The presidential election in Afghanistan is taking a more definitive shape with the front-runner Abdullah Abdullah announcing on Sunday that he had won the endorsement of Zalmay Rassoul, the third-place candidate, as part of his effort to garner more support to win in the next round of voting. Abdullah won nearly 45 percent of the vote in the first round, followed by Ashraf Ghani with nearly 31.5 percent and Rassoul with 11 percent, according to the most recent count by the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan. The final results for the first round are expected later this week.
Zalmay’s support for Abdullah is expected to boost latter’s chances in the run-off, though it won’t guarantee his victory as the final decision is to be taken by Afghans. Abdullah is a favourite for many because of his experience in serving as the foreign minister once, and his determination not to succumb to the tactics of Taliban. But he needs to convince Afghans about his capabilities. Going by the number of votes he received in the first election, he should be in a strong position to win. At the same time, Zalmay’s support won’t guarantee him all the votes of the former’s party. Zalmay’s team appears to have split, with one of his two vice-presidential running mates declining to support Abdullah’s campaign. Also, some experts believe that a second round of voting would split along more ethnic lines, which could benefit Ghani, who is a Pashtun, as Pashtuns represent a plurality of the population and Abdullah is most closely associated with the Tajik ethnic group and the former Northern Alliance of commanders that helped overthrow the Taliban in 2001. Reports say that Ghani is wooing one of Zalmay’s two vice-presidential candidates and if he wins that support, his position will be strengthened in the run-off.
The outcome of the first round surprised many Afghans because Abdullah received votes from across the country, even in heavily Pashtun areas. Over all, the election received more interest from voters than the last presidential contest in 2009, with 50 percent more votes cast, and it was viewed as generally less fraud-ridden. If Afghanistan is able to repeat this success, the government that gets installed in Kabul will be more powerful and truly democratic, putting it in a strong position to fight the Taliban. What is important is that the run-off must be free and fair, without fraud and violence. Taliban, which failed miserably in disrupting the first election, will try more vigorously to unleash violence and threaten the voters. The turnout in the next election could also be affected by other factors.
Afghanistan is going through a crucial phase in its history and a free election has the power to transform the country for ever.