The preliminary results of Afghanistan's presidential election are in, and reveal several surprises.
Dostum Fails To Deliver
When presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani named General Abdul Dostum as a running mate, it was seen as a shrewd political move. With the former Uzbek militia leader on his ticket as first vice president, the prevailing view was that Afghanistan's large Uzbek voting bloc would give Ghani a significant boost. Afghans traditionally vote along ethnic lines, and there was no reason to believe it would be any different this time around.
But while Ghani finished second in the preliminary results released on April 26, enough to go to a second round if the results survive the lengthy complaints period, the tactic appears to have backfired.
Ethnic Uzbeks, who make up about 9 percent of Afghanistan's population, helped Ghani secure big victories in the province of Jowzjan (where he took 69 percent of the vote) and the neighboring Faryab (65 percent) -- each of which have large Uzbek populations.
Ghani did not fare nearly as well, however, in three other provinces with significant Uzbek populations. Ghani failed to garner 40 percent of the vote in Sar-e-Pul (39 percent), Samangan (27 percent) and Kunduz (38 percent).
Instead, Abdullah Abdullah won a plurality in all three provinces, helping propel him to a first-place finish countrywide, with 44.9 percent of the vote.
Ghani's choice of Dostum was always a dangerous one, because he risked alienating some core supporters -- namely, youths and women, and voters from other ethnic groups -- in order to gain the Uzbek bloc.
The returns show, however, that Abdullah effectively neutralized that advantage.
No Hazara Split
Before the election, no one expected Abdullah to secure the majority of votes from Afghanistan's Hazara minority, which make up around 9 percent of the population. Many observers predicted the Hazara vote would be split among Abdullah, Ghani, and third-place finisher Zalmai Rasul (11.5 percent), all of whom included Hazaras on their tickets.
But it was Abdullah alone who took decisive victories in the majority Hazara provinces of Bamiyan (68 percent) and Dai Kundi (75 percent). And Abdullah was also the leading candidate in provinces with sizeable Hazara minorities, including Ghor (60 percent), Ghazni (54 percent), and Wardak (36 percent). He also finished a close second in Uruzgan (24 percent).
Observers have homed in on several factors for Abdullah’s strong showing.
One is his choice of Mohammad Mohaqeq, a powerful former Hazara warlord and ex-minister, as his second vice president. Mohaqeq, it appears, has more pull than the Hazaras chosen by Abdullah's main rivals.
Ghani's pick for second vice president is former Justice Minister Sarwar Danish (and he also secured the support of current second vice president Mohammad Karim Khalili). Rasul tabbed Habiba Surabi, the country’s first female governor, as his second vice president.
Observers have noted that many Hazaras have become increasingly disillusioned with the outgoing government -- and Khalili, in particular -- because of failed promises to improve infrastructure in impoverished Hazara areas. Some members of the minority are also angry at the government’s failure to carve separate provinces out of Hazara-dominated districts in Wardak and Ghazni provinces.
Another contributing factor to the result can be found in Hazaras' mistrust of Ghani, who is from a Kuchi background. The Kuchis, a nomadic Pashtun people, and Hazaras have clashed for centuries over land and grazing rights. Violence is still reported every year, especially during the Kuchis' seasonal ventures into disputed areas in spring. Afghan monarchs and governments, traditionally dominated by Pashtuns, have often sided with the Kuchis in the dispute.
Pashtun Votes Swing
As expected, Abdullah won the majority of votes in the northern and western provinces dominated by ethnic Tajiks. Abdullah is of mixed ethnicity -- he is half ethnic Tajik and half Pashtun -- but is seen by many as a Tajik, mostly because of his past prominence in the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance.
Seeing that Tajiks only account for about 27 percent of the population, Abdullah focused on improving his chances by securing a share of the Pashtun vote. Abdullah campaigned aggressively in the predominantly Pashtun south and east, talked up his Pashtun heritage, and named a Pashtun as his first vice presidential running mate.
Observers predicted that Abdullah faced an uphill battle to sway Pashtuns because many still see him primarily as an ethnic Tajik. Taking votes from other candidates -- all of whom were Pashtun -- was seen as a major hurdle, especially considering some had accused Abdullah of fabricating his Pashtun heritage.
But preliminary results show that he made impressive inroads in Pashtun areas. He managed to win the most votes in two Pashtun-majority provinces -- Farah (35 percent) and Wardak (36 percent). Meanwhile, he secured around one-fifth of the vote in the provinces of Nimroz, Helmand, Zabul, Logar, and Nangarhar. Before the election, observers said he had little chance of getting to double digits in those regions.
As expected, Ghani won the majority of votes in the eastern, Pashtun-dominated provinces. Rasul, meanwhile, secured a huge majority in Kandahar and fared strongly in several other southern provinces.