, the EU’s chief election observer, tells DW what matters is that the audit is done properly. It’s only been a few days since Afghanistan began an audit of more than eight million votes cast in the June 14 runoff presidential election but the process has already been marred by walkouts by both sides. Although the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said that the process would take around three weeks, with teams working in two shifts to audit around 1,000 ballot boxes a day, the exercise may take longer than expected as the two sides still appear at odds over the ground rules for the audit. The audit had been agreed upon by rival presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani following Abdullah’s claims of massive fraud, which had threatened to plunge the conflict-ridden country into a political crisis. The agreement, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, comes at a crucial time as the United States, Afghanistan’s biggest foreign donor, prepares to withdraw most of its combat troops by the end of this year. Thijs Berman, the chief election observer of the EU Election Assessment Team (EAT) in Afghanistan, says in a DW interview, that it is not uncommon for audits to lead to discussions, especially over ‘suspect votes’, and adds that the important thing is that the audit is conducted properly.
Afghan election workers on Thursday began auditing the votes cast in last month’s presidential election runoff, monitored by American and United Nations observers. The audit of almost eight million ballots cast in the June 14 runoff was part of a deal brokered last weekend by Secretary of State John Kerry to ease a dispute between the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, that had threatened to fracture Afghanistan’s government only months before the NATO-led combat mission here is to formally end. Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani also agreed to enact broad changes to Afghanistan’s system of government in the coming years. But first the audit must determine who will actually be Afghanistan’s next president. It is a huge undertaking that is expected to take three to six weeks and, officials cautioned, run into snags along the way.
Just hours before the official start of an audit of eight million votes in Afghanistan, negotiations were under way with the electoral authorities to pin down the ground rules. All the votes cast in last month’s presidential runoff are due to be scrutinised under an agreement brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the weekend. Afghans heaved a collective sigh of relief when the deal was announced, because it appeared to offer a reprieve just when many feared the country risked slipping back into chaos and violence after both candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, disputed the results. But there are still some hurdles to be overcome. A final “checklist” setting out what constitutes a “suspect vote” still needs to be agreed upon with the electoral authorities. “They’re still trying to draft it now as we speak,” one insider told the BBC on condition of anonymity, as dusk approached on Wednesday evening.
The euphoria over a U.S.-brokered deal between Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates at the weekend was a sign of how close some people believe the country came to a split along ethnic lines that could quickly turn violent. The speed at which that relief has evaporated suggests the political crisis, playing out as foreign troops prepare to withdraw after more than a decade policing the war-torn nation, is not over yet. And while Afghans and foreign governments fret over the fate of the election, an insurgency led by the ousted Taliban militia rages on. On Tuesday, at least 89 people were killed when a car bomb exploded in a crowded market in the eastern province of Paktika, one of the worst attacks in a year.
Afghanistan: United Nations Assistance Mission to oversee Afghanistan’s presidential election audit | UPI
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Saturday during his visit to Kabul that Afghanistan will undertake an audit of the votes cast in the presidential election run-off on June 14. The audit will determine which candidate succeeds Hamid Karzai. Preliminary election results released show former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani in the lead with 56.44 percent of the vote and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah trailing behind with 43.56 percent. Abdullah challenged the legitimacy of the election, alleging fraud and questioning the Independent Election Commission’s preliminary election results. Kerry arrived in Kabul on Friday to meet with the candidates regarding the political transition. In a joint press conference, Ghani emphasized Afghanistan’s need for “the most intensive and extensive audit possible to restore faith [in the election].”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Afghanistan on Friday to try to broker an election-audit deal between presidential candidates amid widespread allegations of voting fraud and as a deepening political crisis threatens to fragment the country along ethnic and regional lines. On Monday, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission announced preliminary results following a June 14 presidential runoff between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Mr. Ghani emerged as the apparent winner, with 56.4% of the vote, but Mr. Abdullah rejected the preliminary results, charging widespread fraud, and declared himself the victor. Followers of Mr. Abdullah have called for him to set up a “parallel government,” raising fears of upending the country’s democratic transition and a return to civil war.
