Post-electoral political doom in Afghanistan

Post-electoral political doom in Afghanistan

Author

Despite pulling off a safer polling day than expected, Afghanistan now braces for a prolonged period of political uncertainty and potential violence in the wake of the presidential elections that took place last month, after delays since last year.
This was the fourth election since the toppling of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and fifteen people contested for the presidential crown with the incumbent Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah as most favored candidates for the presidency.
Voter turn-out at 26 percent of the nine million registered voters, was at an all-time low since 2004. There are many reasons that help explain this; the Afghan people are fatigued with the election process and massive fraud allegations in past elections (2009, 2014 and 2018) which have made some believe their votes were hijacked and their opinion doesn’t really matter. Secondly, the Taliban had threatened attacks on polling stations which scared people off, fearing for their lives. Approximately 2,500 polling stations out of a possible 7,366 polling stations nation-wide were closed due to the security situation.
Results for the elections are expected on Saturday, and if neither candidate secures over half the votes, a second round of elections will take place. At this point, the election commission can postpone the round-off to a couple of months using any excuse, and leading to a weaker government.
A round-off does seem a probable outcome, and former warlord and presidential candidate Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, along with a chorus of other candidates, has displayed a lack of faith in the electoral system while maintaining that the process was fraudulent. He stated during his interview to VOA earlier this month: ‘There is no winner in the first round. Both teams, Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, claiming victory are lying.’

The outcome of the election results at this crucial juncture will determine the future of the war-torn nation. Non-acceptance of election results by the losing candidate has the potential to further divide the nation and polarize Afghan society on ethnic lines in a nation already rife with problems.

Naila Mahsud


At this time, both the candidates are claiming a clear win before results are announced so that the winner will be able to stave off fraud allegations and be ready to make power-sharing arrangements with the losing party, which is reminiscent of the 2014 presidential polls, where the US brokered an odd power sharing arrangement making Ghani president. But this time, both candidates maintain they will not accept any arrangement which brings deeper cracks in the already fragile political scenario of Afghanistan.
The election result can cause a massive divide in the two camps due to low voter turnout, especially in insecure areas. For example, voter turn-out was depressed in the Northern and Western provinces where Abdullah has a strong hold while the south and south east saw a spike in votes where Ghani claims his support, which strengthens his rivals’ allegations of election fraud.
What’s even more alarming in the wake of the election is the ethnic divide it is causing, the same divide which brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2014.
The political elite’s major enemy, the Taliban, were left stranded after the US cancelled its peace negotiations with the group, a move that was taken positively by the Afghan civilian government, but resulted in a cutback of $160 million of funding, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating that the authorities in charge of monitoring and evaluating corruption were ‘incapable of being a partner.’ This puts the political situation in a more vulnerable position than ever, with a massive trust deficit from the ‘partner’ countries of the Afghan government.
Taliban, more agitated after the abrupt withdrawal of the US from peace talks, will find the power vacuum packed with opportunities where the political elite is divided and the Taliban are unified. The recent trips made by the Taliban delegation to different world capitals will also help give them leverage, even as they legitimize them. Spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, stated that the political uncertainty in Kabul is of no concern to them since the Taliban consider the elections illegitimate. This further indicates the staunch opposition of Taliban to a political government, which leaves little room for a peaceful settlement between the two.
The outcome of the election results at this crucial juncture will determine the future of the war-torn nation. Non-acceptance of election results by the losing candidate has the potential to further divide the nation and polarize Afghan society on ethnic lines in a nation already rife with problems.
With the US still in a hurry to leave Afghanistan, any further divisions could be disastrous for the country, especially when the Taliban have managed to establish their writ over great portions of the war-torn region ever since they were ousted from power in 2001.

– Naila Mahsud is a Pakistani political and International relations researcher, with a focus on regional politics and security issues. Twitter: @MahsudNaila

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view