Afghanistan: UN urges respect for poll audit as process resumes





The process to check thousands of ballot boxes in the Afghan presidential election run-off is now underway after several delays, the United Nations mission in the country confirmed, calling for local commitment to complete the audit without any more postponements, according to reports.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan ( UNAMA ) “urged the full commitment of the parties for the unprecedented and vital endeavour that should be completed without any further delays and interruptions.”

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), under whose authority the audit is being carried out, with international supervision, resumed the process on 3 August, following the Eid holiday, but without the participation of representatives of one of the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah.

Dr. Abdullah’s campaign, the Reform and Partnership Team, rejoined the process today after having sought clarification on the audit, for which the UN has been jointly requested, by the two candidates, to coordinate international supervision.

Meanwhile, more than 200 full-time international observers — hailing from the European Union and including its Election Assessment Team and the American non-governmental organizations National Democratic Institute, Democracy International, as well as Asian Network for Free Elections, are now in auditing warehouses in the capital.


Unrest looms over Afghan vote




Afghan presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory on Tuesday, rejecting preliminary election results that gave his rival, Ashraf Ghani, a lead of a million votes, the Council on Foreign Relations reports:

Abdullah also called on thousands of supporters rallying in Kabul to give him time to plan his next steps and avert a crisis (TOLO). An Abdullah ally and provincial governor called Monday for “widespread civil unrest” and warned of forming a “parallel government,” drawing a swift condemnation from U.S. secretary of state John Kerry, who warned that an extralegal power grab would jeopardize international financial and security support (WSJ). Kerry is expected in Kabul at the end of the week to mediate the crisis (WaPo). Meanwhile, a Taliban suicide bomber killed four NATO troops north of Kabul, as well as twelve civilians and Afghan police (AFP).


Abdullah’s re-engagement in the election process is fundamental to any hope of an outcome to this election which is acceptable to all parties. However, the presence of his observers is also, in a very practical way, crucial to getting an audit that actually scrutinizes the ballots,” writes Kate Clark for the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

“There is pressure on the Afghan government to get this election completed and install a new presidential administration in time to meet the political, economic, and military challenges of the transition period as foreign troops leave. There’s a crucial NATO summit in September, a major meeting of donors in November, and other hurdles that will require a functioning new administration,” International Crisis Group’s Graeme Smith told DeutscheWelle.

“If this moment is decisive, as I suggested, it is because it will determine whether or not Afghan leaders have truly adopted the logic of democracy—as Afghan voters seem to have done—or whether the source of power is ultimately non-institutional, negotiable, the result of behind-the-curtain deals, and permanently dependent on international arbitration,” writes Scott Smith for the Global Observatory.

Afghanistan fraud charges ‘may jeopardize democratic transition’




Afghanistan‘s presidential election has been plunged into crisis after one candidate demanded a halt to vote counting, suspended cooperation with election authorities and called for a UN commission to mediate over “blatant fraud”, The Guardian reports:

It was an unexpectedly strong challenge to an election that had initially been celebrated as a qualified success, with high turnout in both the first round and a 14 June run-off, despite Taliban threats and violence.

Former foreign minister and mujahideen doctor Abdullah Abdullah had already signalled that he was unhappy about preliminary turnout figures for the second round, and wary of large leaps in voter numbers in the strongholds of his rival Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank technocrat.

The Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan (FEFA) spokesman Fahim Naime called on the electoral commissions and presidential candidates not to harm the election process, Deutsche Welle reports.

“We call on the IEC and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve this issue as soon as possible, because as time passes the crisis deepens. If it continues this way, we might reach a point where the commissions won’t be able to resolve these problems,” Naim told DW. He also called on the IEC to take steps in order to restore trust with Abdullah Abdullah.

“In the meantime the candidates should respect the votes of the people and not take such actions that can harm the election process,” Naime said.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says in a DW interview Abdullah has made a dramatic accusation while presenting no substantive evidence. In order to uphold the integrity of the electoral process, Kugelman adds, Afghan election officials probably won’t start to investigate these allegations until the vote counting process has concluded.

