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

Afghans Reconciled With Election Results

Majority seem relieved they will not have to take part in second round of voting.
By Mustafa Saber, Mohammad Ishaq, Aziz Ahmad Tassal

The news that Hamed Karzai had been declared the winner of Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election came as no surprise to most of his countrymen.



But his default victory, gained when his challenger, Dr Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the race, seemed a bit hollow when contrasted with the clear mandate he had hoped to gain in the run-off scheduled for November 7.



Still, the majority of Afghans seemed to be relieved that they would not be asked to take part in a second round of voting. Many had already written off the electoral process, but were nevertheless grateful that there would not be a repeat of the dangers of the first round in August, a day that saw more than 400 attacks registered around the country.



“I didn’t care which candidate won or lost,” said Sher Aqa 25, a resident of Herat city in western Afghanistan. “I am just happy it is over, and we can get back to business. The delay in elections had caused everything to stop, and we were not able to make any money.”



Noor Mohammad, a taxi driver in Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Balkh province in the north, agrees.



“Everyone was counting the minutes until the results of the election were announced,” he said. “People were losing money every day, and security was deteriorating. In the past two months, I wasn’t even able to earn enough for heat and food. Now thank God we have a president, things are getting better and we will be able to prepare for winter.”



But the long-drawn-out spectacle of the election and its aftermath has caused confusion and bitterness. Much of the ire seems directed at the international community, whose all-too-obvious meddling angered Afghans and left them feeling disenfranchised.



For weeks, a steady parade of foreign dignitaries has marched in and out of Kabul, conducting diplomacy and arm-twisting in almost equal measure. It was through the efforts of United States senator John Kerry that the Afghan president agreed to a run-off election in the first place. On November 2, the day that the Independent Election Commission canceled the second round of voting and declared Karzai the winner, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was in town to lend his support.



Abdurrahman Salehi, a political analyst in Herat, believes the IEC exceeded its mandate.



“The IEC does not have the authority to determine the destiny of Afghanistan,” he said. “What the law allows the IEC to do is to observe, control and hold the elections – not announcing one of the candidates as the winner.”



Questions have been raised over the IEC decision because Karzai did not gain the 50-per cent-plus-one vote necessary for victory. But once his only opponent withdrew, citing fears of a repeat of the fraud that marred the first round, Karzai was the only choice left, and few were inclined to quibble over technicalities.



“In all games, and politics as well, when one of two rivals withdraws, the one left in the ring is the winner,” said Dr Abdul Wakil Matin, a political analyst in the north.



Some of the country’s tribal leaders are unhappy with the outcome of the election, and want to conduct business in the traditional Afghan way – with a Loya Jirga, or a Grand Council.



“Instead of letting foreigners make all our decisions for us, we should have a Loya Jirga and do it ourselves,” insisted Gul Mohammad, a tribal elder in Balkh, a province in northern Afghanistan.



While Karzai gets to keep his seat for the next five years, many think his presidency will lack credibility.



“Karzai’s government will have no legitimacy,” said Ahmad Jawed, a fourth-year student in the literature department of Balkh University. “He was elected by the IEC, not by the people.”



Karzai’s team in Herat has no trouble with the cancellation of the run-off, and no questions about the IEC’s decision. They still have not conceded that their candidate failed to win the first time around. Once again, they say, the culprit in the protracted crisis was the international community.



“We won already in the first round,” said Hesamuddin Shams, a Karzai campaigner in Herat. “But foreigners brought political pressure on the complaints commission and … defamed the election.”



But some Heratis were devastated that they would not get the chance to take part in a free and fair election.



“We waited so long, hoping that there would be a transparent second round,” said Abdul Qayum Abdullahi, a resident of Herat city. “Now our hope has changed to despair.”



Another Herat resident, Maryam, thinks the IEC’s announcement was hasty.



“They should have had both candidates participate in the elections so people could choose between them,” she said. “Instead, without any consideration, they just imposed a president on us.”



In Helmand, in the war-ravaged south, the reaction was much the same.



“This election was not for the people,” said Belal Ahmad, a resident of Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. “Whatever America wants will happen.”



Esmat, also from the town, was similarly downcast.



“We need a change,” he said. “If Karzai is just going to be imposed on us as president again, things will remain the same. Abdullah should have won, he would have brought changes. We do not need a president like Karzai any more. We need democracy.”



Abdul Latif Sahak contributed to this report from Mazar-e-Sharif; Mustafa Saber and Mohammad Ishaq Quraishi from Herat, and Aziz Ahmad Tassal from Helmand.