Lessons from Afghanistan on how to hold an election

06 May 2014
Election workers count ballots at an Independent Election Commission office in Herat, Afghanistan. Voters turned out in high numbers despite bad weather and threats of violence from the Taliban.
Aref Karimi / AFP / Getty Images
Election workers count ballots at an Independent Election Commission office in Herat, Afghanistan. Voters turned out in high numbers despite bad weather and threats of violence from the Taliban.
Aref Karimi / AFP / Getty Images

The results from the Afghan presidential elections were announced on 26 April, three weeks after polls were conducted. As most predicted, they indicated a runoff between the two top candidates: the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, and the former finance minister and chairman of the Transition Coordination Committee, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. The runoff is likely to take place at the end of May, after which history will be made with a peaceful transfer of power for the first time in Afghanistan.

In the year preceding these elections, there was considerable cynicism about the process from various pundits in the domestic and international media. As international organisations pulled out their observers barely days before the polls, the international media began to cast doubt on the election process with headlines like ‘Credibility of Afghan Vote in Doubt as Observers Flee Violence,’ as seen in the New York Times.

Rumours ran rampant that the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, would not let elections take place. The bazaars and Western diplomatic circles were abuzz with gossip that President Karzai would bring in new legislation through parliament that would allow him to stay in power for more than the two terms stipulated by the current law of the land.

There was also widespread scaremongering in these circles about a sharp increase in Taliban attacks that would derail the process, and routine Taliban threats were given a lot of credence by the international and local media. A day ahead of the polls, the Washington Post carried the headline, ‘Fear of Violence Shadows Afghanistan’s Provinces on Election Eve.’ There was also talk of possible electoral misconduct that would apparently “delegitimise” the process.

None of those predictions came true.

Nazes Afroz is former executive editor for BBC World Service, South and Central Asia. He has been visiting Afghanistan regularly since 2002 and has co-authored a cultural guidebook on Afghanistan.

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