A Ground’s-Eye View of Afghanistan’s Election Crisis

It has been a long, drawn out and violent election season in Afghanistan.  There’s no conclusive winner. But it is increasingly looking as if ordinary Afghans are on the losing end of this election.

The first round of 2014 elections in Afghanistan was held on April 5. After inconclusive results, the run off took place on June 14. However due to allegations of fraud after the announcement of the preliminary results that showed Dr. Ashraf Ghani ahead of his opponent Abdullah Abdullah, the election season went off-rail.

Abdullah rejected the preliminary results, calling the episode a “coup d’état,”  and a declared himself the rightful winner. Abdullah’s supporters installed posters declaring him the president and supporters of Ghani poured into the streets to support their success. Name-calling and antagonizing discourse from both sides continued until John Kerry visited Afghanistan and met with President Hamid Karzai and both candidates. After the various meetings with Kerry, both candidates promised a new coalition where both the winner and the loser of the election will form some sort of unity government.

Through Kerry’s deal, international and national entities were to monitor the process of counting the eight million votes and separating fraudulent votes from legitimate ones. However, the process is already facing delays on a daily basis. Despite public announcements with John Kerry, representatives from both sides- the latest being Ahmad Zia Massoud from the Ghani camp- have spoken against the agreement on creating a coalition government. As of right now, it seems as if more uncertainty is ahead for the Afghan people as the audit is delayed by arguments and misunderstanding.

While presidential candidates and their supporters fought over power, Afghans were fighting their own battles. When discussing the “election drama” in Afghanistan, a friend told me, “Everything is on pause and everyone is holding their breaths because people are afraid.” Throughout the process Afghans have been worried about the possibility of violence and civil war leaving many afraid to go on with their daily lives.

Not only are Afghans unsure of their future, but the country has also experienced extreme levels of terror in the past few weeks. Eight foreigners were killed and thirteen civilians injured by a suicide bomber on July 2. 89 Afghans were killed by the Taliban on July 15. Taliban militia also occupied two buildings in the vicinity of Kabul airport and used their position to attack the facility on July 17. Nine civilians were killed in Takhar in a bomb blast on July 24. In most recent news, the Taliban killed fifteen civilians who were traveling in Ghor Province on July 25.  All girls’ schools in Shindand, Herat, have been closed due to lack of security for the first time since the Taliban government lost power.

In addition to what seems like an increase in terrorist attacks and civilian casualties, the Afghan members of parliament tried to slip in a bill to protect their wages after the end of their terms. This is while 36 percent of the population lives in poverty and almost all Afghans are living in instability and war. The obvious disconnect between people and their representatives is perhaps what led to Afghans in Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Qandahar, Helmand, and Bamyan to protest the bill. Samira Hamidi, a women’s rights activist called the bill “The Luxury Bill” as she held a sign that read, “The parliament is not an insurance company.” Though the protest was not widely covered by international media, it contributed to the rejection of the bill in the Senate. Compared to the every-day struggles of the Afghan people, the ivory tower of politics where presidential candidates and their supporters are quarreling over votes while parliamentarians are fighting for more privileges seems to be terribly out of touch.

Roqia Hossaini, a university student in Kabul, wrote to me today, “Our leaders are too busy fighting over power to notice that we are dying in the roadsides.” Suicide attacks, the lack of security, poverty, increased inequality and the ongoing clashes over election results have made Afghans impatient and frustrated as their fates remain unresolved. Afghans, who risked violent threats from the Taliban and who on occasion traveled long distances and stood in lines under the rain for hours to vote have now waited nearly four months for the results of this election amidst many terrorist attacks. By prolonging the process and refusing to collaborate, supporters of both candidates blatantly go against the will of the majority of Afghan people who have waited too long for election season to end peacefully. The Afghan people have done their duty towards their country and their children by participating in a historic election despite grave difficulties. Will the politicians do their duty towards the Afghan people by forming a democratic government and preventing further violence? So far, it does not look good.

Photo credit:  Afghans protest parliament’s “luxury bill” with slogan “People hold a red card.” /Abdullah Ahmadi