Precarious peace talks with the Taliban were the backdrop for Afghanistan’s latest crisis as President Ashraf Ghani and his main opposition, Abdullah Abdullah both took oaths of office on Monday. Separated by a thin wall, both men declared themselves winners of Afghanistan’s recent, hotly contested elections.
While Ghani has announced that he won the election by the required margin, Abdullah has challenged this and cast doubt on fifteen percent of the vote. Moreover, Abdullah and his supporters have accused Ghani of taking advantage of the current peace talks with the Taliban and coercing the election commission to rush through the auditing process to ensure that there is a President in place before peace talks progress.
The oathtaking ceremonies were not without drama; even as both men spoke at their respective inaugurations, a barrage of rockets was launched (and landed) close to their location. Ghani refused to end his speech, “I am not wearing an armored vest,” he said. “We have seen big attacks. A couple of explosions shouldn’t scare us.”
Meanwhile, Abdullah continued to cast aspersions on Ghani’s mandate, “If we had accepted the results of fraud as expediency, it would have been the funeral of democracy in this country.” While a former minister and adviser to Ghani also commented on the events by tweeting “This stuff is real! After the conclusion, we’ll be the 1st real République des Bananes!”
Other members of the public seem to be similarly disenchanted. A teenager interviewed by the New York Times commented on the inaugurations, saying, “I am a member of the cheering squad. We are here to clap and cheer when they speak,” and further remarking, “I don’t care about any of them because they don’t care about the country — just look at where the price of potatoes has come to.”
The initial election results were delayed by five months, with Ghani being declared the winner after a long wait. The way the election results played out was eerily similar to the 2014 election. In 2014, Ghani and Abdullah also feuded over election results.
In the end, it took U.S. intervention and the efforts of John Kerry, the then-Secretary of State, to broker a power-sharing deal. For the Afghan public, the current crisis is a frustrating repeat of the past. Additionally, the results of the 2014 election and the ensuing deal negatively impacted the trust of the public in government institutions and elections. This, along with a concerted effort by the Taliban to target and destabilize the election, means that voter turnout was low.
Afghanistan’s contested elections are not viewed as an expression of democracy by the ordinary Afghan. Rather, they erode trust in elections and democratic institutions. Moreover, they are contributing to the collapse of peace processes in the region. Even the double inauguration was interrupted by a barrage of rockets. Afghanistan must work towards developing proper electoral mechanisms, like an impartial electoral commission, to build faith in the system and stronger, more democratic institutions.