Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Afghan presidency not likely settled before next deadline Sept. 2

Although August 25 was set as the date for inauguration of the new Afghan president the issue of who will be president is still not settled even after several months of recounts and audits of the votes subsequent to the summer vote.


Abdullah Abdullah who won the first round claims that there was fraud including ballot stuffing on behalf of his opponent Ashraf Ghani in the runoff. Preliminary results in the runoff show Ghani in the lead. The audit is still not even close to finished. Karzai says that he will relinquish the presidency by September 2, the new scheduled inauguration date. However, at the present pace it seems highly unlikely that the results will be finalized by that time.
 Teams representing the two candidates are continually fighting over which ballots should or should not be counted. The US, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, brokered a deal between the two candidates who agreed to cooperate on an audit of the entire 8 million votes that were cast in order to ensure that any fraudulent votes were rejected. The two also agreed that whoever won would form a government of national unity. Hamid Karzai the outgoing president has run the country since 2001. 
 The election, lasting 10 weeks, took place back on June 14 under UN supervision. However, as with past Afghan elections there have been accusations of fraud from many sides. The Independent Electoral Commission(IEC) is just now due to begin rejecting votes judged fraudulent. Spokesperson for the IEC,Noor Mohammad Noor, said: "The Independent Election Commission is trying very hard to finish the process as soon as possible". The new inauguration date of Sept. 2 is just two days prior to a NATO summit that will determine how much aid NATO countries will provide for Afghanistan after most NATO troops will pull out of the country at the end of this year. Having a new president and a peaceful power transition would be a sign that NATO was leaving with at least some degree of success after 13 years in Afghanistan. This in turn would perhaps lead to a generous aid package. Many doubt that the process can be completed by Sept. 2.  
Abdullah spokesperson Mujib Rahimi said: "Honestly, I cannot come out with something definite on that, but I hope. It's Afghanistan. Things are unpredictable." An unidentified official from the Ghani campaign was even more pessimistic.He said that there had been little progress on deciding what the power-sharing government of national unity would be like and said:"Nothing yet has added to the political framework and the commission couldn't reach an agreement in most of the areas". One unidentified Western official also expressed doubts about having finalized results before Sept. 2, saying:"I don't see how there will be any space for compromise, because the pie is too small and there are too many people who want a piece." 
Karzai is accused by Abdullah of helping Ghani in the runoff to a fraudulent win but both Ghani and Karzai deny this. Karzai has been urging both candidates to cooperate in the auditing process. His office issued a statement: "Prolonging of the presidential process has affected people's daily life, particularly in security, economy and governance.This must end as soon as possible."  
The impasse has hurt the Afghan economy and also given encouragement to the Taliban insurgents. Western supporters fear that one or the other of the candidates might pull out of the process or reject the result of the edit. There could be protests and civil unrest as a result. The audit process seems far from complete. As of last Monday August 25, just, 3,644 of the 23,000 ballot boxes were put through the invalidation process. 74 boxes were rejected, and 697 selected for a further recount.  
UN mission chief Jan Kubis noted:"It is still premature to draw conclusions about the final audit result based on these initial findings All parties should continue to respect the process so as to not create unrealistic expectations." The Afghan government expelled a NY Times reporter for writing an article claiming that government officials were considering seizing power to end the long standoff between the two candidates. The conflict between the two candidates mirrors the latent conflicts between Pashtuns in the south and east of Afghanistan who support Ghani and Tajiks and other northern groups who support Abdullah. Abdullah is again threatening to pull out of the audit process.