The Recent Elections In Afghanistan Provide The Country With A Much Needed Sense Of Hope

Afghanistan, a nation marred by violence and poverty, has been given little cause for optimism in recent times. This past weekend, however, hope returned to the hearts of the Afghan people as they came forth to cast their votes in the presidential election.

The election marks the first-ever democratic transfer of power for Afghanistan, making it an exceptionally historic event for a nation often defined by turmoil.

Despite concerns of fraud, threats of violence from the Taliban and general intimidation, a record number came out on April 5 for the vote.

According to the BBC, seven million out of an estimated eligible 12 million voted in the election for the new president, making it an enormous and largely peaceful success for Afghanistan.

Also, the election displays the immense courage, integrity and determination of the Afghan people.

The Taliban threatened to thwart the vote, pledging to attack the election and anyone involved with it, but it is apparent that they failed in this endeavor. Unfortunately, however, there were still reports of violence in the country on Saturday.

According to Kevin Sieff, “At least 23 people were killed on election day and the prior day, mostly soldiers and police officers, the government announced.” Additionally, 89 Taliban militants were also killed and 179 other fighters were arrested.

Yet, there were no large-scale attacks in Kabul and the day was decidedly more peaceful than many predicted.

In an exclusive interview, Sam Schneider, the English news editor for the Kabul-based TOLOnews, stated:

"The campaign season went pretty well, though a lot if it was theater rather than substantive. But in a country where just over 40 percent of people are literate, that's not all that surprising. The main themes of the lead-up were definitely Taliban violence, government interference and voter fraud.

There was a slue of attacks in the two weeks before the vote, with attacks on election officials, security personnel and journalists nearly everyday. Most expats were evacuated by their companies over election weekend, pretty much only journalists remained. Democracy International even pulled out the observers it was going to use.

All of this contributed to an overwhelming gloomy outlook peddled in western media. But when Election Day came and went with less violence than most average days see, the build-up fell flat on its face and gave way to a ubiquitous sense of accomplishment and pride across the country."

In 2009, during the last presidential elections, the story was much different, as there were widespread allegations that the election was rigged in favor of the incumbent, President Karzai. Now, however, Karzai must step down as the constitution limits him to two terms.

Thus, this election is arguably more egalitarian and democratic.

Furthermore, as Helena Malikyar notes for Al Jazeera, “It will take a few days to know approximate numbers of voters and vote distributions and two weeks before Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announces the final figures. But, many observers estimate that around 7 million eligible voters cast their ballots on April 5.

That will make a turnout of close to 60 percent, while in 2009 about 4.5 million had voted.” Obviously, this election was a vast improvement from Afghanistan’s previous presidential election and a huge step forward for the country.

However, there were still widespread concerns of fraud leading up this election, largely as a consequence of the nature of the election in 2009.

As Emma Graham-Harrison of The Guardian stated, “After more than a decade under President Hamid Karzai, there have been widespread fears that the election would be sewn up in favor of a chosen successor, or that people disillusioned with corruption and mismanagement would stay away.

In 2009, the vote that returned Karzai to power was marred by widespread fraud, with more than a million ballots thrown out.”

While these fears and concerns were well founded, it appears that the anti-fraud measures put in place for this election were largely successful. It will take at least six weeks for the results to finalize before they are declared.

Afghanistan is a large nation with deep ethnic divisions, a fact that will play a large role in the outcome of the election. It is notable that the two campaigns consistently leading in the pre-election polling have crossed ethnic lines to form their tickets.

There are eight candidates in total, and in order to win, one will have to score more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a run-off with his nearest rival. Some are concerned that this could lead to violence in a country that desperately needs a strong and stable leadership.

As Al Jazeera notes, “There are a number of efforts underway to prevent such crisis by bringing most, if not all, of the top candidates together under a form of a coalition government.”

The top three contenders are Ashraf Ghani, Zalmai Rassoul and Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani was the finance minister under Karzai, while Abdullah was Karzai’s foreign minister. Abdullah also ran in 2009, but dropped out in protest regarding widespread voter fraud.

While Karzai has not formally endorsed Rassoul, it is widely argued that he is the establishment candidate.  Accordingly, Schneider notes:

"I think a major sign of whether or not the vote was compromised and meddled with by the Karzai administration, for example, will be how well Zalmai Rassoul does.

Most experts recognize that he is not nearly as popular nationwide as Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, and surveys leading up to the vote support that view, but he was endorsed by Karzai's brother, Qayoum, and is generally regarded as being the favored candidate of the palace. If he somehow manages to place second, or first, that would seem pretty fishy."

If there is no winner, a run-off election will occur on May 28 between the two frontrunners.

One of the biggest concerns with this is that a delay could impact the completion of a pact between the US and Afghanistan that would keep up to 10,000 US troops in the country beyond 2014.

In February, President Obama announced a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year, while simultaneously stating his preference for keeping residual forces in the country in order to prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold there.

Karzai refused to agree to this and his relationship with President Obama and the US has become quite strained recently, but the top three candidates have all pledged to sign it.

President Obama has congratulated Afghanistan for its election and has pledged to work closely with Karzai’s successor — whoever that may be. The US military has been present in Afghanistan since 2001, in what has become the longest conflict in US history.

Furthermore, Afghanistan has been a constant point of frustration for the Obama administration. Thus, it is not surprising that both Obama and the US government are watching this election and its outcome closely.

The future of Afghanistan is still up in the air, but the world can congratulate it for holding a successful and peaceful election after 13 tumultuous years in which at least 16,000 Afghans have died.

Hopefully, the current positive motions will continue; it is reassuring that Afghan people seem determined to come together and regain control of the fate of their country.

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