Secretary of state John Kerry said on Saturday both of Afghanistan’s presidential candidates were committed to abiding by the results of the “largest and most comprehensive audit” of the election runoff ballots possible. Kerry stood with the two candidates who are disputing the results of Afghanistan’s presidential election. He announced that finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had agreed to abide by a 100%, internationally supervised audit of all ballots in the presidential election in Kabul. “Both candidates have committed to participate in and abide by the results of the largest and most comprehensive audit; every single ballot that was cast will be audited,” Kerry said. “This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of the desire to restore legitimacy to the process.” The audit is expected to take a “number of weeks” and will begin with ballot boxes in Kabul. Ballot boxes from the provinces are to be flown by helicopter to the capital by US and international forces and examined on rolling basis. Observers from each campaign as well as international observers will be involved in the oversight of the review, and the candidate with the most votes will be declared the winner and become president.
Ashraf Ghani edged closer to becoming Afghanistan’s next president after winning a majority of votes in a preliminary count of last month’s election, but officials stopped short of declaring a winner as millions of ballots could still be reviewed for fraud allegations. The country’s election commission said Monday that Mr. Ghani, a former finance minister, had won 56.4% of the vote in a preliminary count, against Mr. Abdullah’s 43.6%. But with his rival Abdullah Abdullah alleging widespread fraud in the June 14 runoff vote, the political crisis over the validity of the election’s results remained unresolved. One of Mr. Abdullah’s most prominent supporters, northern Balkh province’s powerful Gov. Atta Mohammad Noor, called late Monday for “widespread civil unrest” and warned of forming a “parallel government.” That statement drew a swift condemnation from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was speaking at the Yokota Air Base in Japan en route to high-level talks in China.
US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately yesterday about the “incredible yearning for modernity” sweeping across the world, warning that free elections do not necessarily usher in true democracy in many countries. The months of protests in Ukraine that led to the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovich were just one example of “people power” in recent months. Such protests were “a reflection of this incredible yearning for modernity, for change, for choice, for empowerment of individuals that is moving across the world, and in many cases moving a lot faster than political leadership is either aware of or able to respond to,” the top US diplomat told a small group of reporters. The ousting of Yanukovich, like July’s toppling of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Mursi, proved that elections by themselves were not always enough. “A democracy is not defined solely by an election,” the top US diplomat argued.
Iran has accused the US and France of “interference” for criticising it for barring hundreds of would-be candidates in next month’s presidential election. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Sunday that Tehran was “highly sensitive” about comments targeting its internal affairs, while his spokesman Abbas Araqchi said: “Elections in Iran are free and transparent. They are held based on the country’s laws and regulations.” Their comments came after the news on Tuesday that the Guardians Council, Iran’s unelected electoral watchdog, had cleared just eight male candidates out of 868 registrants to stand in the June 14 election. Two key figures – moderate former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad ally Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie – were among those disqualified.
Venezuela’s President-elect Nicolas Maduro has agreed to a full audit of the votes cast as the opposition continues to contest the country’s closest election in 45 years. Mr Maduro’s campaign chief, Jorge Rodriguez, made the announcement after opposition leader Henrique Capriles called off a march on Wednesday to protest against the results of Sunday’s presidential election. Mr Capriles, who requested a manual recount of the 15 million votes, acted after Mr Maduro said he would come down with a ”firm hand” on opposition supporters and violence led to eight deaths.
Venezuela: US calls for Venezuela election recount after narrow win for Nicolás Maduro | guardian.co.uk
The United States is hesitating to recognise Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela and has called for a recount of the vote from Sunday’s closely fought election. The procrastination is likely to embolden Venezuela’s opposition and enrage many on the left in Latin America, who have long accused the US of interfering in the region’s politics. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said he had yet to evaluate whether the disputed result was legitimate when asked about the matter by members of the House of Representatives. “We think there ought to be a recount,” he told the foreign affairs committee in reference to Venezuelan opposition demands for a full audit of the vote.
Massachusetts: Special election will cost Massachusetts at least $13.5 million, according to state officials | masslive.com
State officials say it is expected to cost Massachusetts at least $13.5 million to hold the special election to fill the U.S. Senate formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry. State Auditor Suzanne Bump has estimated that it will cost cities and towns nearly $8.3 million to run the April 30 primary election and the June 25 final. The special election has been classified by the auditor’s office as an “unfunded local mandate,” meaning the state must reimburse local communities for the costs they incur.
Assuming U.S. Sen. John Kerry clears his Senate confirmation to become U.S. Secretary of State, the 145-to-160-day countdown to a special election would be triggered by his letter of resignation, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin told reporters Friday morning. President Barack Obama is expected to formally nominate Kerry to the post Friday, according to multiple media reports, and Obama has a 1:30 p.m. personnel announcement planned. Galvin said he was “delighted” for Kerry and said he expects bipartisan agreement Kerry is qualified to succeed Hillary Clinton.