An election observer mission from the US-based National Democratic Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy] concluded two days after the poll that “the problems it observed did not appear to be widespread or systematic”.


‘Industrial-scale fraud’ mars Afghan poll?



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, The New York Times reports:

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.

Lessons from Afghanistan: Warlord politics aren’t always bad for democracy?

“Without branding all generals and statesmen as murderers or thieves … a portrait of war makers and state makers as coercive and self-seeking entrepreneurs bears a far greater resemblance to the facts than do its chief alternatives: the idea of a social contract, the idea of an open market … the idea of a society whose shared norms and expectations call forth a certain kind of government.”  Charles Tilly, 1985

As Afghanistan’s election season marches on, Tilly’s unsavory portrait of statesmen as coercive and self-seeking entrepreneurs” seems eerily resonant, according to political scientists Dipali Mukhopadhyay, of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and Frances Z. Brown, of the University of Oxford.

Ten years after co-authoring “Fixing Failed States,” a seminal book on post-conflict statebuilding,  Afghanistan presidential election candidate Ashraf Ghani has aligned himself with a ferocious warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, hoping to exploit the strongman’s ethnic Uzbek voting bloc and his ongoing influence in northern Afghan politics, they write for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

At first glance, these actions seem to run counter to the ideals of democracy and good governance as articulated by international institutions and promoted by NATO. That said, violent warlord showdowns followed by cautious and elite-driven cooperation is exactly what scholars of state formation suggest was key to Europe’s development.

Rather than marauding in the countryside, taking what they want as they go, Afghanistan’s warlords and power brokers have bought into the electoral system and the consolidation of the central state. They see a future in winning elections, not in chopping off the heads of rivals or expanding their territory through violent conquest.

To be sure, the Afghan future holds more than strongmen and muscular rule. Other groups have emerged with the potential to bring about reform and progress. The country claims a young, urbanized elite; a cadre of dedicated, increasingly educated civil servants; and a collection of private entrepreneurs, all bolstered by a robust, growing media sector. But their timeline for influence is longer, and in some ways dependent on the consolidation of security under muscular rule…..

Over the years, outgoing President Hamid Karzai has been criticized for his failure to fight corruption and stem the Taliban insurgency, but he also is seen as a leader who could bring unity to the country’s many ethnic groups and factions, VOA reports.

“He has not put people in jail because they disagreed with him,” said former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. “Freedom of expression has been respected.”

“In my judgment, he inherited a very difficult situation,” said Khalilzad, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, “and Afghanistan has come a long way during his period.”


The international community has invested a great deal to help the Afghan state move toward the ideals of good governance we associate with liberal democracy in the West.  Why has progress been so halting? Mukhopadhyay and Brown ask:

Sociologists, political scientists, and economists argue that state-building has always been an untidy, often violent process in which repeated elite confrontations eventually lead to political bargains. Even when the fighting ends, of course, competition for political power continues, with muscular power persisting as the deal-maker and deal-breaker. 

The international community’s intervention in Afghanistan was not the first attempt to introduce democracy to a conflict-ridden country. Bold, international state-building projects have been attempted across the globe in the past several decades: the Balkans, sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and more recently Iraq. As the foreign-sponsored leaders in this latest incarnation of a well-established model, President Hamid Karzai and his government ticked off the boxes on the now-standard “post-conflict reconstruction” to-do list. ……

For the coming weeks, all eyes are trained on Afghanistan’s presidential runoff. Our research and others’ offer reminders that state formation and (re)formation are often nasty, brutish, and anything but short. State-building can involve campaigning and voting but, in Tilly’s early Europe, it also involved “eliminating, subjugating, dividing, conquering, cajoling, buying as the occasions presented themselves.”

“These are tough words to swallow in the context of a costly, committed effort to introduce democracy to a country whose citizens seek better governance even at risk to their own lives.” they conclude. “As the next chapter of Afghanistan’s evolution unfolds, we should remember that muscle has always had a place in the building of states; perhaps we should check back in two hundred years. “