Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 July 2016, 13:47 GMT

Statement on Afghan Elections

Publisher International Crisis Group (ICG)
Publication Date 12 July 2014
Cite as International Crisis Group (ICG), Statement on Afghan Elections, 12 July 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/53c37f154.html [accessed 27 July 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Afghanistan has reached a critical moment in the development of its democratic system. In the coming days, the behaviour of the two candidates in the presidential contest - and the conduct of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) - will determine the credibility of what is meant to be the first peaceful handover of power in the country's history.

Millions of ballots are under review, and both sides accuse the other of widespread fraud. The final result will be less important, however, than the way the contest is decided. Such periods of transition are a crucial test for a country's institutions. This is a moment when Afghans must hold tight to their constitution and the rule of law, despite political turmoil.

The optimism that emerged from the 5 April first round of the presidential elections has been tarnished by the 14 June second round. Electoral authorities' claims that eight million voters participated in the second round - a million more than were said to have voted in April - seem implausible, given reports of lower turnout in the second round. Leaked wiretaps of phone conversations involving electoral officials have further undermined confidence in the system.

Supporters of the two candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, accuse each other of widespread fraud. Abdullah, who led in April but trails in preliminary second round results, has rejected the process and withdrawn his observers from the electoral commissions.

There is an urgent need to bring both sides back into the process. This requires energetic diplomacy by the international community to help forge an agreement between the two camps on the extent and mechanics of the fraud investigations in the coming weeks. International observers and representatives of both camps will be required to monitor the process. It is important both that it be completed by 2 August, so the constitution is adhered to and the dangers of a leadership vacuum are avoided, and that the audit be as extensive and thorough as feasible so fairness standards are met. The candidates need both to accept the extent of the audit and its procedures and to commit to accept its outcome. Such acceptance is most likely if they also agree on the inclusive nature of the next cabinet, regardless which of them ultimately takes the presidential oath.

But most crucially, Abdullah and Ghani must agree at the outset to accept the results. Authorities must debunk rumours about an interim government, a repeat of the runoff, or other improvised measures that would circumvent the legal and constitutional framework.

Some understanding must also be reached between the two camps that this bitter contest should not split the country. Afghanistan is burdened with a highly centralised system, which can breed a winner-take-all approach to the presidency.

Whoever wins must promise to build an inclusive and representative government that embraces all tribes and ethnic groups. Ideally, the new president would also work to reform the electoral institutions before another crisis emerges during the 2015 parliamentary elections.

The reality is that it's hard to run a perfect election during an intense civil war. Civilians are killed and injured more frequently now in Afghanistan than at any point since the arrival of U.S. forces; in this context, no vote will reflect the full range of public opinion. But the rising violence should also motivate the Afghan ruling class to settle their feuds and turn their attention to the urgent political, economic, and military challenges of the transition period as foreign troops withdraw.

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