PRESIDENT ASHRAF GHANI WINS A SECOND TERM…
A PARALLEL DECLARATION BY MAIN RIVAL THREATENS A CRISIS…
U.S. AND TALIBAN CONTINUE THE BROKERING OF A PEACE DEAL…
by mujib mashal, najim rahim, fatima faizi, taimoor shah
the new york times
february 18, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday was declared the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential vote after five months of delayed results and bitter dispute. But the announcement threatened to tip the country into a full-blown political crisis on the cusp of a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban.
Just hours after the announcement, Mr. Ghani’s leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah — who accuses Afghanistan’s election commission of favoring the incumbent — also declared himself the winner and said he would form a government of his own.
The dispute over the election result comes just after a breakthrough in the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, with the two sides arriving at a tightly choreographed peace plan expected to be rolled out in a matter of days. The plan calls first for a test period of “violence reduction,” which would lead to the Taliban and Washington signing a deal. Soon after that, the two Afghan sides would sit down to discuss the political future of the country.
But Western diplomats have long feared that a political crisis in Kabul would weaken the Afghan government’s hand in the negotiations and affect the overall peace plan.
The timing of the election conflict means Mr. Ghani’s government will be challenged, and distracted, during the tight window of days when the details of the “violence reduction” need to be determined.
In a news conference announcing the election result after an audit of about 15 percent of the total vote, the chief of Afghanistan’s election commission, Hawa Alam Nuristani, said that Mr. Ghani had won with the narrowest of margins — 50.64 percent of the vote, just surpassing the 50 percent minimum required for an outright victory with no runoff. Mr. Abdullah received 39.5 percent.
The win puts Mr. Ghani in position for another five-year term as president.
“This is not just an election victory,” Mr. Ghani said, flanked by his running mates, after the result was announced. “This is the victory of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This is the victory of the people’s wishes.”
Hours later, however, Mr. Abdullah appeared in a televised address surrounded by his own supporters.
“I asked those who believe in democracy, in a healthy future for this country, in citizens’ rights to stand up to fraud and to not accept this fraudulent result,” Mr. Abdullah said. “We are the winners based on clean votes, and we declare our victory. We will form the inclusive government.”
Both candidates spoke from their palaces, where throngs of their supporters had gathered. A narrow road leads to both, with little space separating the two compounds. Late into Tuesday evening, as the supporters of both sides remained inside, the road was tense, overflowing with armored vehicles and the armed guards of both camps.
For Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah, the situation is almost a repeat of five years ago, when both were stuck in another disputed election that went to a runoff. For many ordinary Afghans, it’s a frustrating case of déjà vu.
After Mr. Abdullah led in the first round in 2014, Mr. Ghani came from behind to win in the runoff, leading to Mr. Abdullah rejecting the results. It took John Kerry, then Secretary of State, to broker a power-sharing agreement where Mr. Ghani became president and Mr. Abdullah became the government’s chief executive, with control over a large share of appointments.
The brokered deal deeply hurt the faith in elections of many Afghans, and the turnout for this year’s vote, held in September amid a record number of Taliban attacks intended to destabilize the election, was low.
During their five years sharing power, the two men were frequently at each other’s throats, their bickering often bringing the government to a standstill amid a bloody war that took the lives of about 50,000 Afghan forces in that time.
When they both ran for president again, it raised fears that the country’s institutions — particularly the weary security forces — could be split apart.
The initial results of the vote were delayed by months. When Mr. Ghani was declared in the lead in the preliminary count, Mr. Abdullah and several other candidates disputed about 300,000 votes from the low turnout of about 1.8 million. Among those were 100,000 ballots registered in the system either before or after voting hours — in some cases by weeks or months.
Mr. Abdullah’s supporters say those were fraudulent votes cast in favor of Mr. Ghani. The election commission has attributed the irregularities to human error in setting the time and date of devices that recorded the votes.
The preparations to announce the final results suddenly picked up steam this week as the peace deal became imminent, with many reading it as Mr. Ghani making sure a Taliban deal does not deny him a second term in office.
But many of Mr. Abdullah’s strongest supporters threatened the formation of a parallel government if their grievances — which Mr. Ghani’s team sees as obstructionism so that the opposition can get a share of the power — were not taken into account.
Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of Mr. Abdullah’s main supporters and a powerful strongman who was previously Mr. Ghani’s vice president, said at a recent gathering: “Even if they put a knife on my throat, even if they hang me, I will not accept an announcement based on fraud.”