ghani wins, opponent claims victory too

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…

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by mujib mashal, najim rahim, fatima faizi, taimoor shah

the new york times

february 18, 2020

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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.”

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The New York Times

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election blues

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by ayesha tanzeem

voice of america

september 29, 2019 (sunday)

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KABUL – Afghan officials are counting votes after Saturday’s presidential election that was held amid repeated threats by the Taliban and fear of post-election chaos.

Better performance by electoral and security authorities notwithstanding, fears remain that disagreements on the result might engulf the country into a destabilizing fight for power.

Empty polling stations and empty ballot boxes. These were the scenes VOA teams found in the capital Kabul and many parts of the country Saturday.

Unofficial estimates indicate the voter turnout will be a historic low.

Extreme threats from the Taliban, voter dissatisfaction with candidates, and confusion over whether the twice-delayed elections will be held this time, kept campaigns from gaining steam.

Now that they were held, given Afghanistan’s track record, many fear a dispute over results that could devolve into a full-blown crisis.

Some candidates, like former warlord turned politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, seem to already be preparing for such a scenario.

“The elections will result in increased violence. No one will accept the results other than those who were involved in widespread fraud. Naturally, it will result in a crisis,” he said.

The process of counting votes in Afghanistan is long. Ballot boxes have to arrive from far off places with little or no communication lines. The preliminary results are not expected for a few weeks. Only then will they get to any complaints.

“The law is very clear. If there is fraud, candidates and their followers can go to the Election Complaints Commission and register their complaints. The commission will decide upon them and we are committed to abide by its decision,” said Habibur Rehman, Secretary of the Election Comission.

The last presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud and the country became so divided that then-Secretary of State John Kerry had to step in and broker a power-sharing deal between the two leading candidates. The same two, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, seemed to be leading in this year’s race as well.

Despite the introduction of more robust systems this time to avoid fraud, including taking finger prints and pictures of voters, allegations of fraud have already emerged from certain quarters.

If more voices join ranks, this could wreak havoc to an already fragile system.

Both election and security authorities insist that they are ready to deal with any scenario. And everyone is hoping for a smooth transition. But Afghanistan has a long history of post-election chaos.

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https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/voting-over-now-real-challenges-begin-afghanistan

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ghani campaign plows ahead

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by pamela constable

washington post

september 20, 2019

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When Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ran for office in 2014, he campaigned as a no-nonsense reformer in a hurry to modernize an insular, traditional society. Today, he is campaigning for reelection as an avuncular, turbaned elder, hugging everyone he meets and invoking the glories of Afghan history.

At a rally in southern Kandahar province last week, Ghani hailed its 18th-century founder and urged the crowd of fellow ethnic Pashtuns to support him, pledging to “bring peace to the hearts and minds of all Afghans” after 18 years of conflict with Taliban insurgents.

Addressing a mostly ethnic Tajik crowd in northern Parwan province Tuesday, he recalled  the region’s sacrifices in past wars against the British and Soviet armies, then promised to “give every home electricity” and deliver a “sustainable” and “Islamic” peace if he wins the Sept. 28 election.

This new populist style is part of an electoral strategy that is aimed partly at bringing the aloof and wonky president closer to ordinary Afghans, and partly at bringing together a nation roiled by ethnic and political divisions, in hopes of reviving both the aborted peace process and Ghani’s unfinished ambitions for state-building and economic development.

“We are trying to change the narrative to one of national identity and pride,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Ghani. “You can’t talk over people’s heads.”

Ghani’s critics portray this effort in a darker light. They view it as a ploy to cement his power and revive his stature, at home and abroad, after being sidelined from U.S.-Taliban talks, which have been canceled. Many Afghans wanted the vote postponed until domestic peace negotiations were held, but Ghani insisted that it take place on time. Now, some fear that a disputed outcome could plunge the nation into turmoil and strengthen the Taliban’s hand.

The president, however, is already planning for a post-election role as chief interlocutor with the insurgents who have long denounced him as a U.S. puppet. He also hopes that the election will give him a free hand to resume his governing agenda, after five years of a contentious power-sharing arrangement with Abdullah Abdullah, his top rival both in 2014 and in the current contest.

The awkward co-governing pact, with Ghani as head of state and Abdullah as chief executive, was brokered by the Obama administration after the fraud-plagued election collapsed, a recount failed and some groups backing Abdullah threatened violence. Ghani has vowed never to accept such an arrangement again.

