Thinking Aloud: Afghanistan, Election Update

Apr. 21, 2014 by Darius 

More than half of the votes are counted in Afghanistan’s presidential election.  Now the real politicking can begin.

As was expected, it seems no candidate will have secured enough votes to avoid a runoff.  That means the top two candidates will need to engage in some serious political horsetrading to win endorsements from also-rans going into the runoff.  The results also mean that some unsavory people will gain influence in the future government.

Topping the polls at this juncture is Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up to President Hamid Karzai in 2009, long considered the front runner, and now potentially Afghanistan’s first non-Pashtun leader.  (Although Abdullah is actually half Pashtun and half Tajik, he is widely viewed as a Tajik candidate.)  Abdullah has received 44.4% of the vote, though counting continues.

Coming in second and thus heading to a runoff with Abdullah is Ashraf Ghani, former Afghan finance minister and World Bank official, who got about 33% of the vote at this point in the counting.  Ghani himself, who is Pashtun, was likely not the biggest pull for his supporters; that title would go to his VP, the unofficial leader of Afghanistan’s Uzbek community who embraces the title “warlord.”

The third-place vote-getter was Zalmai Rassoul, a Pashtun confidant of President Karzai.  He has won about 10% of the vote thus far; in other words, he holds the balance between Ghani and Abdullah.  Who will he choose to support?

Finally, in fourth was Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf, who won 7% of the vote.  Sayyaf represents just about every backward element in Afghanistan, not least of which are tribalism and Islamic fundamentalism.  (This was the guy who invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan.  That worked out well for Afghanistan.)  Unfortunately for Afghanistan, Sayyaf’s share of the vote is valuable to the candidates in the runoff.  To secure that vote, someone will probably need to give him and his VP (a Tajik warlord) some serious concessions.

There were hopes that the various candidates, especially the six who will not be in the runoff, would be able to get together to present a united front of support.  There were even hopes that Ghani or Abdullah could be persuaded to drop out entirely in return for a high position in the next government, avoiding a runoff altogether.  It remains to be seen if these events will materialize.

What is certain, though, is that a lot of people will be promised a lot of things in the days to come.  In some cases, those agreements might be good for national unity, but in other cases those agreements might nudge Afghanistan towards its darker past.  But regardless if one is a democrat or a chieftain, it’s all a familiar part of the game.

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