At The Croass­roads

As the Afghan na­tion goes to the polls for the sec­ond round, it is feared that the voting pat­terns will be more eth­nic than is­sue-based.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Aj­mal Shams The writer is the pres­i­dent of the Afghanistan So­cial Demo­cratic Party (Afghan Mil­lat Party) and is based in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Voting pat­terns in the sec­ond round of elec­tions will be more eth­nic than is­sue-based.

The endgame of the Afghan pres­i­den­tial elec­tions is get­ting closer with the an­nounce­ment of the fi­nal re­sult that placed Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani face-to-face in a run-off to be held in mid-June. Out of the eight pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls, none man­aged to se­cure the re­quired vote count of more than 50 per­cent to reach vic­tory in the first round. The ini­tial eu­pho­ria re­gard­ing the high turnout was some­how over­shad­owed by the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion and the al­le­ga­tions of elec­tion fraud by ri­val sides.

As per the fi­nal re­sults, Dr. Ab­dul­lah fin­ished first with 45 per­cent votes fol­lowed by Dr. Ghani with around 32 per­cent votes. The Con­sti­tu­tion of Afghanistan re­quires that if none of the can­di­dates re­ceives more than fifty per­cent votes in the ini­tial round of the elec­tions, the top two can­di­dates in the race have to face a run-off. The mul­ti­plic­ity of con­tenders di­vided the vote bank, thus block­ing an out­right vic­tory in the first round for all. A deep in­sight into the dy­nam­ics of Afghan pol­i­tics shows that too many can­di­dates caused more harm to the vote bank of Dr. Ghani than to that of Dr. Ab­dul­lah’s. Ex­cept for Dr. Ab­dul­lah, all other can­di­dates picked up votes from con­stituen­cies which were thought to be Dr. Ghani’s strongholds.

Now that a run-off elec­tion is around the cor­ner, both Ab­dul­lah and Ghani have stepped up ef­forts to coopt the drop-out can­di­dates, es­pe­cially those hav­ing a mod­est per­cent­age of votes. As of now, Dr. Zal­mai Ras­soul and Gul Agha Sherzai, the for­mer gover­nor of Nan­garhar, have joined Ab­dul­lah’s team. How­ever, this does not mean that they will bring with them their en­tire vote bank too as most of their key sup­port­ers have al­ready given up their re­spec­tive teams in fa­vor of Dr. Ghani. Yet, the real votes are in the hands of the Afghan people who seem to have lit­tle al­le­giance to their pre­sumed lead­ers.

Afghanistan stands at a cross­roads dur­ing this elec­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, the evo­lu­tion of Afghan pol­i­tics over the past sev­eral decades has some­how po­lar­ized the na­tion along eth­nic and lin­guis­tic lines. As the Afghans go to the polls for the sec­ond round, it is feared that the voting pat­terns will be more eth­nic than is­sue-based. The Pash­tuns are more in­clined to vote for Ghani while the Ta­jik mi­nor­ity will stand be­hind Ab­dul­lah. Sim­i­larly, the Uzbeks will vote for Ghani while the Hazaras might be di­vided be­tween Ab­dul­lah and Ghani be­cause their lead­ers are present in both par­ties.

Al­though such voting be­hav­ior is not a good omen for na­tional unity, the last 30 years of wars and con­flicts have po­lar­ized the Afghan so­ci­ety along eth­nic lines and this is now the re­al­ity of Afghan power pol­i­tics. One as­pect which is en­cour­ag­ing though is the ap­par­ent neu­tral­ity of Pres­i­dent Karzai him­self. Sup­port from his govern­ment ma­chin­ery is di­vided be­tween Ab­dul­lah and Ghani.

In spite of spo­radic ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and mis­con­duct, both the In­de­pen­dent Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (IEC) and the Com­plaints Com­mis­sion (CC) seem to have done a good job in a dif­fi­cult

coun­try like Afghanistan where the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment and the dif­fi­cult ge­o­graph­i­cal ter­rain were a daunt­ing chal­lenge. For a young democ­racy that is still on its way to sta­bil­ity, the per­for­mance of the rel­e­vant state agencies is com­mend­able, es­pe­cially the na­tional se­cu­rity forces that kept the Elec­tion Day rel­a­tively calm and se­cure.

