Friday, April 4, 2014

Afghanistan: Election Day 2014

UPDATE: Voting in the landmark presidential election came to a close after an hour of extension on Saturday evening. Despite threats by the Taliban, no major security problems were reported in the country. 58% of eligible voters reportedly cast ballots. The high voter turnout beat everyone's expectations. This is a major victory for Afghan people. Now vote count begins.


Polls are now open for the first democratic transition of power in Afghan history. The Afghans are defying Taliban threats, and rain and cold, and are heading to the polls in large numbers on the Election Day 2014.

Following are the leading candidates to replace Hamid Karzai.
  • Zalmay Rassoul; Karzai’s foreign minister until he resigned to run for presidency. Rassoul is backed by Karzai and his political machine. But he also enjoys real support in southern Pashtun areas of Afghanistan.
  • Abdullah Abdullah; Runner up in last presidential election, and the only Tajik running for president. Abdullah is expected to finish strong in Tajik and Hazara dominated areas.
  • Ashraf Ghani; Former head of Transition Commission, paving the way to transfer of security from U.S.-led coalition to Afghans, is running a surprisingly very strong campaign. Because of his running mate, Gen. Dostum, he is expected to get the support of the Uzbek community. He also runs strong in Eastern Pashtun provinces.
  • Rassoul Sayyaf; Along with his running mate Ismail Khan, this ticket represents the old Mujahedeens, the most credible team to fight the Taliban after U.S. and NATO withdrawal. Ismail Khan, the Lion of Herat, will get significant votes in the West. However, their ticket is not expected to make it to the second round.

If no candidates receive a majority of the votes on 5 April, the election will go to the second run between the top two vote getters, which is the likely scenario. In that case and in all likelihood, Abdullah will face Zalmay, barring a late surge in support for Ashraf Ghani. Ismail Khan is then expected to support Abdullah against either Zalmay or Ghani.  

Aside from Ismail Khan, Mazar Governor Ostad Atta and Gul Agha Sherzai, former governor of Nangahar and Kandahar and a candidate for president himself, are also expected to support Abdullah, which will give the only non-Pashtun candidate a real chance to become the next president.

Meanwhile, my Afghan friends tell me that although Abdullah is receiving support from Iran, he is upset that the Iranians are hedging their bets and are supporting all the other leading candidates!

All the four leading candidates discussed here have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which would allow the U.S. to keep thousands of military advisors, trainers and support elements in the country after its drawdown by year’s end.

Photos: Voters in line to cast their votes in Kabul; 5 April 2014.
Top photo: Twitter/#AfghanElections/@HNajifizada
Bottom photo: The New York Times

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