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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Ahmadzai Wins Election

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by Pajhwok reporters

Pajhwok News

Sep 21, 2014

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KABUL: Following a deal between the candidates on a government of national unity, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) on Sunday announced the final result of the disputed presidential election.

At a brief news conference in Kabul, IEC Chairman Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani declared former finance minister Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner. The announcement ends weeks of uncertainty about the future administration.

Surprisingly, Nuristani gave no vote figures, saying the results had been shared with the presidential hopefuls, who signed the agreement on power-sharing earlier in the day at the Presidential Palace.

Previously, both runners claimed winning the rigging-marred election. However, they arrived at the accord a national unity government — thanks to intervention from the United Nations and the United States of America.

According to an authoritative source, Ahmadzai has won 3935567 votes, or 55.27 percent of the ballots cast in the mid-June polls. Abdullah earned 3185018 votes according to the final tally. 

With 44.73 percent of the 7120585 votes, Abdullah trails his opponent by 755549 ballots, said one IEC official, who did not want to be named.

The source revealed the figures were not released to the media as part of an understanding reached with the commission’s international supporters, notably UNAMA.

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http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2014/09/21/it%E2%80%99s-official-ahmadzai-winner

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Vote Audit Completed

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Gandhara News

September 6, 2014

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An Afghan electoral official says the audit and recount of all 8 million votes in Afghanistan’s disputed presidential election is complete.

Noor Muhammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, said on September 5 that within 24 hours, the commission would send the results to the complaints body, which will then have 48 hours to review the results and file complaints.

The final result is expected to be announced early next week.

The UN-supervised audit was launched after candidate Abdullah Abdullah rejected the initial results of a June 14 runoff, alleging massive fraud.

The preliminary results put Abdullah’s rival, Ashraf Ghani, well ahead in the vote.

Under a U.S.-brokered deal to defuse tensions, Abdullah and Ghani pledged to accept the audit results and form a national unity government.

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http://gandhara.rferl.org/content/afghanistan-election-audit/26569602.html

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Vote Audit Getting Tricky

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Afghanistan Express Daily Newspaper

July 21, 20014

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The process of vote audit resumed a day after differences emerged between the two election camps. According to the IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor, the differences emerged between the two sides whether votes with voter signatures and finger impressions should be considered as valid or not. With the suspension of the process last Sunday, the two teams and the United Nations started negotiations for reaching an agreement over the problem. According to the IEC officials, the stakeholders have agreed to count the votes with signatures as valid…

The differences over the process of vote audit indicate the challenges that lie ahead of the process. It proves the democratic experiment in the country a very immature and flawed one. Lack of commitment among the Afghan political spectrum discredited the democratic process for power transition and is continuing to harm Afghanistan’s long-term interests. And the responsibility for this situation lies mainly on the Afghan government that failed to lead a sound and transparent process. The aftermaths of the runoff election was almost a total failure for the country as it led Afghanistan on the brink of a potential abyss of violence and civil war. Along with the government, the Independent Election Commission and its audit branch Electoral Complaints Commission played a terribly flawed role in the process.

Given that the process has been almost derailed from its constitutional ground there are now immense distrusts among the public regarding the whole political process. John Kerry’s mediation which produced an agreement of power-sharing between the two candidates was deemed as an outlet from the crisis. As a result of the agreement, election tensions deescalated and the process of vote audit got underway. With the agreement, a potentially dangerous crisis was averted and Afghanistan closely missed another chapter of instability and violence. The irresponsible approach of Afghan statesmen and national institutions towards the country’s election process harmed the country in a way that can be compared to the Taliban insurgency.

Despite the US-mediated agreement that saved Afghanistan from a potential instability and brought it back to the consititional course, the election camps still are pushing for their narrow-sighted interests while national institutions such as the electoral commissions have lost the legitimacy in the eyes of the public to judge differences and make decisions for the process. Seemingly, the candidate’s camps have been engaged in differences over whether votes with fingerprints and signatures shall be invalidated or not. This raises the question that while the two teams are not able to commit to their agreement when it comes to the relatively clean votes from Kabul province, how they would be able to handle the process and stick to their commitments when the election bodies start auditing votes from other controversial provinces.

