Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Election Deadlock Gets Worse

Abdullah Abdullah withdraws observers from a recount he originally agreed to.
By Mina Habib
  • Abdullah Abdullah (left) and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. (Photos: US embassy Kabul/Flickr)
    Abdullah Abdullah (left) and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. (Photos: US embassy Kabul/Flickr)

Five months after Afghans came to the polls in record numbers and two months since a second round was held, a winner has yet to be declared.

The uncertainty is stalling the everyday work of government and obstructing growth. Some experts believe the power vacuum is making a bad security situation worse.

In the latest twist, on August 27, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah withdrew his observers from a comprehensive recount of votes cast on June 14. According to Reuters news agency, the United Nations, which is supervising the audit process, asked his rival Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s representatives to pull out as well in the interests of fairness.

A run-off vote was called after none of the candidates in the April 5 polls emerged with an absolute majority of the vote. The two front-runners, Abdullah with 45 per cent and Ashraf Ghani with 32 per cent, stood against one another on June 14, but the former swiftly claimed that his rival had fixed the result.

To keep the electoral process on track, US Secretary of State John Kerry came to Kabul to broker a deal, as a result of which international experts were invited to oversee an audit of every vote cast. But the arguments and recriminations continued.

US president Barack Obama held the latest in a series of phone conversations with both candidates on August 23, calling for progress in deciding a winner.

Speaking the same day, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, said that “if the process of auditing votes does not run into further obstacles or problems, we hope to conclude it within a week-and-a-half and announce a result".

A week before withdrawing his observers from the recount, Abdullah had claimed victory.

"I was the victor in both rounds. There is no doubt about it," he said, although later in the same August 21 speech he acknowledged that "there is as yet no winner as the election result has not been announced".

In an effort to resolve the continuing disputes, Kerry had paid a second visit to Kabul earlier in August and proposed a power-sharing arrangement where the losing candidate would assume the newly-created office of “chief executive”, which over time would accumulate the powers of a prime minister.

In a reference to this idea, Abdullah said that he would not accept the election result unless the chief executive was granted powers equal to those of the president.

Unseemly political battles with no apparent end in sight have been disheartening for voters who turned out in April with such optimism. For some, the situation has reinforced deep-seated suspicions in the democratic process.

"I greatly regret casting my vote. I will never be deceived by such processes in the future,” Kabul resident Zubairullah told IWPR. “Kerry's intervention only strengthened the the Taleban and the Pakistani ISI [intelligence service]. Large numbers of people now believe that the Taleban's war is righteous, and that they were right about Afghanistan being under occupation. Our election has been hijacked by political kidnappers."

Meanwhile, the outgoing president, Hamed Karzai, issued a statement calling for the recount to finish in time for a scheduled inauguration date of September 2 for the new head of state. He said the delay was having an adverse impact in all areas, particularly security, economy and governance.

Frustration at the political impasse has led to daily demonstrations by political parties and civil society groups. On the economic front, Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal claims that the delay has cost Afghanistan five billion US dollars, and warns that if it continues it will lead to financial meltdown. In a BBC interview, Zakhilwal said capital flight amounted to around six billion dollars.

Atiqullah Nasrat, chief executive of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, told IWPR that businessmen were taking their money out of the country because of physical as well as financial risks.

"Many businessmen have been kidnapped during the past few months, and some have even been killed. Hence, many have removed their capital from the country," he said.

More generally, Nasrat said, many factories had reduced production to a minimum or shut down altogether, while customs revenues in the second quarter were 45 per cent down on the same period of 2013.

Central Bank chairman Noorullah Delawari maintained a more upbeat note, saying that while bank deposits dipped a couple of months ago, they had recovered as the public regained its confidence that the candidates would come to terms.

The war with the Taleban continues apace, although opinions differ on whether the election deadlock has encouraged more attacks.

Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi has said that with the election delay and the failure to sign the long-awaited Bilateral Security Pact with the United States, “Our opponents took advantage of the situation and, in collaboration with the Pakistani ISI [intelligence service], attacked some parts of the country."

With an upsurge in fighting in Kunduz in the north, the minister went to that province to take personal charge of military operations.

Defence analyst Atiqullah Amarkhil discounts the US pact as a factor, but agrees that the political situation has given the Taleban a new advantage over the security forces.

"The main reason is that the Afghan armed forces are not national. They are heavily embroiled in their factional, ethnic and linguistic connections,” he said. “A number of high-ranking officers are currently trying to push their preferred candidate into power instead of delivering security. Instead of meeting with their units, these officers are busy meeting leaders of the candidate teams in order to secure places for themselves in a future government. Our [insurgent] opponents are taking advantage of this vacuum to pursue their attacks."

Many Afghans say they have noticed the security situation getting worse.

"Security has deteriorated to a point where I can’t go to distant locations or anywhere outside the city,” said Kabul taxi driver Jamshid. “I used to work until midnight, but now I go home at four in the afternoon. There’s a risk of explosions or suicide attacks at any moment. And there’s the constant possibility they might kill me to get my car."

City police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai acknowledged that security risks had increased because of uncertainty over the election, but insisted things were not as bad as people thought.

"There have undoubtedly been some problems in terms of security and daily life in the past few months in every province of this country as a consequence of the delayed announcement of an election results. But that doesn’t mean the police aren’t working,” Stanekzai said. “We have arrested gangs of kidnappers, drug smugglers, robbers and other criminals over this period."

Mina Habib is an IWPR reporter in Kabul.