Until a few days ago, Afghanistan was seen as taking firm steps towards a democratic transition. Millions voted in a presidential runoff which Taliban struggled hard to torpedo. More than fifty people were killed in attacks, but the polls passed off without major disruptions. But unfortunately, the government in the country seems to be doing what Taliban couldn’t achieve. Allegations of fraud have tainted the election process and the crisis is escalating every day, with President Hamid Karzai yesterday calling for UN intervention to help solve the standoff.
Abdullah Abdullah, previously seen as the front-runner to succeed Karzai, has said he would reject the results due out next month because of what he calls ‘blatant” fraud committed in the election a week ago. His allegations seem credible. He alleged that the turnout figure of seven million voters in the run-off was exaggerated and in several provinces, there were more votes than eligible voters. He accused Ghani, the election authorities and Karzai of all being involved in fraud against him.
There is a sense of déjà vu about what is happening today. In the 2009 election, when Karzai retained power, Abdullah was the main opposition candidate. But that election was mired in massive fraud and Abdullah pulled out before a run-off vote against Karzai saying that systematic fraud made it impossible for him to win. Karzai is still in power and if Abdullah is accusing the president, Ghani and the election authorities of being behind the fraud, there is no need to distrust him. No election in any democracy can be free and fair if there are accusations of fraud, especially if they come from a candidate who is supposed to win. For Abdullah who has invested heavily in this election with a powerful campaign, the alleged fraud comes as a huge shock.
In the current crisis, Afghanistan is the loser. With seven major ethnic groups, each a majority in one or more regions, the country needs a stable government in Kabul and a powerful president who is untainted. If Ghani is elected president, he will lack legitimacy and Abdullah, his opponent who enjoys huge support in some regions of the country, can stir trouble. The new government will have enough trouble from the Taliban, and other internal problems will only weaken the hands of the new president.
Interestingly, President Karzai has backed the call for UN intervention to solve the current crisis. But the alleged poll fraud has happened under his rule, and the election authorities are part of his government. For the same reason, the president cannot absolve himself of any responsibility. That the election has been tainted will diminish his stature and will strengthen accusations that he wants to exert control on any future government by supporting his ‘man’ for the president’s position.