Afghan election results and the way forward

Afghan election results and the way forward

Afghan election results and the way forward
According to the preliminary results, President Ashraf Ghani has secured more than 50 percent of the votes required for victory. (AFP)
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Dec. 22, 2019 marked another milestone in Afghanistan’s democracy as it was when the preliminary results of September’s presidential election were announced.

The extended delay in the announcement may look strange for developed democracies but for Afghanistan, where conflict and political instability have raged for decades, it may be forgiven.

According to the preliminary results President Ashraf Ghani has secured more than 50 percent of the votes required for victory. Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival, has 39 percent.

But the story is not over. All presidential candidates have the chance to register complaints about irregularities with the Complaints Commission (CC), which will review the registered complaints and make its decision after careful investigation. It is only then that the Independent Election Commission (IEC) will determine whether a president has been elected in the first round by achieving the required majority, or whether a runoff vote between the two top frontrunners is needed.

Ghani and Abdullah spoke to the media after the Dec. 22 announcement. The incumbent welcomed the preliminary result but his rival was unhappy and said it would be challenged. The results were not unexpected for Abdullah, who has been complaining about his demands not being met by the IEC in terms of the counting and audit process.

His reactions are reminiscent of the 2014 election, when he was not prepared to accept the results that led to US Secretary of State John Kerry mediating. The stalemate was eventually resolved through the formation of a national unity government in return for Abdullah’s acceptance of Ghani’s victory.

Afghanistan is a young democracy and it is still evolving. Our institutions are still experimenting with electoral processes.

Ajmal Shams

That government was the best possible formula during the 2014 election to break the deadlock and avoid a crisis. Yet the last five years have shown it was no panacea for the country’s problems. During the latest presidential campaign Ghani and Abdullah indicated they would not go for any power-sharing agreement in case of victory.

Afghans are no fans of a coalition government either. One must note, however, that a broad-based government should be distinguished from a coalition government.

In a broad-based government all Afghan people can see themselves being represented. Whoever is finally elected by Afghans must go for a broad-based government that best serves our national interests and strengthens national unity and solidarity.

Afghanistan is a young democracy and it is still evolving. Our institutions are still experimenting with electoral processes.

The 2019 election was based on a biometric voting system to ensure transparency and prevent duplicate voting. However, the use of technology in the voting process was an experiment and a challenge for the IEC. Most Afghan districts lack the internet capability needed to transfer electoral data. There were instances where biometric machines were not working properly in hundreds of polling stations, especially in remote districts.

In the face of threats from militant groups, hundreds of thousands of Afghans came out to vote. Their votes must be respected and their contribution to our democratic exercise should not be in vain.

Looking at the statistics of votes won by candidates, the difference of percentages gained by Ghani and Abdullah is significant. Ghani might well be on track to secure his second term in office in the first round without requiring a runoff. However, it is ultimately up to the CC to determine how many votes each candidate won based on a thorough investigation into complaints registered by contenders.

Afghans hope that the 2014 presidential election scenario that led to the creation of a national unity government is not repeated. Afghanistan has been in conflict for almost four decades and peace talks to end it have entered a crucial stage. Now is the time for a strong government led by a legitimate president to pursue peace with the Taliban.

Our electoral institutions and presidential contenders have a historic responsibility to prioritize national interests and ensure there is a legitimately elected government.

• Ajmal Shams is president of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party. He was a deputy minister in the national unity government and served as a policy adviser to Ashraf Ghani before his presidential bid. Twitter: @ajmshams

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view