Was Afghanistan’s Election A Farce?

Afghans Head To The Polls In Presidential Run-Off

Chris Mason sounds the alarm:

The  runoff round of the Afghan presidential election on June 14 was massively rigged, and the ensuing election audit was “unsatisfactory,” a result of Afghan government-orchestrated fraud on a scale exceeding two million fake votes, completely subverting the will of the Afghan people. That is the watered-down conclusion of the press release of the European Union’s yet-to-be-released report detailing its thorough and non-partisan investigation of the entire Afghan election. The report was completed last week, according to sources in Kabul who have seen it, but political pressure has so far resulted in heavy redaction and kept it from public release.

The key point is this: Ashraf Ghani did not win the election.

The U.S. Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) concluded in July that it was mathematically impossible for Ghani to win, given Afghan demographics and the initial 46 percent to 32 percent first-round vote spread, according to sources familiar with the analysis. According to sources who reviewed the private report, the top experts in statistical analysis in the United States used every known computer model of election balloting and concluded that a Ghani victory was scientifically impossible. In simple terms, there is no mathematical doubt that Abdullah Abdullah won.

Though he admits there was “massive fraud,” Jonathan Murray defends the election:

As an auditor, I personally invalidated thousands of votes — a task which I did not take lightly. But in a country that has never before experienced a peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another, fraud and imperfect elections are to be expected. Democracy will mature over time in Afghanistan, and in five years elections will be more legitimate than they are now, and even more legitimate five years after that.

Some elections “experts” and academics will call the 2014 runoff a farce, and in some ways, that may be true. Nonetheless, the Afghan people who stood up to the Taliban and risked their lives to go to the polls deserved a clear and decisive result, and one which reflected the will of the people. I know more than a few Afghans questioned the point of the runoff if there was just going to be a power sharing agreement anyway. But the fact that these questions are being asked in the first place show that Afghans know just how much is at stake when it comes to future elections; while this will discourage some who will stay home next time, others will work that much harder for more transparency, less fraud, and higher participation.

Jonah Blank remains hopeful:

Just as Afghanistan has been lucky in its choice of president, it has been fortunate in its choice of opposition leader. Abdullah is a veteran of the bloody conflicts of the 1990s. But, unlike many of his comrades and adversaries from that period, he is sober-minded, responsible, and moderate. The past few months have sown some ill will between him and Ghani, but he has shown himself able to rise above personal politics before: he did so when he joined Karzai’s first administration as foreign minister, he did so when he reined in potentially violent supporters after losing a fraud-ridden presidential contest to Karzai in 2009, and he did so when he resisted the threats of present-day backers (such as Atta Muhammad, the governor of Balkh) to launch a civil war in support of his most recent campaign. Abdullah saw Kabul’s future as a bomb-strewn rubble field and had no desire to be president of it.

Reasons for guarded optimism, however, go much deeper. Perhaps even more important than the election result itself is the power-sharing agreement that Ghani and Abdullah (aided by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) finalized over the weekend. Under this arrangement, Abdullah or his proxy will serve as the government’s chief executive, a newly created post that is expected to evolve into a prime ministership. Why is a rejiggering of the Afghan government so important? Because many of Afghanistan’s failures over the past dozen years have resulted from a mismatch between the structure of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government and the realities on the ground.

(Photo: Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani holds up his inked finger as he speaks to media after casting his vote at a polling station on June 14, 2014 in in Kabul, Afghanistan. By Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)