Afghanistan held its presidential election on Saturday, and the two front-runners both claim they have enough votes to win. Of course, only one of them—incumbent President Ashraf Ghani or his coalition partner Abdullah Abdullah—can be right. A candidate needs more than 50 percent of votes to win outright, or a runoff will be held between the top two candidates.
Back to 2014 … or 2009? Ghani and Abdullah have been here before. After Afghanistan’s last election in 2014, the two leaders made similar claims of victory and accused each other of fraud. It was only after then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry intervened that they reached a power-sharing deal, with Ghani as president and Abdullah as chief executive. Kerry was also involved in the disputed 2009 vote, when he convinced President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election against Abdullah.
What’s next? For now, the only thing to do is to wait. There are no reliable exit polls in Afghanistan. The chief executive of the electoral commission, Habiburrahman Nang, bluntly said on Monday that no candidate could declare victory until Oct. 19, when preliminary results are expected. The final vote tally won’t come in until Nov. 7. After that, an indecisive result will likely lead to a call for runoff elections between Abdullah and Ghani. The larger question is whether any outcome will be widely accepted.
Only about 2.1 million of an eligible 9.6 million voters turned out on Saturday, as some 2,500 polling stations remained closed because of the threat of violence. The Taliban, which control roughly half of the country’s territory, cited the low turnout as evidence that Afghans don’t accept “foreign imported processes.” Meanwhile, election observers say the use of biometric machines in polling stations may mean that the votes that were submitted are more reliable than those in previous elections.
A hopeful message. At the United Nations on Monday, Afghanistan was represented by its national security advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, who used his platform to send a message to insurgents: “Join us in peace, or we will continue to fight.” Later on Monday, Mohib took the stage uptown at the Asia Society, where he spoke about how his country’s youth aspired to exercise their franchise—despite the odds presented to them by the Taliban.
“A young generation of Afghans have only known elections,” Mohib said, playing on the familiar saying that a generation of Afghans have known only war. Mohib is himself only 36 years old; most Afghans are under the age of 19. “They don’t remember anything before [democracy],” he said, explaining how he expected young Afghans to continue to fight for a democratic future.
What about the Taliban? With peace talks stalled, it is unclear what role the insurgent group will play in the coming months. Either way, the Taliban loom large in Afghan politics. Mohib pinned their power on Pakistan. Asked to describe the Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan, Mohib had a one-word answer: “Puppet.” He later elaborated that the group was seen by educated Afghans as a proxy for Pakistan’s shadowy Inter-Services Intelligence agency. “We don’t think of the Taliban as having any sort of independence. … It’s a proxy for an intelligence agency that controls everything they do.”
What has shaped the young generation? How has life changed for Afghans since the U.S. invasion in 2001? FP tracks a few factors.
Source: Foreign Policy