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Former Election Observer Reacts To Power-Sharing Deal

Srinjoy Bose
Srinjoy Bose

Srinjoy Bose, an international observer during the two rounds of Afghanistan's presidential elections in April and June, has faith in the power-sharing deal brokered between President-elect Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Mustafa Sarwar, Bose argued that though Abdullah and Ghani will likely work together, the deal could set the stage for political crises in future elections.

RFE/RL: How can Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah work together as president and CEO after such a bitter election dispute?

Srinjoy Bose: I would argue they can, most definitely, work together. Recall that after Ghani had fallen out with President Hamid Karzai, during his tenure as Chancellor of Kabul University [in 2004], Abdullah [then the Foreign Minister] extended invitations to Ghani for official events and functions which he need not have; witnesses mention that the two individuals displayed a remarkable respect for each other.

Obviously, some important mechanisms of cooperation will need sorting in the coming months for a 50-50 deal to work. That said, there are several aspects to consider when assessing the question.

Under the agreement, the new president will delegate some of his constitutionally-granted authority to the CEO. But the agreement not only delegates, it also checks the authority of the president. This is because the CEO will have substantial power and authority to implement policy, appoint government officials, and monitor and support policies, programmes, and budgetary affairs. This is precisely where some of the contradictions in the agreement are evident.

RFE/RL: Many Afghans feel the power-sharing deal ignored their votes. To what extent does such a deal affect the future of democracy and elections in Afghanistan?

Bose: While it remains to be seen how the deal impacts the future of democracy and governance in general, it does have ramifications for elections.

While a sympathetic view may appreciate the need to keep the details of the result secret--the power sharing deal and formation of a long-awaited government administration is the priority now--electoral democracy is the loser. First, it signals that people’s votes do not actually matter and highlights the fact that politics and democracy in Afghanistan are about deal-making and negotiations.

Afghan civil society activists in particular are greatly disappointed with the [handling] of the electoral processes, and even more so with the decision to keep the details of the results secret. Would, for instance, the Afghan public support a new arrangement when so little information is being given to them?

As one expert has put it, allowing the votes to be ‘discarded’ [in favour of a deal] not only robs the candidates of legitimacy, but also ensures that such crises will recur in the future. Why? The answer is painfully simple: it tells the stakeholders that every answer to an electoral crisis is a fraught political deal. It is hard to see how a state and/or government can be stable in such an environment.

RFE/RL: What should be done to avoid a similar scenario in the next presidential election?

Bose: The 2014 election fiasco--which brought Afghanistan to the brink of civil crisis, teaches us that premature localisation and indigenization of the elections process in Afghanistan or elsewhere is a bad idea. In this sense, the international community has been very naïve. For the UN, the short-term impact of the election was more critical than solving the entrenched problems such as voter registration. This is buttressed by the change in the international community’s rhetoric and narrative, which reflect a shift from striving for "free and fair elections" to insisting on "credible elections."

With respect to the specific [handling] of future elections, there are two potential solutions worth mentioning. Some electoral experts are of the opinion that the entire elections process should be sub-contracted to the UN. Obviously, there is a question of who will foot the bill, but it is either that or a repeat of 2014 and having to spend $147 million on a fraught recount process. Compare this figure to the internationally administered 2004 Presidential election, which cost $90 million.

It is, however, difficult to see the Afghan government accepting such a solution. The alternative--and perhaps a more reasonable one at that--is to have international electoral experts embedded in both the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission Secretariats, but in larger numbers than previously. This will provide both the necessary expertise for problem-solving and go a long way towards ensuring the independence of the said institutions.