Over five months after Afghanistan’s first round of voting on April 5th, 2014, the election results are finally in. Sort of.
As the longstanding President Hamid Karzai delivers his farewell address, the mood is one of disgusted relief. Overall, Afghan citizens are comforted that the election has been resolved without an outbreak of violence or even civil war. The intervening uncertainty has taken a heavy economic and psychological toll, with youth in Kabul resorting to extreme measures…like holding poetry readings on the subject of the never-ending election:
But the outcome, which has little to do with the votes, makes people wonder why they went to the polls at all. Twice. Millions of Afghans turned out to vote despite Taliban threats, daunting distances to rural polling stations by foot or donkey, and long lines in bad weather. Dozens of lives and fingers were lost. They voted to give democracy and representative government a chance; the mood at the time was close to euphoric.
Just as the Afghan people were declared the winners of the election when it first took place, now some are declaring them the losers. For now, they will have to settle for the relative stability of the status quo: government by deal-making. At least at the national level, their votes have been discarded in favor of an expedient (and probably necessary) solution: both candidates win.
The election result is in essence a power-sharing agreement. In the new “National Unity Government” one candidate, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has been declared the Afghan president and the other, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive officer. This new form of government requires changes to the Afghan constitution, ex post facto—they have two years to make that happen. Oh, and another part of the agreement: the actual tally of votes, all 7 some million of which have been undergoing a tedious recount (worth $10 million) over the past months, appear unlikely to be released at all.
Setting aside the hopes and expectations of some 30 million Afghans, the pragmatic perspective says there are reasons to be thankful. High on the new government’s agenda, set to be inaugurated on September 29th, will be the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, something both candidates promised they would sign during their campaigns. This would mean that U.S. troops are invited and committed to stay beyond 2014 to continue training and supporting the Afghan army and police as they tackle the daunting security threats the country faces. The pressure on this new government is intense, and will be increasingly so as the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan draws to a close in December 2014, with regional players jockeying for influence in its wake. Meanwhile, in Kabul the big question mark is how well two cooks will work together in Afghanistan’s very hot kitchen.
SISMEC Research Fellow Farzana Marie reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan