How Dr. Abdullah lost the plot in runoff

The widely anticipated preliminary results of the presidential runoff announced on Monday by the Independent Election Commission (IEC), after much dilly-dallying, is generating intense debate in political and intelligentsia circles. While many people have hailed it as a thumping victory of democracy in this war-weary country, the damning allegations of fraud and rigging have cast a murky shadow over these historic elections, which will mark the first political transition here.

In the preliminary results announced by the IEC, former World Bank official Dr. Ashraf Ghani with 56.44 percent votes is in the lead, while his rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is trailing behind with 43.56 percent votes. Dr. Ghani, according to preliminary results, has garnered 4.485 million votes and Dr. Abdullah has got 3.461 million votes, with the massive difference of 1.024 million votes.

In the first round held on April 6, Dr. Abdullah was leading with 45.00 percent votes, and Dr. Ghani was trailing behind with 31.56 percent votes. The equation changed dramatically in the period between first and second round and in all likelihood Dr. Ghani is going to succeed Hamid Karzai as the next President of Afghanistan.

The past few months have been insanely hectic, not only for the presidential hopefuls but also for the voters. Being asked to rush to polling stations twice in two months, considering the precarious security environment and the ominous threats from born-again armed insurgents, is never easy. The success of these elections is a tribute to the resilience and never-say-die spirit of Afghan voters, besides the Afghan security forces who did commendable job in protecting the voters.

While these preliminary results have brought cheer to people in southern areas, it has drawn outrage and anger in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. The southern provinces, with majority Pashto population, have massively given their verdict in favor of Dr. Ghani. The northern provinces, with majority Tajik population, expectedly voted for Dr. Abdullah. However, compared to first round, Dr. Ghani managed to garner higher percentage of votes from southern provinces this time, while Dr. Abdullah’s vote share from northern provinces did not see any significant increase.

In southern Khost province, for instance, Dr. Ghani received 97.09 percent votes compared to Dr. Abdullah’s 2.91 percent votes. In the first round, Dr. Ghani had received 74.01 votes and Dr. Abdullah 3.57 percent votes. There is no significant jump in the vote share of Dr. Abdullah, but Dr. Ghani has got higher percentage of votes. The votes garnered by Qutubuddin Hilal (11.92 percent) and Zalmai Rasool (7.62 percent) in Khost province in the first round also went to Dr. Ghani in the second round, which shows Mr. Rasool’s campaigning for Dr. Abdullah backfired in Khost, like in other southern provinces.

In Kandahar province, Dr. Ghani bagged 84.01 percent votes compared to Dr. Abdullah’s 15.99 percent. In the first round Dr. Ghani had managed just 13.90 percent votes in this province, which means a significant jump of 70 percent. Dr. Abdullah, who got 10.61 percent votes, saw mere 5 percent increase in his vote share, so it is safe to suggest the votes that went to Mr. Rasool (53.96 percent) and Gul Agha Sherzai (16.02 percent) in the first round went to Dr. Ghani in the second round. Interestingly, both Mr. Gul Sherzai and Mr. Rasool had endorsed Dr. Abdullah in the second round.

In Kunar province, Dr. Ghani received 87.97 percent votes compared to Dr. Abdullah’s 12.03 percent. In the first round, Dr. Ghani accumulated 64.76 percent votes here, which means a jump of 23 percent. On the other hand, Dr. Abdullah got 12.35 percent votes in the first round, so his vote share remained static. Mr. Rasool’s (11.09 percent) and Rab Rasool Sayyaf’s (6.91 percent) votes also went to Dr. Ghani in the second round.
 

The votes garnered by Qutubuddin Hilal (11.92 percent) and Zalmai Rasool (7.62 percent) in Khost province in the first round also went to Dr. Ghani in the second round, which shows Mr. Rasool’s campaigning for Dr. Abdullah backfired in Khost, like in other southern provinces


In Nangarhar province, Dr. Ghani received 77.63 percent votes compared to Dr. Abdullah’s 22.37 percent votes. In the first round, Dr. Ghani got 59.80 percent votes here and Dr. Abdullah got 19.00 percent votes, which shows how the former took away the votes of Mr. Rasool (7.53 percent) and Mr. Sayyaf (7.17 percent), both of whom supported Dr. Abdullah in the second round.

In northern provinces like Panjshir, Balkh, Badakshan, Kunduz, Dr. Abdullah managed to prevail, though there was no significant increase in his vote share. In Panjshir, his home province, voters reposed confidence in him with 93.65 percent votes, compared to Dr. Ghani’s 6.35 percent votes. But, quite astonishingly, both the candidates saw 6 percent jumps in their vote share, which did not happen in any southern province where Dr. Ghani prevailed quite convincingly.

