A shadow continues to grow over the re-election of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Allegations of rigging began on Election Day and have continued to increase. Election authorities were initially supposed to release preliminary results on October 19, but claims of fraud and technical issues forced the IEC to delay the announcement repeatedly.Some 16,500 complaints have been lodged by four presidential candidates since the announcement of the results on December 22.
The number is so high that Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC) has bluntly said that it cannot respond to all of them by the due date — 15 days. Independent experts said it could take up to five weeks to investigate all the complaints.
A spokesperson for IECC has said that they would extend the response time as necessary and would not ignore any complaints. While this position has the support of other prominent candidates such as Abdullah Abdullah and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, President Ghani has vehemently opposed it. His opposition is curious unless of course, he knows that he did not win fair and square. What Ghani does know is that the election commission had to purge nearly one million of the initial 2.7 million votes polled, making this the lowest turnout of any election in the country of 37 million people, 9.6 million of whom are registered voters.
Ghani was reportedly the frontrunner with almost 51% of the 1.8 million votes counted. But Chief Executive Abdullah, who had over 39%, claims he actually had a significant majority and accused Ghani of stuffing over 300,000 ballots, or roughly one-third of his tallied votes. The irony is that in the wake of previous fraud-marred elections, the IEC for the first time used biometric machines to deter people from voting more than once. But many of those machines ended up being stolen. Among the complaints is that votes cast on stolen devices have been counted.
With the final results due after the complaints are reviewed, it must be acknowledged that a fair election might be the only thing that lends credibility to the Afghan government, especially given the recent revelations of the extent of US-backed rigging in previous elections.
New year, old challenges
Accompanied by our long-drawn woes, we enter the New Year. It’s indeed a challenging time for the whole nation, given that political instability is a persistent problem; governance remains a disaster; social services needs continue to go unmet; democratic dispensation is a big question mark; the economy is a mounting challenge; external security front demands ever more attention, though the internal security is pretty satisfactory; bureaucracy is in a defiant mode; and the writ of the executive is virtually non-existent — recently challenged by a segment of the lawyers in Punjab. While the Prime Minister, in a message of hope for the nation, says 2020 will be a year of national progress, all the signs are there that yet another difficult year is waiting for us.
Well, the past year was not a smooth one either, rife with heightened hostility between the government and the opposition — something that continued throughout the year, impeding efforts for bringing in the political calm that is needed for the rulers to focus on issues of core concern for the country and the people. Even the one-page wonder failed to work the way it was anticipated to. Government’s much-trumpeted accountability drive was mainly to blame for the bitterness between the two sides that was quite too visible everywhere — inside the assemblies, out on the roads, and during TV talk-shows. Frankly speaking, the government miserably failed to nullify the impression of one-sided accountability, only targeting members of the country’s two main opposition parties.
The impact of this political disharmony was wide-ranging. The economy was, no doubt, the biggest casualty. Since sustenance in government policies is of prime concern for the business community, the reigning political turbulence kept businessmen and traders mired in what-next confusion all year round. Financial markets too suffered badly due to the government’s inability to provide the feel-good factor and ensure the right sentiments. That the economy went from bad to worse in the outgoing year is hardly debatable. And while the government’s economic policies did most of the damage, what could have had an enabling effect on the economy in the shape of political harmony was also missing.
Legislation matters also took a big hit. Parliament was left virtually non-functional, with the business of legislation only running by fits and starts. The assemblies continued to witness a contest between opposition and treasury benches of who can shout louder and who can come up with a wittier jaw-breaking reply. Besides, many a constitutional matter requiring consensus between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition suffered gravely. The dysfunctional Election Commission of Pakistan is a significant case in point.
As most of its energies and attention were consumed in measures to tackle the opposition, the government failed to focus on matters related to governance, with its election pledges — to reform the police, restructure bureaucracy, control the electricity and gas theft to make the energy-use cheaper, and fix the ailing industrial units — offering nothing to write home about. Public welfare remained mostly neglected, save for a few initiatives under the Ehsaas Programme. Administrative measures to control price hike were also missing. And so far there has been no concrete progress as regards the PM’s claim for the provision of five million housing units for the needy and 10 million jobs for the youth.
And to add to all that, acrimony also seeped in — towards the end of the past year — between two powerful state institutions over an unexpected court judgment against a former military dictator, threatening to give rise to political uncertainty in the country in the new year.