After a weeks-long deadlock, an agreement between the leading candidates of Afghanistan’s presidential election has set the stage for an unprecedented audit that would see Afghan and international observers recount more than 8 million votes.
The Saturday evening agreement came after hours of negotiations between Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Abdullah Abdullah — the two men vying
for the presidency — US Secretary of State John Kerry, and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš.
The June 14 runoff has been plagued by accusations of “industrial-strength fraud,” which Abdullah, a former foreign minister, said was conducted for the benefit of Ghani, the ex-finance minister.
Kerry arrived in Kabul on Friday with a clear mission — to lure Abdullah, who led the first round with 45 percent of the vote, back into a process. In the month since the second round, Abdullah has twice boycotted the nation’s electoral bodies.
Fears that the nation’s third presidential polls could turn violent were kicked into overdrive on Tuesday when Abdullah’s supporters tore down a poster of Hamid Karzai, whom Abdullah accused of being complicit in pro-Ghani fraud, at the capita’s Loya Jirga hall.
The chants, “Death to Hamid Karzai!” and “Death to Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai!” were echoes of similar cries at the small, sporadic gatherings of thousands, organized by Abdullah supporters in neighborhoods throughout Kabul over the past month.
It was at that press conference that Abdullah had announced Kerry’s visit, which he said would help him determine his next steps. Many believed that Abdullah was set to announce a parallel government that day but was talked out of it by worried Afghan and foreign officials.
After hours of talks, Abdullah and Ghani, with Kerry by their side, emerged at their first joint media appearance in more than 120 days.
But it was Kerry, with Abdullah and Ghani standing at either side of the Secretary of State, who made the announcement that all 8.1 million votes the Independent Election Commission said were cast in the runoff would be thoroughly audited for fraud.
Abdullah, who has long since contested the IEC’s turnout figures, had previously claimed that more than 2 million votes were fraudulent.
Ghani, who led the preliminary results with 56 percent of the vote, said he welcomed a process that would be “the thoroughest audit of any election in a developed or developing nation.”
Though Kerry said the audit process would begin with ballot boxes currently in Kabul (with the rest being transferred to the capital under the watch of ISAF forces) officials of the IEC speaking to the media admitted that they have yet to determine an exact strategy for the audit.
Fazl Ahmad Manawi, former IEC chairman, told local media that he was not yet certain if the 17 methods used to assess the allegations of widespread fraud in the 2009 polls would be utilized in this year’s audit.
The IEC did say many of their staff would need to be retrained to conduct an investigation of this magnitude, which would occur under the watch of the UN, European Union and other international observers.
Upon the audit’s completion, both candidates agreed to accept the result which would require the victor to immediately form a unity government.
Abdullah said the “framework” of the unity government had already been set in place and that the details would be ironed out after a “full 100 percent auditing of all ballot papers.”
However, reports of conflicting views of the roles of both parties in a unity government have already surfaced.
Said Fazel Agha Sancharaki, a spokesman for the Abdullah campaign, has been quoted as saying a unity government would in fact be a “shared government.” Sancharaki’s statement comes at the same time as similar statements by Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdullah’s second vice presidential pick, who told the BBC Persian that the second place finisher would serve in a new prime ministerial role.
However, Ghani’s team insists that the unity government would simply serve as a way so that “the candidate who has not received the majority of votes can participate in the upcoming government through legal ways.”
The resolution came as a relief to many Afghans, who have been hoping the transition of power would help stabilize the nation’s economy and encourage investments, but some Afghans remained dubious.
— roya (@reporterroya)July 12, 2014
A group of Afghans from Panjshir, Kandahar, Ghazni and Logar provinces watching the broadcast at a hotel in the central province of Bamiyan laughed at the power dynamics on display.
“Look, it’s the president and his two deputies”, one guest, originally from the northern province of Panjshir, joked.
Online, where supporters of both camps had traded increasingly hostile barbs, some wondered if those who had made such incendiary statements would be so quick to let go of hostilities that had been festering for months.
The audit, which could take several weeks, not only throws the likelihood of an August 2 inauguration into further question, but also extends the final term of Hamid Karzai well beyond his the constitutionally mandated date of May 23.
Officials too joined in on the criticism of a resolution seemingly orchestrated by Washington.
“I am sad that foreigners intervened like they did in 2009 and once again resolved our election crisis. It means Afghan elections are synonymous with US Secretary of State John Kerry”, Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, Senate chairman, said.
Speaking to the media after the press conference, Karzai heralded the agreement.
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye
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