Uncertainty reigns as Afghans wait for poll results

Leaders Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah Abdullah both declared victory based on their election data

Observations and Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials look on in front of the Data Centre in Kabul on October 2, 2019. Voter participation in last weekend's Afghan presidential election will be much less than a third, the country's Independent Election Commission said on October 1, marking a record-low turnout. / AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR
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The political stalemate in ­Afghanistan continued yesterday after both front-runners in Saturday’s presidential election declared victory, with more than two weeks to go until the preliminary results are announced.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission said it would declare preliminary results on October 19, but Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani both said their survey data showed they had won.

The two share power in the Afghan government in an agreement set up after a similar dispute over the share of the vote in 2014.

"The results will be announced by the IEC, but we have the most votes," Dr Abdullah said on Monday morning.

“The election is not going to go to a second round.”

Later that evening, Mr Ghani's running mate, Amrullah Saleh, made similar claims.

"The information that we have received shows that 60 per cent to 70 per cent of people voted for us," Mr Saleh said, raising concerns of an impending political crisis similar to the one five years ago.

Allegations of fraud and corruption in 2014 led to deadlock despite a second round of polling.

Eventually the US government stepped in and brokered a deal to form the National Unity Government.

"Talking on behalf of [Mr Ghani's election team], we strongly believed in the elections right from the beginning, even when all others did not have any belief," Basir Mohamadi, a member of Mr Saleh's Afghanistan Green Trend party, told The National.

“As Mr Saleh said, we will respect the decision of the IEC when it comes, but the records we have gave us an idea of the better position we are in.”

Meanwhile, Zalmai Nishat, senior public policy adviser to the Office of the Chief Executive, told The National that the assertions by Dr Abdullah's campaign team were based on data gathered from more than 28,000 observers and election monitors hired by them.

“The campaign studied the result sheets shared by these observers,” Mr Nishat said.

“After reviewing 14,000 ­result sheets, they came to the ­conclusion that Dr Abdullah is ahead of the rest of the ­candidates.”

While the IEC said that only biometrically verified votes would be counted, several political figures, including Afghan Senate Speaker Fazal Muslimyar, issued threats against the IEC for not including other votes.

“How can you violate people’s rights?” Mr Muslimyar asked on Tuesday.

He later apologised but insisted that votes in districts where biometric verification was not possible or unavailable be counted as well.

“The issue was not about questioning the process at all," Mr Nishat said.

"Dr Abdullah did say we will wait for the process to complete, and thanked the election commission for their work and effort.

“But we wanted to reiterate that the guidelines and processes previously agreed upon would be followed strictly. That has been our worry.”

He said many unverified videos that have been posted online showed ballot stuffing.

“Dr Abdullah and his team were victims in the 2014 election and they don’t want a repetition of that experience, and are now exercising caution,” Mr Nishat said.

Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, spokesman for the electoral commission, said: "IEC officials dismissed claims of victory from both parties and advised patience for the actual results.

“The Afghanistan constitution is clear about this. Election management falls under our purview and it is our job to announce the result.

"As planned, we will share the preliminary result on October 19 and the final result on November 7.

“Our job is to comply with what the Afghan people decided and we will soon announce who the Afghans picked as their leader.” 

The political dispute has raised concerns among many Afghans who voted last week despite threats to their lives.

“I’m worried about this, because some candidates are already claiming victory and if the commission announces the results that go against their claims, there will be conflicts between the candidates again,” said Baborzai Hakimi, 27, an NGO worker and a voter from Kabul.

While the overall turnout was dismally low – 2.6 million votes at the last count – many such as Mr Hakimi voted enthusiastically, defying Taliban threats to attack voters and polling stations.

He said said he expected the candidates to respect the people’s mandate.

“My family was not allowing me to go and vote because of the threats, but I convinced them that voting is our obligation,” Mr Hakimi said.

"I voted for peace, democracy and a prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan, and the candidates should let the IEC do its work and announce the winner."

While he hoped that the elections would not go to another round, he said he would cast his vote again if one was declared.