Challenger Declares Victory in Afghan Election with Low Turnout amid Terrorism Fears

Abdullah Abdullah
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

“We have more votes in this election,” challenger Abdullah Abdullah claimed on Monday, declaring victory over incumbent Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in the weekend elections.

The outcome has not yet been certified, but election monitors said turnout was extremely low, possibly due to threats from the Taliban to attack the polls.

Abdullah held a news conference on Monday in which he claimed to have won with over 51 percent of the vote, a wide enough margin to avoid a second round of voting. 

Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh made the exact opposite claim, asserting it was Ghani who won the first round by a wide enough margin to avoid a second round. Saleh claimed the Ghani ticket may have won up to 70 percent of the total vote.

Neither camp offered any solid evidence for its assertions. There is very little evidence to go on as of yet, since Afghanistan does not have exit polls and only about two-thirds of the vote has been received by the central election authority so far. If both candidates are incorrect about winning by over 51 percent, a second round of voting will be held in November.

Ghani and Abdullah have been effectively co-managing Afghanistan in a power-sharing “unity government” deal since the uneasy outcome of the 2014 election, in which Abdullah ran against Ghani to succeed the first democratically elected Afghan head of state, Hamid Karzai, and both candidates ended up accusing each other of fraud.

Election monitors said the 2019 election was somewhat cleaner, aided by widespread implementation of biometrics and other safeguards against ballot box stuffing, but the turnout was extremely low amid fears of Taliban violence. 

There were complaints that some of the new balloting technology did not work properly, and fears that many Afghan women refused to vote because they had to be photographed, something the more strict adherents of Islam in the country object to. Abdullah said he will only consider votes certified with biometric scanning legitimate, a standard that would exclude many of the votes tallied over the weekend.

“Afghan presidential candidates have a pattern of assembling competing coalitions of regional and ethnic chieftains, and accusing rival camps of organizing fraud in far-flung districts under the control of their supporters,” the UK Guardian noted on Monday.

One Afghan official said the turnout might have been only 20 percent, the lowest level in the very short history of democracy in Afghanistan. Over 400 violent incidents were reported across Afghanistan over the weekend, including the abduction of at least 13 election staffers by Taliban forces.

The Taliban pounced on the low turnout to declare the entire election illegitimate, and insist that the people of Afghanistan will never accept such “foreign imported processes.”


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