Afghanistan Winners and Losers
By casting their votes against all odds, Afghan voters have emerged as the real winners in the 2014 presidential elections.
By casting their votes in face of threats, Afghan voters have emerged as the real winners in the 2014 presidential elections.
While final results about the winners and losers of the June 14 run-off polls, contested between two former ministers in President Hamid Karzai cabinet, will take a few more weeks to be made public, those who scored the real victory in the elections were the Afghan people themselves.
Despite facing numerous odds, threats and intimidations, war-weary Afghan men and women thronged polling stations for the second time in less than two months to elect their future leader through a democratic process.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who was a runner-up in the 2009 presidential polls, once again failed to bag the required 50 percent plus one of the total polled votes on April 4 and thus the presidential election went into the second phase, with Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as Abdullah’s runner-up.
Unlike the April 4 polls, the second phase on June 14 witnessed an overwhelming support for Ashraf Ghani, who is an ethnic Pashtun hailing from the country’s central Logar province. His support was particularly good in the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan.
Unofficial figures have revealed that Ashraf Ghani is leading with at least a million votes while Dr. Abdullah, who once aspired to be the successor of President Hamid Karzai, has already leveled allegations of fraud and rigging in the elections.
Unlike the first phase, where a total of 11 candidates were in the field, with nine of them being ethnic Pashtuns, tactics such as an appeal to ethnicities and even cheap tricks to grab votes were very much visible in the second phase which was a oneon-one contest between Ashraf Ghani, who represented the Pashtuns, and Abdullah Abdullah, who represented the Tajiks and Panjsheris.
It was an appeal to the respective ethnicities that doubled the vote bank of Ashraf Ghani in the Pashtun belt in the south and east where a large number of people even defied their tribal elders and warlords who were supporting Dr. Abdullah.
This caused some bad blood in the rival groups that may lead to problems in the days ahead for the future president. However, it is most likely that the differences would dissipate over time.
It is generally believed that despite the allegations and counter-allegations, the two sides are likely to come to terms on how to steer the country out of the present crisis, including the security situation and the fragile economy.
Another important development seen during the two phases of the Afghan presidential polls was the Taliban’s inability to disrupt the polls despite threats and orders to the people to stay away from polling stations.
This gives credence to the general belief among the Afghans and a number of local and international analysts that the Afghan National Army (ANA) has enough strength and expertise to defend the country against the Taliban after the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2014.
Regardless of whether the Taliban were unable or unwilling to disrupt the polls, the successful and uninterrupted election has encouraged the common Afghans and cemented their trust in their country’s security forces. Besides, we have seen many examples of Afghans who overwhelmingly participated in the election despite threats.
Jawaz Jan, a resident of Tanai district of the south-eastern Khost province, whom this writer talked over the telephone, related a moving tale. His daughter passed away on June 14 (the polling day) but he did not announce her death till the end of the polling time lest his village people did not go to the polling station and would attend the funeral.
Similarly, as the democratic process in Afghanistan is taking root, the warlords, who subjugated the common Afghans for decades, are now on the way out. For instance, none of the notorious powerful men and warlords managed to emerge as front runners either in 2009 or in 2014.
Instead, people like Hamid Karzai and now (almost) Ashraf Ghani have been preferred by the Afghan people to be their future leaders. The continuation of the system, despite all its weaknesses, is a guarantee of bringing an end to the culture of warlordism that had become prevalent in Afghanistan over the past three decades.
As for the two presidential hopefuls, both have explicitly expressed their willingness to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States while President Hamid Karzai continued to reject the agreement following his serious differences with the U.S., the key backer of the Afghan government.
Being a former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah is well-known among Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan and India. Similarly, Ashraf Ghani also served in President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet as finance minister and has been respected for his straightforward approach to issues such as corruption and administrative reforms.
Apart from the declining security
situation, the two other biggest challenges facing the next Afghan president will be the ever-increasing corruption and weak economy. Many Afghans, whom this writer spoke to, believe that Ashraf Ghani has the capacity to wage a relentless war against administrative corruption while he can also improve the country’s economy.
As finance minister in the President Hamid Karzai-led transitional government (till 2004), some of Ashraf Ghani’s key achievements included tough measures against corruption, long-term planning and suggestions for poverty eradication, overhauling of the customs, issuance of new currency in a record time, adoption of nondeficit financing and centralization of revenues.
It is generally believed that his coming to power would be a good omen for Afghanistan’s falling economy and would help bring the widespread corruption under control. His occasional ill-temper, however, is seen as one of his major weaknesses, particularly when it comes to his future relations with tribal elders and opponents from other ethnicities.
The preliminary results of the runoff polls are not going to be made public before July 2 and may follow a period of sharp differences between the winning and losing parties. However, Afghan analysts believe that any of the two candidates who makes his way to the presidential palace would follow an inclusive approach, which will guarantee his five-year term in the palace. The writer contributes to the Christian Science Monitor and Sunday Times.