The polling booths are finally closed
By Derek Henry Flood
KABUL - A brief e-mail dropped into in-boxes in Kabul on Monday, announcing a
press conference at the headquarters of the Afghan Independent Election
Commission (IEC) on Jalalabad Road.
The IEC began resembling a small, fortified airfield this summer as preparation
began for the initial, and now final, August 20 presidential election. Its vast
hangers acted as dissemination and collection points for ballots headed out to
the country's 34 provinces. Late Monday afternoon became the last time that
most reporters will visit the sprawling complex.
Azizullah Ludin, the IEC's chief officer, announced to a cramped cluster of
cameras and microphones that incumbent Hamid
Karzai had been re-elected for a second five-year term as his rival, Abdullah
Abdullah, had earlier withdrawn from the runoff scheduled for November 7.
One of Abdullah's main sticking points in the back-room negotiations before the
now annulled vote was the removal of Ludin, a Karzai appointee whom Abdullah
insisted was acting as the president's stooge. This request was apparently too
much for Kabul's powerbrokers, and its rejection was likely one of the primary
reasons for Abdullah's withdrawal.
A defiant Ludin said at Monday's briefing that not only was he not embarrassed
by a very messy election process that had been riddled with allegations and
counter-allegations of fraud, but rather proud that he and his organization had
upheld the Afghan constitution. The runoff only became necessary after Karzai
was stripped of a number of votes, pushing him below the 50% of total votes he
needed to win outright.
In the scrum that followed Ludin's announcement, he hastily retreated into the
IEC offices with his entourage, leaving Zekria Barakzai, his deputy, to deal
with a barrage of tough questions.
In contrast to Ludin, Barakzai said he had many regrets over the election
process and referenced the constitutional framework that allowed for such a
fiasco in a country at war with itself and with international forces occupying
small tracts of it.
Asia Times Online asked Barakzai whether the Afghan constitution needed to be
amended to avoid a repeat scenario.
"There are a lot of issues that need to be amended in the long term and one of
them is this gap that exists when one of the candidates withdraws after the
announcement of the first results and before the conducting of the second round
of elections, yes, I think there is room for amendment to our constitution."
Asked whether this was a flaw in the nascent Afghan system, Barakzai simply
nodded with a "yes".
In awarding Karzai victory, the IEC said it would be wrong to ask Afghans to
risk their lives in the face of edict-based threats of physical violence from
the Taliban and only one candidate. "It doesn't make sense to put people's
lives, Afghan security agencies and international security forces at risk,
[also considering] the economic situation, stability, putting the country in
[more] uncertainty just because we feel the need to show that something is
happening. The result is already known, so it was the logical and legitimate
decision of the IEC."
The boisterous third-placed candidate in August's first round of voting, the
independent, Ramazan Bashardost, would most likely have been happy to replace
Abdullah, but the IEC insisted there were no legal means to make this happen.
Bashardost, an outspoken, Paris-educated candidate from the Hazara minority was
closing in on nearly 10% of the vote by mid-September - counting was a slow
process - but was shut out of the final process that requires a two-man runoff.
The IEC said it had not been in touch with Bashardost since preparations for
the runoff began, and painting him as irrelevant when asked if a replacement
for Abdullah was even a remote possibility.
Barakzai told reporters that the decision on Karzai had been made just two
hours before the public proclamation, though he already had his talking points
ready when saying that "this is not Saddam Hussein's Iraq" and that "we are not
a communist state where we have only one candidate". Barakzai was essentially
saying that the IEC was declaring Karzai victorious for the sake of
Afghanistan's democratic bona fides.
In a letter to the international community in Kabul, the IEC also pointed to
the costs of putting on another election, as if doing a favor to the financial
exoskeleton on which it depends. "To prevent the high cost of the run-off
election," the letter said. This overlooks the fact that the international
community was willing to assume the costs of the event.
Asia Times Online questioned Barakzai on the security issue, asking whether it
would have been acceptable for voters to risk death had Abdullah stayed in the
Barakzai shot back, "We were ready and our security agencies were ready to
conduct this next round and had Abdullah not dropped out, it would have been
worth the risk to show that the people of Afghanistan were ready for
The IEC insists its decision is final; like it or not, Afghanistan and the
world will have to come to terms with another five years of Karzai's leadership
in what is probably the world's most crucial foreign policy imbroglio.
Derek Henry Flood is an American freelance journalist specializing in
analysis of Middle Eastern, South and Central Asian geopolitics through
traditional reporting and photography combined with digital multimedia.