Dr. Hussain Yasa, Chief Editor of the daily Outlook Afghanistan
It might still be premature to conclude that John Kerry has worked a miracle by solving the Afghan electoral dispute. Nevertheless the agreement which Kerry brokered demonstrates that the US still wields extraordinary influence over the stakeholders in Afghanistan’s third presidential polls. By the time of Kerry’s arrival, the process faced a complicated stalemate with allegations of industrial scale rigging and a palace-inspired conspiracy to keep Dr. Abdullah Abdullah away from presidency.
Late in in the evening of Saturday July 12, 2014 after a long session with both the presidential candidates, at last John Kerry appeared on the stage first with both Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and later on with Karzai to inform the media men that the electoral deadlock was broken and soon Afghanistan would be back on course towards political transition.
The deal struck calls for an audit of 8.1 million votes which means that a hundred percent of the votes cast should be rechecked. This marks another world record set by Afghanistan! The huge audit process, which may take weeks, will be started within the next 24 hours and will be carried out under the supervision of the UN. The Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will assist in transferring the ballot boxes from the provinces to Kabul. In the presence of John Kerry and Jan Kobic, the Special Representative of the General Secretary of UN to Afghanistan, both the candidates affirmed that they will accept the audit results. The eventual truly winner will form a National Unity Government including all important political entities. The final shape of that coalition government and the modality for establishing it, will be discussed later.
Some parts of the ruling elite, inspired by ethnic chauvinism, had hoped to emulate the process of 2004 and 2009 and to manipulate the process and install their favourite in the presidential palace. This time they have failed for several reasons. Access to social media is far more widespread than previously. They drew attention to fraud when they went over-board in rigging, with turn-out in some of the insecure Pashtun dominated provinces in the Southern Afghanistan more than doubling.
Audiovisual evidence has come to light, of high ranking electoral officials engaged illegally in rigging in favour Dr. Ghani. Most spectacular was the red handed arrest of Zia-ul-Haq Amerkhel, the chief Election Manager with hundreds of thousands of blank ballot papers. This subsequently resulted in his resignation and triggered a mass rally around the presidential palace of voters hoping for a real political transition. The opposition leaders committed to safeguard the real mandate of the people and resist attempts to high-jack the overall electoral process.
So far Dr. Abdullah Abdullah seems to have been successful in his efforts to prove that the polls were systematically rigged, the Afghan Electoral Institutions are biased and Afghanistan still needs impartial supervision of the international community, in particular the UN. The overall course of recent events also proves that the Afghan Presidential Palace team cares little about a peaceful political transition and that ethnic motivated politics still dominates Afghan institutions.
The key questions arising from this interim political deal are:
1. Why do we still face so many hurdles in the path of a working democracy in Afghanistan? “Democracy for all’ as it was truly said by John Kerry in his press conference.
2. Does it mean that globally-backed efforts for democratization of Afghanistan remain fruitless after over a long decade costly mission in treasure and blood?
3. What will be the future of Afghanistan, after the complete withdrawal of ISAF and how will Afghans cope with the huge rifts between the Northern and Southern political approaches, which have surfaced widely during these polls?
4. Will the Afghan System survive with these imperfect institutions at a time when political crises arise one after another?
In Afghanistan many short term solutions have been attempted. But for a sustainable solution nothing is done to ensure a calm future for Afghans from all walks of lives, ethnicities, lingual groups and religious sects. Here are a few simple measures which could be taken:
1. Parliamentary Democracy– This is a political system more suited to Afghanistan’s state of development than the centralized Presidential System. The deeply diverse Afghan Society needs an accommodative System rather than a one based on division. A truly parliamentary democracy like our neighbors Pakistan and India the largest democracy of the world could solve many concerns of the ethnic groups. In this system all sections of society have equal scope for maneuvering their will.
2. Decentralization of Power– In Afghanistan it is not enough to address the concerns of only larger ethnic groups. The smaller ethnic and lingual groups are also important for the cohesiveness of the country socially and geographically. There is broad international experience of devolution of power. Elected district and provincial management could address many political issues.
3. Electoral Reforms– It is not possible without a strong will to achieve a truly representative system. Although, there were huge resources and international support to work out a system helpful for the survival of a newly born system in Afghanistan but due to the lack of a will to work for a functional electoral system nothing has materialized. Afghanistan still has the time to avoid further electoral disputes by implementing a substantial electoral system which could not jeopardize the integrity of the country as well as guarantee a democracy for all.
The writer is the Chief Editor of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. At the moment, he is living in Germany in a self imposed exile. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org