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Afghan Election Dispute Thrusts Country into Uncertainty

Supporters of Afghan Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah listen to his speech during a protest against the preliminary results of Presidential vote, in Kabul, 08 July 2014.
Supporters of Afghan Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah listen to his speech during a protest against the preliminary results of Presidential vote, in Kabul, 08 July 2014.

The protracted dispute over the results of the country's April 5 presidential elections has left millions of Afghans feeling uneasy about the future of their country.

Afghanistan’s political process was plunged into crisis after presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah boycotted the lengthy vote counting process, claiming "industrial -scale" vote fraud soon after the June 14 runoff.

His rival Ashraf Ghani accused Abdullah of trying to manipulate the process to ensure his victory.

Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission (AIEC) delayed its announcement of preliminary results for one week in the face of the dispute. It announced its initial tally on July 7, showing Ghani with 56 percent of the vote, and Abdullah with 43 percent.

The AIEC says the preliminary results could change by July 22, when it is scheduled to announce the final count.

Addressing a gathering in Kabul on July 8, Abdullah rejected the results, accusing outgoing President Hamid Karzai, Ghani, and the AIEC of conspiring against him. "We are true winners of the elections," he told hundreds of noisy supporters.

"A government is what the people expect from us, and I assure you, the people of Afghanistan, that your government will be declared very soon," he said in response to his supporters’ demands to declare victory. "But give me time so I can take a decision that the people would benefit from."

The crisis has set off a flurry of international diplomatic activity. On June 8, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Afghan politicians in a written statement that they risked losing international aid if they attempted to seize power "by extra-legal means."

Kerry is expected to visit Kabul later this week in an apparent attempt to prevent the election dispute from spiraling into a constitutional crisis.

But millions of Afghans who participated in the two rounds of voting are worried about the impact of the stalemate on their daily lives.

Ahmed Shah, the owner of a shop selling trendy clothes and cosmetics, said his business in Kabul's upscale City Center shopping mall has been badly affected by the crisis.

Shah said that the working women, university students, and middle class housewives who comprise the majority of his customers are less keen on spending in the current atmosphere of uncertainty. "The conflict around the runoff has ruined my business. People, especially women, do not want to buy anything other than basic food."

Noor Muhammad, another Kabul resident, voted in both rounds of the presidential election, but warns of a "tsunami of unrest triggered by poverty" if the government fails to resolve the crisis soon.

The wedding hall he owns on the outskirts of Kabul has been hit hard by the crisis. "Every other day there is a demonstration and roads are being closed," he said. "Who would want to get married or celebrate anything in such an atmosphere?"

The crisis has affected attendance in schools, universities, and government offices. Security threats sometimes prevent people from going to work and prompt parents to keep their children home.

"Right now, all I think about is elections and what will happen. I cannot concentrate on anything in this situation," says Rabia, a student at Kabul’s medical university, who goes by one name only. "If things don't do well, I am afraid we will be left to deal with a country full of angry men and without a president. It is too scary even to think about."