Anyway, the election camps must remain committed to the agreement made recently. And the government and electoral bodies need to learn from past experiences and lead a sound process based on democratic principles and Afghanistan’s long-term interests.

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http://theafghanistanexpress.com/the-tricky-process-of-vote-audit

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Electoral Deadlock Broken

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TOLO News

12 July 2014

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The Afghan election stalemate has come to an end with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mediating a 48-hour negotiation between the two candidates and brokering a deal to audit all 8.1 million votes cast on June 14 runoff.

Addressing a joint press conference at the United Nations (UN) office in Kabul on Saturday evening, Secretary Kerry, presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani-Ahmadzai said they have reached both a technical and political deal.

Kerry said that both candidates have reached a common ground in negotiations saying that “both are determined that the votes of the people of Afghanistan are counted.”

Secretary Kerry arrived in Kabul on Friday morning after Abdullah suspended his ties with the electoral commissions and vowed to establish a parallel government.

The agreements, reached after almost two days of consistent talks, include a Kabul-based and UN monitored audit of all votes and a formation of a national unified government under the supervision of the winner immediately after the results are announced.

The audit is set to be carried out in the next 24 hours in Kabul. Ballot boxes from other provinces will be transferred by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the audits will be supervised by the UN and the candidates’ agents.

“We anticipate this process will take a number of weeks, so we and UNAMA have asked President Hamid Karzai and the elections commissions to postpone the inauguration,” Kerry said. “Both candidates have agreed to abide by the results of the audit.”

Head of UNAMA, Ján Kubiš, had sent out a letter to the president emphasizing that the audit will take a considerable amount of time to conduct in which he requests,on behalf of the two candidates, that the inauguration for the new President of Afghanistan be delayed by roughly a month.

During his talk, Kerry added that the “Afghans want a democracy that works not for some, but for all.”

At the end of Kerry’s announcement, Abdullah Abdullah took to the stage thanking both the secretary and rival Ashraf Ghani-Ahmadzai. He went on to say and reiterate what Secretary Kerry emphasized, that the inauguration ceremony needs to be put off.

“We have a technical agreement and a framework of national unity,” Abdullah said. “I would request President Karzai to delay the inauguration date.”

The inauguration date was scheduled for August 2, in which Secretary Kerry, Abdullah and Ghani-Ahmadzai all asked the president to delay until 100 percent of the votes are completely audited.

“Our agreement is in the interest of the people,” Abdullah announced. “Regardless of whom they cast their vote for.”

Ghani-Ahmadzai, in resonance to his opponent and Secretary Kerry, asked the president to postpone the inauguration as he has committed for the thorough audits.

“Fraud has no place in our national culture and democracy,” Ghani-Ahmadzai said. “Forming a government of national unity, should assure every Afghan, regardless of who they voted for, is committed to the well being of every Afghan. I request President Karzai to postpone the inauguration.”

Ghani-Ahmadzai said that he and Abdullah will form a national unified government under the leadership of the winner.

Just as the joint press conference ended, Secretary of State and UNAMA Head made their way to the Presidential Palace for another media conference in reaction to Abdullah-Ghani agreements.

President Karzai opened the conference by confirming that concerns were raised about frauds in the runoff and how he and his vice-presidents tried to address the concerns.

“Dr. Abdullah invited the UN to mediate in the election and in order to avoid any misunderstanding, I and my vice-presidents stood away,” Karzai said. “I phone Abdullah and Ghani whether both wanted the UN mediation and I accepted it once both confirmed it.”

He did add that he wished “the election process to be Afghan-led and managed, but I accepted the UN mediation to resolve the issue.”

In response to the requests made earlier by the two candidates, the Secretary of State and UNAMA of postponing the inauguration ceremony, Karzai accepted their stance.

“I accept the postponement of the initially planned August 2 inauguration until the audit is completed,” Karzai announced. “I hope the audit takes place quickly.”