“The last time you voted for me, I had one hand tied behind my back,” he told the Kandahar audience. “This time, you must liberate me totally.”

Most observers say Abdullah has little chance of obtaining the 50.1 percent of votes needed to win a first round, and none of the other 16 contenders has campaigned seriously because of violence and uncertainty. Abdullah has held rallies in Kabul and several provinces, attacking Ghani with sometimes bitter barbs and warning that he might steal this election.

“He is a liar, a fraudster and an absconder,” Abdullah charged Monday night during a live TV appearance, which had been planned as a debate between the two rivals. Ghani backed out at the last minute because of what aides said were suspicions that the event would be stacked against him.

As a result, Abdullah had the stage to himself for 90 minutes, next to an empty lectern. He ran through a litany of accusations, including rumors that Ghani had released a bank official, convicted of massive fraud, in exchange for a campaign contribution. Ghani’s top spokesman said the official had been moved to house arrest because of health problems.

Ghani’s supporters say the workaholic technocrat has made strides in many areas during his tenure, including anti-corruption overhauls and agribusiness development. But they say much of the change has been gradual or stymied by opponents, while the public has remained frustrated by the lack of security and jobs.

“In Afghanistan, everything was broken from A to Z,” Faisal said. “It takes time to change things, but we have made progress.” Since Ghani took office, he said, “Afghanistan went from being listed as the most corrupt country in the world to being the eighth-most corrupt. That is progress.”

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department dealt a stunning blow to such assertions, announcing that it would cancel a $100 million grant for a large Afghan energy project because of “government corruption and financial mismanagement.” It also said it would cut support for two of Ghani’s signature programs to overhaul public spending and contracting, because they had not proved sufficiently transparent or accountable.

The 70-year-old incumbent has campaigned relentlessly, flying to rallies throughout the country despite the risk of Taliban attacks. Just after Ghani and running mate Amrullah Saleh arrived by army helicopter at the heavily guarded Parwan event, a motorcycle suicide bomber killed 26 people outside the entrance. 

Public response to Ghani has seemed enthusiastic, on his home turf and elsewhere. In conservative Kandahar, officials praised him for cracking down on influential “mafia” bosses. The all-male crowd in a sports stadium cheered when Saleh, a former national spy chief, took sly digs at neighboring Pakistan, which many Afghans view as the patron of Taliban predations.

“Mr. Ghani removed the warlords who monopolized power here. If he can’t bring peace, no one can,” said Mohammed Nazir, 26, a car seller. Like several others in the crowd, he criticized the U.S.-Taliban talks as too secretive. “The Taliban must come to the table and talk to Afghans.”

In Parwan, a more liberal northern region, highway billboards lionize anti-Soviet freedom fighters linked to the major opposition party. But thousands flocked to hear Ghani, including many women. Some were covered in burqas; others were students and professionals in stylish dresses who had grown up in democracy and said they were determined to keep it.

“It is important for women to participate in public events and show that we count,” said Alina Latifi, 18, who will be voting for the first time. She said that some politicians want only to “get personal benefits” from the war but that she hoped Ghani would end it. “I’m going to listen and think about who will do the best job for peace,” she said.

Ghani’s only extensive, nationwide, election-related comments came in a TV interview last month, before the U.S.-Taliban talks were called off. He said that he would not delay the vote under any circumstances and that his role was to “save the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at any cost.”

Since then, his spokesman has said the peace process will be put on hold until after the poll, which the Taliban has denounced as a “fake election” and vowed to disrupt. Afghans hope that the widespread insurgent attacks against October’s parliamentary elections will not be repeated and that turnout among the country’s 9.6 million registered voters will be high enough to produce a credible outcome.

 But many are more worried about what comes after.

“No matter whether Ghani or Abdullah wins, the other side will charge fraud and the results will be disputed,” predicted Rangin Spanta, a former Afghan foreign minister. “I don’t think we’ll see chaos break out like in 2014, but we will see a weaker government come to power. That will only hurt the peace process, which the entire nation is demanding.”

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Pamela Constable is Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan & Pakistan.

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original story (if you can get to it):

Ghani & Abdullah Sworn In

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by Sudarsan Raghavan

The Washington Post

Sept. 29, 2014

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They both have advanced degrees, but they come from different worlds. Ashraf Ghani, who earned a doctorate from Columbia University, is a former academic and World Bank official.  Abdullah Abdullah, who earned a medical degree from Kabul University, is a former resistance figure who fought against the Soviet occupation and the Taliban. On Monday, after months of political tensions, the unlikely pair took their oaths of office to lead a U.S.-brokered coalition government in Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power.

