Afghan Presidential Race Still Disputed After 5 Months

The Afghanistan presidential elections, started in April, has stalled once again as one of the candidates refuses to recognize a massive ballot audit.

Afghan Presidential Race Still Disputed After 5 Months
U.S. Department of State

Ever since Afghanistan’s election began in April, it’s been one step forward and two steps back for determining who will be the country’s next president.

In April, election polls put Abdullah Abdullah as the next president, but not by votes to avoid a runoff election between him and the runner up, Ashraf Ghani.

So a second election was held in June. This time Ghani won with 56 percent of the vote. But allegations of rampant fraud put the results into question.

Enter U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Fearing quarreling between the two candidates could jeopardize the region’s stability, Kerry negotiated an unprecedented audit of all the runoff election ballots.

At the same time, Kerry managed to broker a unity agreement between the rival candidates, ensuring that whoever lost would still hold some amount of power.

Which brings us to the present. You would think a unity government deal and a complete audit would leave no question as to who the next president will be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’ll be that easy.

Abdullah announced Monday that he plans to reject the United Nations-backed audit results, which were completed by the on Friday but have yet to be announced.

The New York Times quotes Abdullah as saying “I will not accept fraud and any result from fraudulent votes. Not even for a single day will we accept a government based on fraudulent votes.” 

A former Afghan ambassador to France told Bloomberg any lingering disputes in the electoral process could create a risk of "large-scale national civil protests that could further weaken the country, paralyze the government and provide space for different shades of spoilers, including armed militants, to take advantage of the standoff."

While he also reportedly said negotiations are still on the table, one has to wonder, what’s it going to take to get this election over with?

A Washington Post article from August pessimistically suggests that it’ll come down to one of two things:

“This high-stakes game of electoral chicken will likely continue until the two sides collide or until the United States, desperate for some semblance of stability, can persuade a candidate to accept defeat.”

The Wall Street Journal says Abdullah addressed reports of his brinkmanship later on Monday, saying “the political process has reached a deadlock” but asking for his supporters to refrain from violence.

In a step to achieve that second option, President Obama spoke with both Abdullah and Ghani over the phone on Saturday emphasizing the national unity government solution needs to be done soon.

Obama’s push for stability is fueled in part by the need to get the Status of Forces Agreement renewed, allowing a small number of NATO troops to remain in the country. Afghanistan’s current president, Hamid Karzai, has refused to sign the agreement.

This video contains images from Getty Images and the U.S. Department of State.