US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent brokered deal to end the election deadlock in Afghanistan seems in tatters.
Abdullah Abdullah, one of the presidential contenders, has once again announced that he will not accept the election results and the political talks are deadlocked, despite last minute frantic efforts by the US and the UN to produce a breakthrough.
The deal, signed by Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, called for an audit of 100 percent of the votes and the formation of a government of “national unity”. Accordingly, the winner of the audit would be the president, the runner up would be – or can appoint someone to a newly created post of – the Chief Executive Officer and, among others, there would be parity with regard to appointments of key security and economic posts.
To broker the two-pronged deal, which called for a technical audit and political negotiations, required two high level visits by Kerry to Afghanistan and several long and detailed phone calls by US President Barack Obama to the candidates.
‘Industrial scale fraud’
Yet, when it seemed during the audit that Ghani’s lead was insurmountable, Abdullah pulled out of the process. The decision follows Abdullah’s previous exits from the process for what he has called “industrial scale fraud“.
The political part of the deal also fell apart mainly over disagreements about the role of the CEO. Abdullah contends that the ministers should report to the CEO while Ghani insists that the constitution gave that authority to the president. Instead, Ghani has proposed that the CEO have the authority to chair cabinet subcommittees and ministerial coordination committees. There has also been discussion about a proposal to establish an Executive Council of Ministers for the CEO to chair.
There also seems to be little incentive for Abdullah to agree to the political deal, which will require him to accept the results of the audit. Why should he boost the legitimacy of his opponent’s victory or have to sell a deal to his supporters when he might be offered the same deal later?
The last minute creative new structures may be agreeable to the candidates, but there are serious questions about whether the candidates’ supporters, especially Abdullah’s hardline backers, would accept them. There also seems to be little incentive for Abdullah to agree to the political deal, which will require him to accept the results of the audit. Why should he boost the legitimacy of his opponent’s victory or have to sell a deal to his supporters when he might be offered the same deal later?
Ghani, on the hand, is keen to lock a deal that would ensure a smooth transition of power from one elected president to another – the first in Afghanistan’s long history. He has kept the door open for a deal even after the announcement of the results, expected to declare him the winner, and said that his opponent would be included in his administration.
So after two contentious months following the agreement, Afghan candidates are far apart and the election standoff continues.
The US authorities now privately admit that perhaps the Kerry plan was overly ambitious. It set in motion contradictory expectations: On the one hand, the audit would produce a winner and a loser, and on the other hand, power would be divided equally between the two contenders. The constitutionality of creating a new post of CEO – a well-defined term in the business world, but without precedence in political systems – is also debatable. It could be seen as an extra-constitutional attempt to impose a de facto prime minister in a presidential system.
One step forward?
There has been one major step forward though, namely the audit of 100 percent of votes conducted under the supervision of the United Nations and in the presence of international and domestic observers and the media. The UN, US, and others now stand by the results.
As it is, Afghanistan faces daunting challenges, including a full blown insurgency and a near economic melt-down due to the drastic reduction of international forces and lessening of international economic assistance, which has been the lifeline of the government for over a decade. According to the country’s minister of finance, the prolonged election process alone has cost the economy of the country over $5bn.
Elections by nature are polarising. An agreement between the candidates to accept the results of the elections and to work together in a government of “national unity” would be welcomed by the majority of Afghans. But continuation of the political uncertainty due to the lack of a political deal seriously damages the country, and invites increased violence and corruption and the general weakening of law and order. It has certainly emboldened the Taliban and their foreign supporters who have lately conducted large-scale, sophisticated attacks killing and wounding tens of security officials and civilians.
The first ever transfer of power in Afghan history through an election was going to be messy. Without a voters’ roll-call to determine the number and identity of voters, a raging insurgency and the presence of illegal armed groups in the country and weak national institutions, the election results were expected to be contested. But now that the votes have been counted several times and audited according to international electoral standards, Afghans should not wait any longer for the result of their votes and for the chance to move on.
Kawun Kakar is a former United Nations official and deputy chief of staff to the president of Afghanistan. Currently, he is managing partner of Kakar Advocates LLC, an international law firm based in Kabul, Afghanistan.