KANDAHAR, August 4, 2014—What Afghanistan needs right now are a few steps forward. It took one in April, with successful presidential elections free of major Taliban violence. It took another in June with a runoff between April’s top two vote-getters.
Since then it has been sliding back into factionalism and political chaos.
One of the two candidates for the presidency has all but turned his back on his country’s political institutions. His country should return the favor.
Today, after more than two weeks of an extra-constitutional national vote audit, Abdullah Abdullah withdrew his support for the ballot review. It was a review mired by controversy and disagreement over how to identify a fraudulent ballot. Thrice the Independent Election Committee had to halt it because the candidates’ teams could agree.
The latest postponement was announced yesterday, just after a multi-day pause for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr concluded. According to officials in Afghanistan, Abdullah’s team had still not agreed on ballot standards.
Abdullah, a former Northern Alliance commander and the second-place finisher in the 2009 presidential election, took in a commanding plurality of votes on April 5, but failed to reach the majority threshold required of the constitution to become president. His 2009 race against Hamid Karzai was wrought with fraud, both real and alleged.
Abdullah has said publicly and repeatedly that only massive fraud would keep him from the presidency this time.
Abdullah has campaigned as a reformer and a symbol of Afghanistan’s rise above tribal politics.
But as chief engineer of the colossal electoral circus that the 2014 presidential contest has become, he is threatening to undo much of the progress that ISAF has made possible since the last presidential election five years ago.
His rival, Ashraf Ghani, probably got more votes in the second round in June. Ghani is smart and energetic. He wants Afghanistan to get on a path to inclusion in the community of modern nations. He is a former World Bank executive and professor at UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. He was an American citizen until he renounced in 2009 in order to enter the Afghan presidential race. He fared poorly then, but as good politicians do, retooled and rebranded himself.
This year he garnered nearly 32 percent of votes in the first round, enough to earn a head-on shot at the favorite, Abdullah.
Between April 5 and early June, Ghani campaigned aggressively, building his base and reaching out to less naturally-aligned groups. He spoke optimistically about Afghanistan’s future and didn’t assume victory.
Both men understand government. Both appear committed to modernization and ties to the West. Both have pledged to fight for democracy and its trappings—individual rights, rule of law, and effective government.
Only one candidate has proposed to form a parallel government. Only one has accused the government of a conspiracy on an epic scale to defraud him of victory. Only one has reneged on good faith promises to election officials, the US, and NATO to see a vote audit through.
And only one has threatened to undermine the fragile Afghan democracy.
His name is Abdullah Abdullah, and he is quickly becoming more dangerous to Afghanistan’s democratic promise than Mullah Omar or any Taliban resurgence.
Politicians often get raw deals. Just ask Al Gore or Mitt Romney. But statesmen understand that it is part of the risk of trying to do good by their country.
Abdullah has revealed himself to be anything but a statesman, and the Afghan people who defied the threats of Afghanistan’s enemies by voting should dash Abdullah’s attempts to render that vote meaningless.
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