Violence and fraud set to delay Afghan presidential elections

Written by Will Waddingham

Afghan officials announced on December 26th that the presidential election scheduled for April 2019 will likely be delayed as violence with the Taliban continues to plague the country.[1] This violence, along with allegations of fraud in the parliamentary elections of October 2018, have both served to delay the election. Officials claim the delay will allow for continuations in peace talks and an opportunity to fix voting systems that have been prone to fraud.[2]

Afghan politics have steadily progressed since the election of President Ashraf Ghani in 2014.[3] Ghani took power by promising to protect Afghan human rights and strengthen the rule of law.[4] Under Ghani, Afghanistan has modernized and extended several newfound legal rights to women.[5] Many fear, however, that any advances made by the Taliban could halt these progressive reforms.[6] The Taliban remains vehemently opposed to educating women, for example.

Ghani, seen as the frontrunner in the coming election just two weeks ago, is now embroiled in a fight for his political life.[7] Ghani was originally elected in 2014 in a controversial election.[8] His opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, alleged that mass voter fraud had taken place.[9] Former American Secretary of State John Kerry was forced to intervene, forming a compromise where Ghani would take the presidency while Abdullah would take the newly formed position of Chief Executive.[10]

This compromise was intended to form a government that would govern for two years.[11] Yet, the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2016 were delayed to October 2018 with fears of violent attacks by the Taliban at voting stations.[12] When elections finally took place in October 2018, there were still reports of rampant fraud.[13] These delays, along with the controversies of the 2014 presidential election and the 2018 parliamentary election, created deep divisions in the Afghan parliament.[14] Citizens lost faith in a government that did not seem to accurately represent the will of the people.[15] These divisions have made the Afghan parliament ill-suited to properly opposing the Taliban,[16] stressing the need for a fair and democratic election.

Fears of fraud in Afghan voting practices remain. To hold a fair and truly democratic election, officials claim they need more time to properly train staff to use the newly implemented biometric identification system meant to reduce fraudulent voting.[17] These delays, while costly, are critical to creating a unified Afghanistan capable of properly fighting the Taliban. Only by ensuring that its leaders are democratically elected will Afghanistan achieve this unity and stability.

The decision to delay the election comes at a critical moment in Afghanistan’s 17-year war against the Taliban. Just two weeks ago, Afghanistan appeared poised to broker a peace deal with the Taliban and move towards a bright, democratic, future.[18] This forward momentum was all but halted by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw half of the 14,000 American military personnel serving in Afghanistan.[19]

The Taliban have long demanded that foreign interference be removed from the country.[20] With the Trump administration doing just this, some Afghans view the withdrawal as Trump caving to a key Taliban demand without forcing the Taliban to make any concessions of their own.[21] This has sparked a growing view amongst the Taliban that victory could be firmly in hand, in turn driving them away from the bargaining table.[22]

With this violence delaying the Afghan elections, it makes Afghanistan more poorly-suited to combat the Taliban. Without a unified country represented by democratic leadership, Afghanistan will be unable to achieve the stability needed to defeat the insurgency. Yet, with the equally present need to ensure that a fair, non-fraudulent election takes place, Afghanistan must strike a balance. To create the stability and unity the country so needs, an election must take place in an expedient fashion while also being democratic and fair. Only through doing so can the Afghani people be confident in their government, and only through doing so can Afghanistan successfully move towards peace with the Taliban.


Endnotes

[1] Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi, “Afghanistan Likely to Delay Election as Trump Presses for Peace Talks,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/world/asia/afghanistan-presidential-election-delay.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=sectionfront

[2] Ibid.

[3] Pamela Constable, “Afghan momentum on peace, election slows to a crawl,” The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghan-momentum-on-peace-election-slows-to-a-crawl/2018/12/28/76d8e3ea-0a8d-11e9-a3f0-71c95106d96a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.2927fbabc383

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Al Jazeera, “Afghanistan postpones presidential election,” https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/afghanistan-postpones-presidential-election-181226104721451.html

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The National, “Afghan elections 2018: election day approaches after years of delay,” https://www.thenational.ae/world/asia/afghan-elections-2018-election-day-approaches-after-years-of-delay-1.781638

[13] Al Jazeera, “Afghanistan postpones presidential election.”

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Pamela Constable, “Afghan momentum on peace, election slows to a crawl.”

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

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