On Saturday September 28th, the 2019 Presidential elections were held in Afghanistan, mired by threats of attacks from the Taliban and reports of fraudulent voting practices. Although there were more than a dozen candidates on the ballot, the top two contenders are sitting President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Voters came out to the polls on Saturday despite threats of attacks from the Taliban. According to the New York Times, the Taliban called this year’s presidential election illegitimate and warned Afghans not to participate. While the threats did not halt the elections completely, they certainly had an impact. Preliminary counts say voter turnout may have been as low as 20 percent, according to The Guardian. If this is true, it would be the country’s lowest turnout since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A New York Times article reports that the total number of votes is expected to reach 2.5 million once all are accounted for, in a country where there are currently 9.6 million registered voters. The Guardian reports that, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network, there were more than 400 small-scale attacks by Taliban militants recorded, with one strategy including attacking communications towers so that polling stations were cut-off from the capital city of Kabul; more than 2,000 polling stations did not open amid Taliban threats.
Instances of fraudulent voting practices were also reported across the country. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has reportedly received 2,569 complaints so far (Al Jazeera). Complaints included incomplete voter’s lists, faulty biometric identification systems, and in some cases, hostile election workers (The Guardian). Despite the imperfect election conditions, officials and authorities are viewing the election as an overall success. “What was perhaps most impressive to me was, I watched the different security pillars, along with civil authorities, become well-integrated to ensure an environment” that was conducive to voting, said General Austin S. Miller, commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. “Despite the threat of violence, the people who chose to vote were able to go to the polls and vote” (New York Times).
After the first round of voting, both major candidates are already claiming victory. Al Jazeera reports Abdullah as saying “The results will be announced by the IEC, but we have the most votes,” during a press conference on Monday. “The election is not going to go to a second round”. Amrullah Saleh, Ghani’s running mate, was in turn quoted by Voice of America, saying “the information that we have received show that 60 to 70 percent of people voted for us” (Al Jazeera). Clearly, both candidates cannot have won the 50 percent vote share needed to avoid a run-off election. Habib Rahman Nang, a senior IEC official, stated that “no candidate has the right to declare himself the winner. According to the law, it is the IEC that decides who is the winner” (Al Jazeera). Abdullah is attempting a third run at the presidency, after having lost in 2009 and 2014. According to Al Jazeera, the U.S. formed a version of a unity government between Ghani and Abduallah in 2014 after a “standoff in the wake of allegations of widespread fraud and corruption”. Results from this election are not expected until October 19th.
Despite imperfect voting conditions, this year’s presidential election shows positive improvements in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports experts as saying that overall, wide-spread fraud was mitigated and easier to detect with new biometric technology. While it can be difficult to accurately measure voter turnout due to allegations of inflated numbers in past elections, the other variables considered show positive results. The ability of security forces to protect against a massive Taliban attack and improvement in the efforts to reduce fraud show that elections in Afghanistan are trending toward greater democratization. It is important in these situations to continue working to fix the current problems, but also focus on the positive improvements.
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