The third Presidential elections in Afghanistan marked a historical and triumphant day for all Afghans. Defying Taliban death threats and sporadic firefights, approximately 7.5 million voters were estimated to have turned out at polling stations across the country, potentially doubling the turn out as compared to previous elections. Moreover, this time around the elections ensured several long-lasting impressions that will invariably keep Afghanistan on the path to democratisation, both during this taxing period of transition and when the country enters its decade of transformation in the post-2014 era.
The elections signified not only that power in Afghanistan was being democratically transferred, but also, as prominent Afghan analyst Davood Moradian connoted, Afghanistan’s “third attempt at democratization." The readiness of voters and the actions of local media channels, civil society organisations and government functionaries on election day also challenged the assumptions held by some in the West and those in the region who questioned the “cultural compatibility” of Afghan traditions, values and Islamic society with democracy. The inability of the Taliban to disrupt the elections also marked a significant achievement for local Afghan forces while causing a severe blow to the insurgency. It also addressed regional fears concerning the ability of local forces to protect its territory in the aftermath of US and NATO withdrawal at the end of 2014. But most importantly, this election gave Afghans something previous elections had not, and that is the belief that they truly owned this democratic process and as such can now build their futures on it.
When a few Afghans were asked what the elections meant to them, the responses were inspiring to say the least. Sameem, 22, represents the largest segment of the Afghan population, the youth, and for him the election was a determining factor for his future. He said, “It gave us a platform to select a suitable candidate and based on this we can now plan our future.” Sara, aged 30, was amongst the millions of courageous women who turned out to vote, and she felt that “the election was more valuable then previous elections.” She asserted, “This time around people needed change and expected change, and this expectation was reinforced by the extraordinary turn out of voters.” Farid, aged 33, felt that the election was a “good democratic exercise” pointing to the “diversity amongst candidates and people’s willingness to go to polling stations despite all attacks.” Khalid, aged 50, said, “The elections showed that our politicians do not revert to guns and force anymore to bring change but rather follow democracy and brotherhood to bring peaceful change.” He stressed that the election was most meaningful because it showed the international community that despite “the foreign lives lost and the money spent rebuilding Afghanistan, its people, are now, to a degree, beginning to accept democracy.”
Nonetheless, two weeks post the election day, and the level of optimism and excitement is slowly declining as news of mass corruption and protests against the preliminary election results have surfaced. The Election Complaints Commission (ECC) identified 870 cases of fraud that they classified as “serious enough to affect the outcome” of the elections. Moreover, the IEC came under fire by candidates and voters alike who questioned the logic behind its 49.67 per cent partial vote count announced on 20 April, which consisted of the initial 10 per cent vote count announced on 13 April. The partial results, representing roughly 3.5 million votes, showed Abdullah Abdullah leading with 44.4 per cent while Ashraf Ghani was trailing with 33.2 per cent. This announcement received immediate backlash from Ghani’s team who protested that the results were ambiguous, preliminary and due to “change once all complaints have been addressed by the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC)." His team also called on the IEC to announce the total number of votes nationwide, which would help clarify the partial results so far announced. The final tally of the preliminary votes will be announcement on 24 April and if a run-off is determined, which is most likely, it would be held as early as 28 May.
According to locals, the partial election results are not cause for worry. Both Sameem and Balkhi felt that the success of the election process was now dependent on the performance of the IEC and ICC, and as long as this process was transparent, they found no reason to object the results. Sara stated that she was ready to head back to the polling booths if the elections went to a second round but contended that if her preferred candidate did not win she would find it difficult to accept the results. Farid, on the other hand, was optimistic about the partial election results and felt they were ‘fair’ but also contended that for him the real concern was not whether “the people of Afghanistan would accept the results” but whether “the powerbrokers would accept the results.”
Despite the irregularities, and whatever the eventual outcome maybe, the 2014 Afghan Presidential elections have been impressive, and has exceeded all expectations. But most noteworthy of all, it has reinforced the notion that Afghans are prepared to assume ownership of their political future.