Kabul, Afghanistan – The military airport in the Afghan capital is busy, as shipments of ballot boxes from across the country arrive to be audited after top presidential candidates agreed for recount of votes amid allegations of fraud.
The Independent Election Commissions of Afghanistan (IEC), along with international and domestic observers and party representatives have begun the tedious task of filtering through all the 8.1 million ballots, searching for any irregularities that could be counted as fraudulent votes.
Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, threatened to boycott results after preliminary results showed Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, leading the presidential race.
The audit, already behind schedule, has resulted in two suspensions over minor issues.
Mahmoud Saikal, an adviser to Abdullah, also voiced his growing concern over the Independent Electoral Complaint Commission’s (IECC) desire to be heavily involved in the audit and the IEC’s behavior towards their team observers.
Closed door meetings
Behind closed doors, however, the two running candidates have met twice for several hours at a time – once at Ghani’s residence and the other at Abdullah’s.
Those close to the negotiations say the two have devoted most of their energy to the technical framework of the audit, and details of the agreed on political framework are said to be in the very early stages.
The deal, aimed at stopping Afghanistan from degenerating into political instability at a time when the US-led NATO forces are about to pull out, was brokered by US Secretary of State, John Kerry.
It includes a 100 percent audit, a government of national unity, and the inclusion of a chief executive position to be given to the losing candidate or someone of his choice.
Ultimately, said Haroun Mir, a political analyst in Kabul, the margin of victory might be very close when the final result of the June 14 election is announced, and without the political deal, the winner would take complete political power, while the loser – with almost a similar amount of votes – would get nothing.
“It is not working when the country is polarised like it is right now. A political compromise is needed to form a national unity government so no one feels alienated or isolated from this political process. If they walk together I don’t see anyone challenging them,” said Mir.
The position of chief executive officer, to be installed immediately by way of presidential decree, will have the responsibilities of a prime minister.
Then, within two years, a Loya Jirga or grand assembly will vote on a permanent prime ministerial post.
“Now what the Loya Jirga decides is up to them,” Mahmoud Saikal, adviser to Abdullah Abdullah, told Al Jazeera.
An official leader of opposition was also said to have been proposed by Abdullah, a role he struggled to develop in the past five years that received little to no recognition from President Hamid Karzai.
“So far, it is lacking,” Faizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, told Al Jazeera. “This is a proposal (from Abdullah’s side), and because this is a proposal, we do not have the right to oppose it.”
Similarities and differences
Yet, despite similarities, key differences exist. Among them, Abdullah favours a prime ministership from the framework of a parliamentary system, while Ghani supports a premiership within the presidential system.
“Mr. Ghani did not accept the change of system from a presidential one to a parliamentary,” said a member of Ghani’s campaign team who did not have the authority to talk.
“The change of system from presidential to a parliamentary one was not even discussed – it is totally out of the question.”
We went to vote. So why did foreigners come back again and join us into one group? Why did we vote? Why did we spend all this money? It is not to say we are not happy that the parties came together without fighting, but if they would have selected a candidate by the votes of the people it would be much better.
Analysts and officials agree the new democracy cannot afford to mix in another system so soon. The potential of another failed system 10 years down the road would be disastrous for the already struggling state.
“The framework in front of the candidates, however, provides ample time over the next two years to dissect the current system and produce a system that can meet not only the demands of a central government but also one that responds to the needs of the people at a very localised level,” said Mir.
Other no-compromise issues included the Kabul Bank which was embroiled in a corruption scandal.
Ghani, if nominated, has promised the people of Afghanistan he will tackle the mass corruption behind the near collapse of the Kabul Bank in 2010 – of which two of Karzai’s brothers were among the shareholders.
Neither has been prosecuted thus far in the scandal, and has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
“Kabul bank is a red line in negotiations with Dr. Abdullah,” said Zaki.
“Abdullah cannot support Karzai’s brothers. Kabul Bank is number one to be dealt with. We have to show our commitment to corruption.”
People here question how the candidates will be able to hold true on campaign promises to tackle corruption.
“At this stage, the most important thing for them was to get many votes as possible, and for that reason, everyone’s support and endorsements were welcomed. This will be the difficulty once they form their government,” said Mir.
“How can they deny those people who supported them? The first six months or year they will have difficulty in going after these important issues and cases such as Kabul Bank.”
Meanwhile, President Karzai has not officially endorsed either candidate. Some, however, point to the Kabul Bank crisis as indication of Karzai’s support for Abdullah.
“If Abdullah becomes president, Karzai can emerge as a strong Pashtun leader with influence and power,” said one Afghan government official privy to the events who wished not to be named. “And his family will be protected from prosecution.”
Others, particularly Abdullah and his supporters, claim the “industrial-size corruption” in the June 14 runoff was engineered by the president, something Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for the president strongly dismissed. In a short message [SMS] he called it a “vague accusation”.
Karzai has kept quiet on the issue, which many see as a throw of support behind Ghani.
‘I need peace’
Only after election results are announced will an agreed upon political framework be introduced.
Any decisions made now will compromise people’s votes, said Zaki – a feeling that is already being voiced in the streets by ordinary Afghans.
“We went to vote. So why did foreigners come back again and join us into one group?” said Mohammad Mosadeq, a manager at a primary school in Guldara, a village about a half an hour’s drive from the capital.
“Why did we vote? Why did we spend all this money? It is not to say we are not happy that the parties came together without fighting, but if they would have selected a candidate by the votes of the people it would be much better.”
“I want my vote back,” said another over the local radio in Kabul.
After more than six months of election drag out, frustration is evident among the vast majority of Afghans.
Many were forced to stop work, investment plummeted with ethnic tensions and attacks increasing country-wide.
“There is no doubt the Taliban have taken advantage of this situation,” said a local reporter in northern Kunduz province, where Abdullah has strong support – particularly militia and commanders falling under the control of Afghanistan’s late Vice President Marshal Fahim.
Civilians, officials and members from both candidates’ teams agreed that if Kerry had not come, the country would have faced many problems – talk of a so called parallel government just one among them.
“It was the talk of the people,” said Saikal. “And they weren’t talking of a parallel government; they were talking of establishing ‘the government’.”
While the potential for dissatisfaction and disruption is always present in Afghanistan, Zaki and others said, they do not believe the country will face a similar situation again from Abdullah’s side.
The call for overtaking the current Karzai administration was enough to cause a scare.
“Guldara and the rest of the area were ready to fight for Abdullah,” said Qais, a local resident of Guldara who gave his first name only.
“They have guns and everything. I was very afraid when I heard this. I don’t need Abdullah or Ghani, I need peace.”
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