On Friday, June 27, thousands of protesters led by Afghan presidential candidate Dr Abddullah Abdullah and his electoral team marched towards the President’s Palace in Kabul, demanding invalidation of fraudulent votes, accountability and proper investigations into the allegations of fraud in the run-off, prolonging the impasse that has been continuing since the June 14 election run-off.
Just when everyone was hoping for the first democratic and peaceful transition of power in Afghanistan’s tumultuous history, uncertainty griped the country after Abdullah made allegations of fraud and stuffing of ballot boxes. His team withdrew from the election process on June 15, a day after the run-off, accusing not only the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) Secretariat Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail but also President Hamid Karzai of impartiality.
Abdullah’s camp does not agree with the alleged inflated number of voters, suspecting ‘stuffing’ of ballot boxes. They made it clear they will not accept the result in provinces where the apparent turnout was higher than the amount of eligible voters. He recalled all his observers and announced that any election outcome now would be “illegitimate” and not acceptable to his team.
Abdullah had ended first in the historic election of April 5 with 44.9% of the total votes polled, while the other leading presidential candidate Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai came second with 31.5% of the votes. Five other candidates got little less than 25% of the total votes among themselves. As mandated by the law, a round-off was called between the two leading candidates as none of them succeeded in securing more than 50% of the votes. The preparation for the second round saw hectic negotiations with the remaining five candidates of the first round, as their support would be critical in securing the victory margin.
On June 14, Afghans turned out in large number once again for the run-off between two Abdullah and Ghani, both former ministers, despite reports of violence. According to Afghanistan’s Deputy Interior Minister Gen Mohammad Ayub Salangi, 10 Afghan soldiers, 14 civilians and 19 insurgents were killed on the day of the election that saw nearly 150 attacks throughout the country. More than 60 Afghan troops and 41 civilians were injured in those attacks, and insurgents brutally cut off the inked fingers of 11 voters in Herat province.
However, the jubilation was short-lived as the very next day Abdullah’s camp alleged fraud and withdrew from the electoral process. It should be mentioned here that Abdullah had ended second in the 2009 election as well, but withdrew from the run-off a few days before the voting, accusing Hamid Karzai of widespread fraud.
Election observers the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) and the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA) had echoed Abdullah’s sentiments and demanded impartial probe into the allegations. The United Nations (UN), United States and other international agencies had meanwhile urged both the camps to follow the laws and to allow the IEC to complete the process.
On June 22, Abdullah’s campaign team released recordings of purported phone conversations between Amarkhail, his assistant, members of Ghani’s campaign as well as provincial level IEC officials, where they are reported to be discussing ‘stuffing’ of ballot boxes. A few days ago, another audio tape released by Abdullah’s team showed Attaullah Khogyani, the governor of Afghanistan’s Maidan Wardak province, allegedly persuading an unknown ‘army officer’ not to prevent ballot-stuffing. Abdullah’s team has released some more audio tapes since then.
Although Amarkhail denied all allegations, he resigned from the post in a live press conference for “the sake of the (electoral) process and national interest” on June 23. The IEC Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, who was sitting next to him in the press-conference, supported the IEC secretariat chief, calling him a “patriot”.
The resignation was seen as a welcome step that might open the door for negotiations that the two deputies of President Karzai was leading and was being mediated by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Though the Abdullah camp sounded optimistic about negotiations earlier, Friday’s protest, if anything, suggested that Afghanistan may be doomed for another crisis. Friday’s protest, however, was not the first one and several smaller protests have been going on for days now, giving rise to fears of escalation in tension and a civil war-like crisis that accompanied the Soviet withdrawal in the early 1990s, since, by the end of the year NATO troops are also slated to withdraw.
The former head of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service, Amrullah Saleh, who had extended his support to Abdullah before the run-off, warned during the Friday protest that if their grievances are ignored, the protests would get wider.
Ethnic divides still remain entrenched 12 years after the Taliban were forced to retreat and a new government under Karzai was formed. There are fears that all the US troops withdraw and security is left in the hands of the ill-equipped Afghan forces, Afghanistan too can go the Iraq way, although on record, not only Karzai, but international diplomats as well deny that such a situation would ever come to pass. What is more worrying is that any delay in transition will delay the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US that Karzai refused to sign, but the two leading presidential candidates had promised to.
Ashraf Ghani, who appears confident of winning, has meanwhile denied any wrong doing. “I condemn all votes of fraud whether for me or against me. I don't want fraudulent votes. Will the opponent team do the same?” he tweeted on June 26, demanding the timely announcement of the results. “We cannot wait any longer for this election to delay further more. The country is in dire situation. IEC must announce results on due date,” he said.
Unconfirmed reports suggest Ghani has received 4.2 million votes against the 2.9 million votes for Abdullah and would win with a margin of 1.3 million votes. Abdullah’s camp, however, has alleged that at least one million of the votes are fraudulent.
Is Karzai manipulating things for his survival?
The current crisis has brought the focus back on President Karzai, as many suspect him of engineering the turmoil so that he continues to wield influence even after he steps down as president, though his office has denied any wrong-doing and he himself has assured the people that by August 2, his successor should take over.
Karzai had put his weight behind Zalmai Rasoul in the primary, and convinced his brother Quayum Karzai to withdraw in his favour. But Rasoul ended a distant third in the April 5 election, giving an impression of impartially although there were some allegations of fraud. Rasoul extended his support to Abdullah in the run-off, but just days before the second round, Quayum supported Ghani even as his other brother and businessman Mahmoud went to Abdullah’s camp.
In Friday’s protest, Mahmoud accused his brother of orchestrating the crisis even as the protesters chanted anti-Karzai slogans.
In the last couple of months, the outgoing Afghan president had gained immense respect among the educated urban youth and there was nostalgia of sorts for his era, as contrary to what most people had expected, he appeared to be reluctantly preparing to step-down. But clearly he is emerging the king-maker as he has still kept all his cards close to his chest.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, IEC spokesperson Noor Mohammad Noor assured the people that the commission will separate the fraudulent ballots from the genuine votes and the preliminary results would be declared as scheduled on Tuesday, July 2.
* Battle for Kabul: Will Abdullah Abdullah succeed President Karzai in Afghanistan?
* In Afghanistan run-off imminent between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
* Ethnic allegiance remains strong ahead of Afghanistan presidential elections
* No clear front-runner in Afghanistan presidential election
M Reyaz is a Delhi-based journalist and Research Scholar on Central Asia. He tweets at @journalistreyaz.