On February 18th, after a delay of five months, the result of the bitterly contested Afghanistan Presidential election held on September 28, 2019, was declared. The incumbent President, Ashraf Ghani, was declared as the winner. However, his main rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, refused to accept the election results. He accused the Election Commission of fraud and declared that he would form the next government. The voter turnout was low and when the preliminary counting showed Mr. Ghani leading, the rivals disputed the voting percentage and as a result 15 per cent of the votes were called for an audit. President Ghani won the election by a very narrow margin, securing 50.64 per cent of votes.
India congratulated President Ashraf Ghani on his re-election following the announcement of final results. India reiterated its supports to the democratic aspirations of the people of Afghanistan and remains committed to continue to work with the new Government and the democratic polity in strengthening our bilateral strategic partnership in fighting the scourge of externally sponsored terrorism and for an enduring and inclusive national peace and reconciliation which is Afghan led, Afghan owned and Afghan controlled.
This is not the first time the Afghan Presidential election result is being contested. To some extent, this is the repetition of 2014 Presidential election in which Mr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah were candidates. Not only the votes were recounted; but there was a dispute between the two rivals over the election results which neither side was ready to accept. However, after that election a power sharing formula was devised to accommodate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah as the Chief Executive, a post that was not constitutionally sanctioned. However, it required Parliament’s sanction. The Parliament election could only be held in September 2018, after a delay of four years. The electoral reforms and establishment of a Special Electoral Reform Commission that was agreed as a part of the National Unity Government agenda could not be accomplished as the government remained paralysed from within and divided between these two camps.
In the past five years, the Unity government of Afghanistan remained completely fragmented between the two contending leaders. As a result, both the leaders stacked the bureaucracy with their own loyalists mainly from their own ethnic groups leading to alienation of other smaller ethnic groups. The bitter rivalry contributed to governance deficit. The ungoverned space was occupied by the sympathisers of Taliban and other groups who challenged the government.
The results of the last Presidential election have come at a time when Afghanistan is gearing up for a peace deal between the Trump administration and Taliban. The finalisation of the deal has to pass through a seven days litmus test where both the parties would take effort to reduce violence. The peace deal would allow the withdrawal of US forces in phases. However, the real test for peace would come when the Taliban would eventually start talks with the Afghan government which it has so far refused to engage. However, there have been several rounds of informal engagements between Taliban and the representatives of Afghan government though the Taliban made it clear that the leaders are attending these dialogues in their individual capacity. President Ghani has termed the Taliban’s desire to reach a peace deal as a “Trojan Horse strategy” even though he underlines the need for peace.
The Taliban, until now, has not accepted Afghan government as legitimate. An election dispute now, could put a question mark on the legitimacy of the Ghani government. It also brings into question the entire process of elections and Western instituted democracy in Afghanistan – a system that Taliban is opposed to from the very beginning. At a time when the conclusion of peace deal is round the corner, the dispute over election results may put the peace process at stake. Rather, the results which is contested by President Ghani’s opponent might cast a long shadow and may lead to further political instability and violence at a time when Taliban is agreeing to a US formulated peace deal.
Script: Dr. Smruti S Pattanaik, Strategic Analyst on South Asia