Ab­dul­lah and Ghani pos­sess two very dif­fer­ent profiles. One fea­ture com­mon be­tween both is the de­sire for change. Yet, the na­ture of change planned by both lead­ers is de­bat­able. The two lead­ers have very dif­fer­ent vi­sions for the po­lit­i­cal fu­ture of Afghanistan. While Ab­dul­lah in­sists on em­pow­er­ing those who had taken an ac­tive part in the ji­had against the Soviet Union and later against the Tal­iban, Dr. Ghani stands for a more in­clu­sive govern­ment that will co­a­lesce all po­lit­i­cal forces in the coun­try, even­tu­ally pav­ing the way for na­tional unity.

While it is true that Dr. Ab­dul­lah has had a long-stand­ing ca­reer in Afghan pol­i­tics, his as­so­ci­a­tion with the Ta­jik-based Jamiat-i-Is­lami and his mainly pro-Ta­jik acts as a for­mer for­eign min­is­ter have tar­nished his im­age among Pash­tuns, the largest eth­nic group in the coun­try. Dr. Ghani, on the other hand, is more of a states­man and has world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for his in­ter­na­tional work on state build­ing. His ef­forts to­wards the re­con­struc­tion of Afghanistan, es­pe­cially his ser­vices in at­tract­ing fund­ing for war-rav­aged Afghanistan, have given him a na­tional im­age. Some rea­sons for his lower rank­ing in the elec­tions were his lack of fi­nan­cial re­sources, weak or­ga­ni­za­tion of his cam­paign team and di­vi­sion of his vote bank among too many con­tenders.

Dr. Ghani and his team has al­ready shown high con­fi­dence and ini­ti­ated re­newed ef­forts to give a sur­prise in the sec­ond round by get­ting the re­quired ma­jor­ity. Dr. Ab­dul­lah has his own as­ser­tions of out­right vic­tory in the run-off due to his psy­cho­log­i­cal edge of the high­est vote-taker. It looks like Dr. Ab­dul­lah’s higher per­cent­age of votes will have a mo­ti­vat­ing ef­fect on Ghani’s sup­port­ers, most of whom were pas­sive sup­port­ers dur­ing the first round and did not bother to go to polling sta­tions.

Ab­dul­lah and Ghani also dif­fer on fun­da­men­tal is­sues fac­ing the coun­try, in­clud­ing the peace process with the Tal­iban and the form of govern­ment they will in­herit from Karzai. Whereas Ab­dul­lah in­sists on a par­lia­men­tary form of govern­ment and fed­er­al­ism, Dr. Ghani is more in fa­vor of a uni­tary state with a pres­i­den­tial form of govern­ment due to the po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ity of Afghanistan while del­e­gat­ing more pow­ers to the prov­inces in­stead of out­right fed­er­al­ism. Also, Ghani, who is an econ­o­mist, has a vi­sion for re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion that could ul­ti­mately help in dif­fus­ing ten­sions among Afghanistan and its neigh­bors. On the other hand, Ab­dul­lah and his team do not seem to have a sim­i­lar eco­nomic vi­sion for the re­gion, al­though po­lit­i­cally they are more or­ga­nized.

The main con­cern dur­ing the up­com­ing run-off elec­tions will be the voting pat­tern that is feared to be highly po­lar­ized along eth­nic lines. In ad­di­tion, the ac­cep­tance of the re­sults by the los­ing can­di­date is an­other daunt­ing chal­lenge. It might be pre-ma­ture to say who the win­ner of the run-off elec­tion will be, but it is cer­tain that the up­com­ing po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in Afghanistan is not with­out its chal­lenges. In such a sit­u­a­tion, ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion to en­sure a peace­ful trans­fer of power is not only the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the in­cum­bent govern­ment and the con­tenders in the run-off elec­tions, but also of the en­tire Afghan na­tion that will go to the polls with dig­nity and courage and is ex­pected to ex­hibit a sim­i­lar spirit once the re­sults are an­nounced.

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