Presidential and Provincial Elections today
The numbers are decidedly shaky for today’s Presidential election. We do know that 27 people submitted applications to become candidates in the election. Of those 16 were disqualified by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and of the remaining 11 candidates three have since withdrawn.
From there the numbers are anything but precise. We do know that the IEC has issued 3,808,556 new voter cards, a good sign and one that suggests the people of Afghanistan want to vote for a new president despite threats from the Taliban of waves of violence on polling day. The actual number of eligible voters is a little more difficult to determine. Beyond the nearly four million new voters, there are an estimated 12 or perhaps 13 million eligible voters in the country, but some say that there are closer to 20 million voter cards in circulation (voter cards from the 2003/04/05/08 and 2010 elections can be used). To make matters worse, any voter can vote at any polling station in the country for the presidential election.
Talking of polling stations, again the figures vary widely, the IEC states that 748 of the 6,423 (or is that 7,000 or 28,500 depending up which source you talk to) polling stations will be closed because of security and logistical problems. Not really surprising when the IEC headquarters in the centre of Kabul was attacked a few days ago in a battle that raged for about five hours.
There will be around 95,000 security personnel securing the vote in the 364 districts across the country for this third election since the fall of the Taliban 12 years ago. The poll is also likely to be a great deal better organised than the last one in 2009 when Hamid Karzai won by default after Abdullah Abdullah announced that he was withdrawing from the contest. Karzai cannot stand again because he has completed his two constitutional terms in office.
That very fact makes this election even more special, because it will be the first time in the modern history of Afghanistan that there will be a peaceful democratic transition of power.
Many people hope that the transition will take place after a first round of voting today. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote then it will go to a second round on 28th May (probably – according to the IEC). With the IEC taking anything up to six weeks to confirm the result of this first round (they are using 3,000 donkeys to transport the ballot boxes back to Kabul after the vote) and the likelihood of the ballot being disputed it could be months before the Afghans get a new President if it goes to a second round.
Unfortunately a second round looks likely. Of the eight remaining candidates three of them are strong contenders. There are no reliable opinion polls in Afghanistan, but numbers at rallies and anecdotal evidence suggests that Abdullah Abdullah who is standing under the banner of the National Coalition of Afghanistan and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai an independent and previous presidential contender who came fourth in 2009 are the likely second round contenders.
However, we should not ignore the chances of former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul who is also standing as an independent but who received the backing of Quayum Karzai (elder brother of incumbent President Hamid Karzai) after he decided to withdraw from the contest. Rassoul is also believed to be the favourite of Hamid Karzai himself and some say that the election has already been decided.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is Tajik and Pashtun, which served him well in 2009. From 1992 to 1996 he was spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry and subsequently he served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is Pashtun and was Finance Minister during the Transitional Government following the fall of the Taliban. He ran in the 2009 election but took just 2.94% of the vote and came fourth.
Zalmai Rassoul is also Pashtun and is described as being part of President Karzai’s inner circle. He was his national security adviser for eight years. In 2010 he became Foreign Minister but resigned last October to fight the election.
All three main contenders are reformists and have said that they would sign an agreement with the United States to keep around 10,000 US troops in the country after the end of this year; something the incumbent president has adamantly refused to do.
The 11 names that will appear on the ballot paper (those who have withdrawn are marked with a double asterisk) in the order that they will appear is as follows:
1. Abdullah Abdullah
2. Mohammad Daud Sultanzoy
3. **Abdul Rahim Wardak
4. **Quayum Karzai
5. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
6. **Sardar Mohammad Nadir Naeem
7. Zalmai Rassoul
8. Qutbuddin Hilal
9. Gul Agha Sherzai
10. Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf
11. Hidayat Amin Arsala
There are also Provincial Council elections taking pace today in the 34 provinces for which 2,704 candidates have been officially approved by the IEC.
Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time. Preliminary results are expected on 24th April, but expect them to be very preliminary.