Postponement, Pessimism and the Afghanistan Presidential Elections

Security risks, historically low turnout, voter fraud, lapses in the biometric system and bickering amongst political candidates are some of the reasons why Afghans are beginning to feel alienated from the Presidential Elections held in September.

Although more than two months have passed since the election date, the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) is yet to count the votes.

The results were initially due on October 19 but the date was extended after the IEC’s ill-trained staff were faced with technical difficulties due to the use of biometric data systems –first time in the country’s electoral history.

However, the IEC officials failed to meet that deadline. On November 2, the commission said votes from all 34 provinces will be tallied again. The results of which, it said, will be announced on November 14.

But another deadline came and went; election officials postponed the results yet again. However, this time around, they did not even give a new date.

Apart from the low turnout and biometric failure on Election Day, the delays in the announcement of the results have raised suspicions over the veracity of the counting process.

What is causing the delay?

The bone of contentions lies with the dispute amongst the top-two candidates – Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah – who have both alleged voter fraud in the counting process.

On the Election Day, the IEC reported that around 26,500 polling stations were open, from which it received ballot papers from around 25,500 stations. However, of the papers received from these stations, the IEC had biometric verification on ballots from only 24,800 stations.

But campaigners have said that of the estimated 24,800 stations, they will only accept votes from around 18,850 stations. The rest of the votes, they say are inadmissible.

However, following the initial delay in the announcement of results and verifying the votes, the IEC managed to add data from around 8,400 more stations to the tally. Subsequently, to recount the votes, it had to extend the announcement date to November 14.

However, this time around, the revisions in the total number of stations were not accepted by the election campaigners.

After the IEC announced the revised ballot numbers, Abdullah, the incumbent chief executive, boycotted the recount.

He said that “we have decided not to participate in the vote recounting process. The IEC’s impartiality will be questioned if it does not review its decision and our next decision will be made after that.”

He complained that “votes from 2,400 ballot boxes have been entered into the servers that don’t have data.”

“There are more than 100,000 votes that came outside the valid time (Before and after the voting process started),” he alleged.

Moreover, he asked the IEC to review its decision on adding the new votes while earning that any “illegal decision” on the election will result in a crisis.

On the other hand, in a recent article published online, Ashraf Ghani’s advisers said that “their margin is so comfortable that even if half a million votes are thrown out, they would still win. Mr Abdullah’s advisers, on the other hand, say if all fraudulent votes are removed their candidate will win in the first round and if some level of questionable votes gets counted, the most likely scenario is a runoff.”

But as the IEC continues to extend the deadlines and candidates allege fraud, it is the Afghans who continue to look at the turn of events with increased pessimism.

For them, the only glimmer of hope has been its democracy but trust in that too is beginning to falter.