Tomorrow, Afghanistan will vote for change

Security has been beefed up across the country for tomorrow’s high-voltage showdown between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who emerged as frontrunners after the first round of elections on April 5. According to Article 61 of the Afghan Constitution, if no candidate manages to secure 50+1 percent votes, the absolute majority required to form the government, the two frontrunners have to face off in the second round. With less than 24 hours to go now, fingers are firmly crossed.

The security challenges are massive and the armed opposition groups have already made their intentions clear. They are bent on disrupting the democratic processes in this country. But, like we saw in the first round, resilience of voters in this country is incredible. They seek democratic change. They have grown weary of war and violence. And, they deserve a better life.

Both candidates have been trying to woo voters with some grandiose promises. Abdullah Abdullah has pledged to promote good governance, alleviate poverty, combat corruption and strengthen security forces. His rival Ashraf Ghani has promised to bring political stability, good governance, rule of law, and reforms in judicial institutions. The campaigning has been fierce and bitter. Unlike in the first round, this time the two candidates pulled out all the stops to not only make their case strong but also make their opponent’s case weak.

Many interesting developments have happened in past few weeks. Zalmai Rasool, the former Foreign Minister who unsuccessfully tried his luck as presidential candidate on April 5, endorsed Dr. Abdullah’s ‘Reform and Integrity’ team. Many elections watchers were expecting him to support Ghani but he chose the opposite route. The former Nangarhar governor Gul Agha Sherzai, who also made an unsuccessful bid in April 5 elections, also leapfrogged into Dr. Abdullah camp. Amrullah Saleh, the former intelligence chief, also announced his support for Dr. Abdullah. Mr. Saleh, known for his heroics as chief of National Directorate of Security (NDS), has a huge following among youth.



But, the most jaw-dropping announcement was made by Rab Rasool Sayyaf, the veteran tribal leader who ended up in fourth place behind Dr, Abdullah, Dr. Ghani and Mr. Rassoul in the first round. There were intense speculations that he might support Ghani but he put all those speculations to rest by declaring his support for Dr. Abdullah at a press conference. 

Dr. Ghani’s ‘Change and Continuity’ team has been boosted by the support of former vice president Zia Masood who was also nominated by Mr. Rassoul as his running mate. Sibghatullah Mujadadi, the former president and chairman of Loya Jirga and Meshrano Jirga, also endorsed Dr. Ghani. Daud Sultanzoi, who unsuccessfully contested the first round elections, also joined Dr. Ghani’s camp. And, he has Abdul Rashid Dostam as his running mate, which can prove significant.

Dr. Ghani, who managed just 33 percent votes in the first round, is likely to improve his tally in the runoff. According to Glevum Associates, a research group, Mr. Ghani has taken a lead (49 percent) over his opponent Abdullah Abdullah (42 percent) ahead of second round elections.

The former advisor to President Karzai, Dr. Ghani is a celebrated anthropologist. He studied at American University, Beirut and Columbia University, U.S. and taught at University of California and John Hopkins University. His political vision is both amalgamated and lucid. He seeks to transform the system and devolve financial powers to the provinces, giving them 40 percent of the national budget. In terms of security, he wants to establish rule of law and end discrimination. Dr. Ghani has also agreed to sign the bilateral security agreement with the U.S. On the question of negotiations with Taliban, he has his priorities spelt out clearly. He wants talks with those Taliban who are not allied to foreign countries, but he does not wish to engage with Al-Qaeda linked groups operating on the soil of Afghanistan.

Dr. Ghani wants to fight corruption, bring accountability and transparency in governmental and nongovernmental projects. To address the issue of violence against women, he wishes to engage religious scholars and preachers. To develop economy, he wants to attract investments by ensuring foolproof security and incentives to potential investors. 



His opponent, Dr. Abdullah, who was the main challenger for President Karzai in 2009 presidential elections, is likely to give a strong fight. An ophthalmologist by training, he jumped the political bandwagon in 1980s when Soviet forces invaded the country. He served as Foreign Minister during Karzai’s first term as President, before he was axed in 2006. 

Dr. Abdullah’s political vision is of a parliamentary system of governance with devolution of power to provinces. He says he will strengthen the security infrastructure and justice institutions. Like his opponent, he has also agreed to end the stalemate over bilateral security pact with the U.S. On the issue of negotiations with Taliban, he says those fighting to decimate the Afghan government will not be spared and those who have genuine grievances would be invited for talks.

To combat corruption and nepotism, Dr. Abdullah wants to introduce meritocracy and rule of law. The trade agreements and development projects, he says, would be monitored by Parliament and Provincial Councils. The institutional prejudice against women would end and they would get adequate representation in political institutions. He wants to generate employment for youth through reforms and promote agriculture to boost the national economy.

Now, it is over to the people of Afghanistan. Tomorrow, they will give their verdict. But, there must be no cases of fraud, which will dent the confidence and trust of people in democratic institutions. The election observers must stay neutral and candidates should gracefully accept the people’s verdict. That will be a real triumph of democracy and disgraceful defeat of naysayers and rabble-rousers.

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