August 11, 2014 by Darius
The contested Afghan presidential election is well into its recount. Both candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have agreed to (a) abide by the recount’s results and (b) form a national unity government and share power regardless of the outcome. Most of the controversy of the recount stems from the fact that Abdullah handily won the first round of voting (garnering 45% of the vote to Ghani’s 31%), but Ghani appeared to have won the second round with an alleged 56% of the vote. While this, in and of itself, is not outside the realm of possibility, the patterns of voting in the second round were highly … unusual.
The number of total voters jumped remarkably between the first and second rounds of voting: nationwide turnout went from 6.5 million in the first round to 8.1 million. Nearly all the new votes went for Ghani. That can mean one of two things: first, an incredibly impressive get-out-the-vote effort by Ghani’s campaign, aided by better weather on the runoff day of polling and Taliban cooperation. Or it could mean massive electoral manipulation.
The Washington Post ran a nice story yesterday detailing anecdotes of alleged fraud in the province of Logar, as a case in point (“Logar Offers Window Onto Afghan Vote Debacle,” The Washington Post, August 10, 2014, p.A12, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghanistans-logar-province-offers-a-window-into-disputed-presidential-vote/2014/08/08/56ac6288-1eb3-11e4-9b6c-12e30cbe86a3_story.html). In the first round of voting, Ghani received approximately 21,000 votes, while Abdullah received about 6,000. In the second round, though, Ghani’s haul increased to 85,500 votes—and Abdullah’s stayed at 8,700. Pro-Abdullah election observers also alleged that ballot boxes went missing, that elders voted for 50 people other than themselves, that women were bused from one polling station to another, voting repeatedly, and that one village with 450 houses returned 7,000 votes for Ghani. Ghani’s supporters in Logar claim that the numbers are due to a door-to-door campaign that reassured local elders about Ghani and Taliban fighters in the area were persuaded not to interfere.
It would be too much to expect an entirely fraud-free election, this being Afghanistan’s second competitive election ever. But if this election is stolen by fraud, as indications suggest was intended, it sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of Afghan democracy. And Afghan democracy faces enough challenges anyway.