KANDAHAR, September 9, 2014—Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants to retire. Today.
Yet the presidential election chaos is nowhere near resolution, forcing Afghan institutions to make choices among only terrible options. The least terrible option now is for the Independent Election Commission to declare Ashraf Ghani the winner.
Of course, Ghani’s rival, Abdullah Abdullah, would claim fraud and protest. He might even try to form a parallel government, or urge his loyal supporters to become violent.
The most terrible choice right now is for Ghani, the IEC, ISAF, NATO, and the United States to continue to let Abdullah hold the electoral process hostage while he buys time. The status quo delivers three things for certain:
- A clear sign to the insurgency and its sympathizers that the constituted government isn’t up to the task it has assigned itself, and that democracy is inherently flawed and unsuited to Afghanistan
- Another day without a Bilateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan in place
- An Afghan government without a head of state
Sure, Hamid Karzai is its nominal head, but even he said that he has packed up. He is unpopular, uncooperative with the West, and tired. At a ceremony to honor the martyred Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud today, Karzai told the Loya Jirga, or grand council, “our time is over. It is time for a new government, as soon as possible, preferably today even.”
It seems Abdullah is trying to keep Karzai in power as long as possible. He has said that the runoff vote was tainted by massive fraud, in which the IEC was complicit. He also declared that the UN-supervised vote audit, which concluded a few days ago, was illegitimate. The only decision he will accept seems to be one that shows he received more votes than Ghani.
But those votes simply don’t exist. It is expected that the IEC will soon announce that among votes tallied after the audit, Ghani won a decisive majority.
Perhaps Ghani benefitted from wide scale fraud and ballot box stuffing. Perhaps, too, without such cheating he would not have got as many votes as Abdullah. But maybe there was no such fraud. And maybe it was Abdullah who benefitted more from fake votes.
Guess what? We just don’t know. What we do know is that Abdullah got almost 500,000 more votes in the runoff than he did in the preliminary, according to pre-audit numbers. We know that Ghani more than doubled his vote haul according to those same numbers. The official count from the June 14 runoff showed a million vote advantage, about 12% of all votes, for Ghani.
We know that both candidates conceded some degree of fraud.
We also know that the IEC, along with UN monitors, conducted an intense review of all ballots, and that Abdullah has walked away in protest several times from that review.
Abdullah’s position is that the IEC, under intense domestic and international scrutiny, allowed somewhere near a million obviously fake ballots through the audit. It is his position that Afghanistan should conduct a do-over, or simply declare him the winner.
A man with those positions is unfit the mantle of a so-called democracy, and the powers that be—which include the U.S., ISAF, and NATO—ought to simply affirm and endorse the findings of the IEC.
If Abdullah begins a civil war, it won’t be that much different than the chaos he is causing right now. And at that point, a Pres. Ghani could be in a position to manage the nation’s relations and security arrangements better than they are being managed right now.
Everybody should let Karzai have the final wish of his presidency. For it to end.