In Badakhshan province, Dr. Abdullah again prevailed over Dr. Ghani, accumulating 79.32 percent votes against Dr. Ghani’s 20.68 percent votes. In the first round, Dr. Abdullah got 64.85 percent votes here while Dr. Ghani got 14.43 percent votes. While the vote share of Dr. Abdullah has seen a jump of 15 percent, Dr. Ghani has also boosted his vote share by 6 percent. Contrary to what we saw in some southern provinces, the vote share of Dr. Abdullah in northern provinces did not jump so massively.

In Kapisa province, Dr. Abdullah received 87.36 percent votes against Dr. Ghani’s 12.64 percent votes. In the first round, Dr. Abdullah got 78.81 percent votes here while Dr Ghani ended up with mere 4.12 percent votes. In the second round, the jump in vote share is almost same for both the candidates, which has surprised many political pundits who expected former to put up a better show.

In Herat, one of the biggest provinces in Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah received 63.65 percent votes while Dr. Ghani managed 36.35 percent votes. In the first round, Dr. Abdullah got 61.15 percent votes against Dr. Ghani’s 11.08 percent votes. To the surprise of many Dr. Abdullah votaries, his vote share decreased by almost 3 percent while his rival’s vote share jumped by 25 percent. This arithmetic must force Dr. Abdullah’s team to introspect to see where they lost the plot.

The biggest surprise, however, came from Kabul. Dr. Ghani, who managed just 31.62 percent votes in Kabul in the earlier round, got 51.83 percent votes in the second round. Dr. Abdullah, who was the clear winner in Kabul in the first round with 49.62 percent votes, got 48.17 percent votes in the second round, with one percent decrease. The vote share of Mr. Rasool (8.26) and Mr. Sayoof (7.53 percent) went to Dr. Ghani, much to the surprise of both the former presidential hopefuls.
 

Dr. Abdullah, who was the clear winner in Kabul in the first round with 49.62 percent votes, got 48.17 percent votes in the second round, with one percent decrease


The preliminary results show that Dr. Abdullah did not actually lose his vote bank in northern provinces, where he still yields considerable political clout. What dented his prospects is the fact that Dr. Ghani not only improved his tally in southern provinces but also increased his vote share in northern provinces. Dr. Abdullah could not do that in southern provinces, where his rival made a clean sweep.

The endorsement by former presidential hopefuls like Mr. Rasool, Mr. Sayyaf and Mr. Sherzai, who have large following in southern provinces, did not help the cause of Dr. Abdullah. The votes of these three candidates went to Dr. Ghani in almost all the provinces, which proves the Afghan voters do not follow anyone blindly. It also shows that the tribal affiliation continues to dominate the political discourse and who the presidential candidate is matters more than what he says or promises.

The reports about fraud and rigging in elections cannot be entirely dismissed though. Yousuf Nuristani, the Chief of IEC, also acknowledged the incidents of fraud did happen in runoff, but he said the IEC took all possible measures to ensure transparency in the results. Election frauds are bound to happen in a post-conflict country where democratic institutions are still evolving but it is the level of fraud that determines the success and failure of elections. 

According to IEC, 8,109,403 people cast their votes in the second round of elections, of which 37.63 percent were female voters and 62.37 percent were male voters. Dr. Abdullah’s team, however, says they expected 7 million turnout in runoff, and 8 million turnout defies logic, especially in some provinces where the number of votes cast is alarmingly higher than the number of eligible voters.

The negotiations between the two candidates, facilitated by local and international mediators, are going on. The mediation by United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), however, has drawn sharp criticism from the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC). The Chief of IECC Abdul Sattar Sadat a few days back asked the IEC to not allow international organizations “interfere” in the election process.

Last week, President Karzai appointed his deputy to resolve the issues that have cropped up in the wake of allegations of fraud leveled by Dr. Abdullah’s team. UNAMA also arranged a meeting between the two presidential candidates, which was attended by many senior foreign diplomats including the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul. That perhaps did not go down well with IECC Chief, who saw it as “interference” in the work of election commissions.

Coming out all guns blazing against the IEC, Dr. Abdullah’s team rejected the preliminary results, alleging industrial fraud. They accused the IEC of not segregating clean votes from fraudulent votes. Their concerns are not totally unwarranted and they are within their rights to raise the complaints of fraud and rigging; however, accepting the people’s verdict should be the only way forward.

Both the teams have already agreed to reevaluation of 7000 ballot boxes, and before announcing the final results, the IEC and IECC must make sure all the complaints of fraud are addressed dispassionately. That will not only soothe the nerves of Dr. Abdullah’s supporters but also restore the faith of young voters in the democratic institutions of this country.

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