Delayed Results of Afghan Election Overshadow the Fortitude of the Country’s Electorate
On November 14th 2019, the EastWest Institute convened a roundtable discussion entitled “The Results of the Afghanistan Elections: Consequences for the Peace Process and Future EU Policy.” As the title suggests, the discussion was set to address the electoral results of September 28, Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election since 2001. In a change of events, the discussion took place against the backdrop of another delay in the results, as announced just a day before by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).
The results had actually been delayed once before and were set to be announced on the day of EWI’s roundtable until the IEC postponed them once again until further notice. This sense of confusion surrounding the election, its results, and its implications for the peace process became the dominant theme of the discussion as the guest speakers – Ambassador Nazifullah Salarzai of the Embassy and Mission of Afghanistan to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the EU and NATO and Ambassador Roland Kobia, EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan for the European External Action Service (EEAS) – presented their perspectives.
Following the two insightful presentations and dialogue among participants, it became abundantly clear to everyone in attendance that the final election results being announced are linked to the future viability of the peace process. While continuing delay affirms the fact that the IEC has taken all candidates’ concerns into consideration, any further delay also risks undermining the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democracy; feeding into the Taliban narrative that the political class in Kabul is ineffective.
Throughout the discussion, participants reiterated the need for the Afghan people to have clarity so their elected representatives can move forward with trying to bring forty years of violence to an end. The case of the 2014 election, whereby then U.S. secretary of State John Kerry managed to strike a power-sharing agreement between sitting President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to form the current National Unity Government, was not seen as an ideal model to resolve any tensions that could emerge from the September election. It was seen as important for Afghanistan to own its own political destiny and not rely on continued external influence to resolve its internal political debates and governance. Emphasis was thus placed on Afghan politicians to produce a legitimate winner to the election on their own terms.
Given the multiple overlapping issues which have plagued the election – from threats of violence at polling stations, to accusations of fraud and complications with a new biometric system; or from U.S. President Trump’s tweets announcing the cancelation of peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David to further delays of the election result – a poignant theme of the roundtable discussion was the ease by which conversations on Afghanistan can too often focus solely on the negativities surrounding the country.
A key positive indicator is that despite the low voter turnout for the September election, those individuals that did turn out to cast their ballot demonstrated astonishing courage. The fact the election took place illustrates a certain degree of respect for the country’s constitution, and in turn solidifies its importance and centrality to overall governance.
It is often said that donor fatigue has set in across the west when it comes to Afghanistan, with donors and governments alike beginning to lose interest in the country and writing it off as a lost cause. However, if any number of ordinary Afghans, no matter how small, are willing to place themselves in danger to actively participate in a democratic process, then it should be recognized that these votes legitimize the institutional functionality of democracy. As a result, they are immensely significant and should be nurtured as much as possible. To shun these achievements and focus solely on the negatives would be a great disservice to the bravery and fortitude of the Afghan electorate.
Dr. Wolfgang Klapper, Annie Cowan