President Karzai’s agreement to remain in power for another couple of weeks after August 2 prevents a possible power vacuum in the country.

Kubiš, expressed his gratitude to the U.S. for their works in bringing the two candidates together and breaking the electoral stalemate.

“Both candidates showed true statesmanship, for a good future for Afghanistan,” Kubiš said. “The UN is here to support and provide assistance to a unique and inclusive audit.”

Kubiš thanked President Karzai for his leadership during the difficult time and praised Secretary Kerry’s role in ending the deadlock.

“Afghanistan is blessed to have such a strong partner like the US and a friend like yourself,” referring to Kerry, Kubiš said in his concluding remarks.

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http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/15579-afghan-electoral-deadlock-broken

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Security Tight, Taliban Threaten Voters

Afghanistan Elections

Afghan women enter a poling station to vote in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Saturday, April 5, 2014.  They’re doing the run-off vote this weekend…

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By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ
Associated Press June 12, 2014

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan police and soldiers manned checkpoints at almost every intersection Thursday, searching vehicles and frisking drivers in a massive security operation ahead of elections to choose a new president to guide the country after international combat forces withdraw.

Insurgents fighting the Western-backed government have intensified attacks ahead of Saturday’s runoff vote, and the Taliban issued a new statement warning voters to stay away from the polls. The first round in April passed relatively peacefully, but a recent assassination attempt against one of the two presidential hopefuls left in the race has stoked fears of more violence to come.

“The Islamic Emirate deems it necessary to alert the people and warn them for the last time that they should not participate in this American process, deliberately or inadvertently,” the Taliban said Wednesday in a statement posted online.

Still, the senior U.N. envoy for Afghanistan expressed confidence Afghan voters would turn out as they did in the first round to decide their future by picking a new leader to oversee the transition after most U.S. and allied forces pull out by the end of this year.

Jan Kubis, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, also called on the candidates to give electoral authorities time to tally the ballots – most of which will come from remote regions, often transported by donkeys – and resolve any complaints amid widespread fears of fraud.

“Give a chance to due process, respect the work of the Commissions, don’t jump to conclusions,” he said. “Don’t make statements or comments in anticipation of the results. it will just mislead the people. control yourself, act as responsible politicians.”

He was referring to the likelihood that the campaigns of front-runner Abdullah Abdullah, the target of last week’s attack, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will start releasing their internal tallies before formal results are announced.

The official timetable is for preliminary results to be announced on July 2 and final results on July 22 in order to allow time for ballots to be secured and fraud complaints investigated.

The stakes are high as the winner will replace President Hamid Karzai, a one-time U.S. ally whose relations with Washington have soured, in the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in the country’s history.

Karzai has governed Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted following the U.S. invasion in 2001, and is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Karzai on Thursday called on Afghans to vote for the candidate of their choice in order to bring about a “stable, secure and developed future” for the war-ravaged country.

“The security forces of our country are fully ready to ensure security with the help of you, the people, for the election,” he said in a statement.

The Obama administration is watching closely. Both candidates have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that would allow thousands of international forces to stay in Afghanistan in a largely training and advisory capacity. Karzai has refused to sign it.

Afghan security forces were widely praised for the April 5 elections, which were held without major violence despite a series of deadly attacks in the weeks beforehand.

Karzai held a video conference with commanders Thursday to urge them to remain impartial and refrain from interfering in the second round balloting.

Traffic was snarled even more than usual on the streets of Kabul as police set up extra checkpoints and barriers on many roads to allow only one car through at a time. They also searched many drivers and passengers for possible explosives or other weapons.

The Afghan Interior Ministry announced that it was banning most trucks and people from other provinces from entering the capital on Election Day.

“Trucks loaded with vegetables that are in danger of being spoiled will be allowed to enter the city after a very careful search process by police,” it said.

The Cabinet also has approved a week off for school and university students that began Tuesday because of security issues.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed a police officer Thursday in the southern city of Kandahar, according to Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial government.

Elsewhere in the south, Taliban insurgents attacked several police checkpoints and killed nine police officers on Wednesday in Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province, a provincial official confirmed on Thursday.

Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said reinforcements had arrived and were searching for the attackers. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack in Uruzgan province.

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Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

http://www.kwwl.com/story/25759356/afghans-tighten-security-as-taliban-threaten-vote

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Nuristan Seeks Safer Voting

tumblr_n1gbcci40B1trd5lco1_500

Nuristan province, Afghanistan, 1972, photograph by Laurence Brun…

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by Mahbob Shah Mahbob

Pajhwok Afghan News

May 27, 2014

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JALALABAD: The people of eastern Nuristan province on Tuesday urged the government to bolster security ahead of the presidential runoff vote, scheduled for June 14.

They asked the departments concerned and security agencies to beef up safety measures so that people could cast their votes in the second round in a fear-free environment.

Haji Mirza Ali, a resident of Paron, told Pajhwok Afghan News security was bolstered only in the provincial capital and suburban localities in the last election. Voters in remote areas cast their ballots amid Taliban threats.

He demanded the government devise a stringent security plan to protect remote villages and polling sites so that people could elect a president of their choice.

“Anomalous elections were held on April 5 in Kamdesh, Barg-i-Matal and other far-flung districts because people feared militants’ reprisal if the cast vote,” he alleged.

Sultan Mir, another Nuristan resident, said the insurgents had warned voters to stay away from polling stations during the last polls. The government should work out a strategy to instill a sense of protection among voters.

“People fear their fingers will be chopped off if they cast ballot. It is imperative for the government to boost security ahead of the presidential polls,” he added.

Last time, election could not be held in Mandol district and ballot boxes were stuffed in other areas, he claimed.

Agha Gul, a resident of the district, said elections could not be held in his locality because of stout resistance from militants.

“Casting ballot is the constitutional right of every Afghan but the government should do its job of providing security,” he argued. The villagers were ready to take active part in the polls if security was improved.

A lawmaker from the province, wishing anonymity, said a very small number of women had voted in the April 5 presidential and provincial council election.

Most of the female did not take part in the ballot because of insecurity, she said, adding militants had warned people against voting.

Amanullah Inayatur Rehman, former provincial council member, said deteriorated law and order was a big hurdle hampering people’s participation in the vote. The government should adopt measures to ensure security of all active polling stations throughout the province.

Izzatullah Halim, provincial Independent Election Commission (IEC) director, acknowledged most of the districts were gripped by insecurity and problems created by insurgents.

Like much of Afghanistan, Nuristan was a mountainous province where security problems remained higher than other parts of the country, he added.

“We face serious problems and options are needed to be mulled to resolve them,” he reiterated. He went on to say that a strategy had been evolved to keep polling sites open in Mandol, a district where elections could not be held on April 5 due to militant threats.

Mohammad Zaher Bahand, the governor’s spokesman, said all institutions were ready to hold A peaceful second round. The governor has ordered a security boost for the crucial polls.

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origin of photo:

http://kafiristan.tumblr.com/page/3

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Ex-Rival Joins Front-Runner Abdullah

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BBC News

11 May 2014

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The Afghan presidential election front-runner, Abdullah Abdullah, has won the backing of a key rival, forming the contest’s first major coalition.

Zalmai Rassoul, the successor favoured by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, pledged his support for Mr Abdullah, the top candidate from the first round.

The second and final round, due in mid-June, pits Mr Abdullah against Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist.

The vote comes as international forces prepare to leave at the end of 2014.

Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to take part in the first round of the election, held on 5 April.

Partial results have shown that none of the eight candidates won the 50% needed to claim outright victory, forcing the two top-ranked contenders, Mr Abdullah and Mr Ghani, into a second round.

Mr Rassoul, a former foreign minister, was no longer in the running for the presidency, having come third in the first round with just over 11% of the vote.

An influential power-broker, he is expected to boost Mr Abdullah’s chances.

The announcement of a final official result from the first round is due on Wednesday. It has been held up by adjudication in fraud claims.

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BBC News – Afghan elections: Ex-rival joins front-runner Abdullah

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