Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential ballot has been widely hailed as a triumph for the people. With votes still being counted, hopes for a smooth end to the election are beginning to fade as candidates appear to maneuver for a political fight to the finish.
Technocrat Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, told media he is certain he received a majority of the votes, given the turnout in areas where he gathered a lot of support.
His chief competitor, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, has said he is sure that 60 percent of the voters had cast their ballots for him.
To win the election, a candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote. If no one reaches that threshold, there will be a run-off.
Omar Samad, an Afghan expert at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., says it is likely that the front-runners will fight to the finish.
“They have indicated they will go all the way because both of them are in favor of a stronger mandate by going to the end of the second round,” he said.
Samad adds that the other six candidates could soon start negotiating throwing their support behind one of the two assumed leading candidates.
Partial results could be announced as early as the end of this week. The final tally is not expected until mid-May.
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the Independent Election Commission, called on the candidates to wait for the official announcement of the vote results.
He says his request to all the candidates and people of Afghanistan is to avoid predictions, or publishing numbers, so as to not confuse people. Let the Independent Election Commission announce the results as scheduled, he says.
According to the National Democratic Institute, a full accounting of all ballots will be particularly important in this hotly-contested election, where the margin of victory is expected to be slim.
Jandad Spinghar, executive director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), says so far the effective security efforts and higher-than-expected voter turnout has lent huge credibility to the election.
He says all the ballots must be counted and complaints of fraud or vote-rigging must be resolved before a final count can be released.
“Then we can say that we will have complete legitimate election and the result will be acceptable," said Spinghar. "If there will be second round, so we can expect that before second round there will be a kind of negotiation between two candidates.”
According to FEFA, its election monitors observed 2,600 cases of fraud and misconduct.
Afghanistan’s senior electoral officer, Ziaulhaq Amarkhail, has said every documented election complaint would be investigated.
He says Afghans are holding elections under conditions of war and insecurity. But if there is any credible evidence showing that someone interfered with the documents in favor of or against any candidate, he says the Independent Election Commission wants to assure the nation that it takes all such complaints seriously and is ready to deal with such situations.
Analyst Samad says the election’s overall credibility will depend heavily on how the election and complaints commissions perform their jobs.
The Asian Networks for Free Elections Foundation warned in a statement Wednesday that candidates' “premature and unfounded declarations of victory can create an unrealistic expectation among supporters.”