Ghani became the country’s new president. He then swore in Abdullah as his chief executive.  Only a few weeks ago, Ghani and Abdullah were at odds over an election that threatened to split Afghanistan’s ethnic groups and trigger violence. Both claimed victory in the vote held to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who came to power after U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001. The two rivals relented only after the United States stepped in to carve out a compromise deal. Now, many Afghans and Western diplomats hope that the two can set aside their differences and address their nation’s numerous challenges, including rampant corruption, high unemployment and growing security threats.

Ghani and Abdullah are taking charge as most foreign troops are scheduled to withdraw by year’s end and the Taliban is resurging in many areas of the country. Afghanistan’s central government is also nearly broke and can barely pay the salaries of its federal and provincial employees.

“These two guys with different philosophies and ideas, and coming from different regions, ethnic and educational backgrounds, do not seem like they will merge easily,” said Farouq Bashar, a political analyst and lawyer. “These two may not easily accept candidates for government positions from each side. Everyone has their own commitment to their followers.”

At Monday’s inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in central Kabul, Ghani and Abdullah promised to work together for Afghanistan’s progress. In the audience were hundreds of dignitaries from 34 countries, as well as the United Nations and the European Union. John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Obama, led the U.S. delegation, which included Ambassador James B. Cunningham and other senior officials.

“I am your leader, but I am not better than you. If I make mistakes, hold me accountable,” Ghani said in his address.

“Our commitment will be fulfilled together as a unified team to create national unity,” Abdullah said in his address.

Just as the ceremony began, a suicide bomber struck near a checkpoint close to the Kabul airport, underscoring Afghanistan’s security woes. Four security personnel and three civilians were killed, said Seddiq Seddiqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

In his address, Ghani called upon the Taliban and another armed faction, Hezb-i-Islami, to enter “a political negotiation” with the new government, saying that “we are tired of fighting and our message is peace, but this does not mean we are weak.”

A Taliban spokesman rejected the overture, saying the group does not recognize Ghani as the new president. “The presidential inauguration has no meaning to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Zabiullah Mujahid, the spokesman, said in a phone interview, using the Taliban’s name for the country. “It is the project of the United States.”

Monday’s inauguration also marked the end of Karzai’s long presidency. In his final speech as president, Karzai told the audience that he would support Ghani and Abdullah and that he would be “at their service.”

Despite their promises of working together, lingering tensions between the two leaders were apparent. Abdullah nearly boycotted the inauguration over a dispute about office space and whether he would be allowed to address the dignitaries, an aide said. Cunningham helped end the squabble.

At a news conference after the ceremony, Podesta called the inauguration “a momentous day for the Afghan people” and said Ghani and Abdullah are “seasoned leaders” with the “will and capacity to work together.” He played down the disputes that unfolded the night before the inauguration. “The most important thing is that President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah resolved their problems,” Podesta said. “Are there remaining tensions? Are there going to be remaining issues? One would be surprised if there weren’t. But I think they both have the commitment to work those things out, to build a structure where they could collaborate.”

On one front at least, Ghani and Abdullah appear unified: the relationship with the United States. A representative of the new unity government, Cunningham said, is expected to sign a bilateral security agreement on Tuesday (they did) that would allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country after 2014 to train and advise Afghan security forces. Karzai had refused to sign the pact, further souring ties with Washington. But Ghani and Abdullah have said publicly that they would endorse the agreement swiftly. “The U.S. government has a solid relationship with both President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, forged over a long period of time,” Podesta said. “Both recognize the commitments, both financially [and] particularly the sacrifices that U.S. personnel have paid here in Afghanistan.”

“We’ve turned a page,” he added, referring to the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan.

On the streets of Kabul, residents in cafes and restaurants watched the inauguration, which was televised nationally. Many expressed optimism that the new government could solve the challenges facing the country. “Dr. Ghani has a clean past, and he is well educated,” said Ahmad Mubashir, 33, a shopkeeper. “The root of all problems that Afghans face is economic hardship, and I think he is the guy who has the ability to solve this problem. Once he solves the economic problems, definitely security will improve.”

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Sharif Hassan contributed to this report

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/afghanistans-new-president-hold-me-accountable/2014/09/29/0f229a14-47c0-11e4-b72e-d60a9229cc10_story.html

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