Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Top 3 Things to Watch for in the Afghanistan Run-Off

Summary: Afghanistan returns to the polls - how will the second round of voting be different?

This morning it was announced that Afghanistan will have a run-off election, following yesterday’s news that a UN-backed election monitor threw out nearly a third of the ballots for President Hamid Karzai.

It is likely to be a fierce battle between Karzai and his run-off opponent, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, over the next two and a half weeks. Here are the top three things to watch for going into Election Day:

1) More Corruption

The fact that Karzai’s overwhelming win - initially - turned out to be fraudulent was no surprise to those of us who watched reports coming out of Afghanistan leading up to the first vote in August. The opium lords of Karzai’s inner-circle - including both his Vice President and his brother - were accused of buying votes prior to the election.

Following the election, several videos (including the one below) of poll workers illegally marking ballots for Karzai surfaced on YouTube.

Luckily, Democracy International - the UN-backed election monitor - was able to thoroughly route out many fraudulent votes from the election. The results of the run-off may very well depend on how involved they are this time around and how much access they will have to the polling stations.

2) An Anti-Karzai Vote?

When we previewed the election back in August, we found that Karzai would probably win regardless of a run-off in part because most non-Karzai voters were unlikely to support a different candidate than their own in a hypothetical run-off. In other words, if you supported one of the dozens of candidates who did not qualify for a run-off, you were not necessarily going to support Dr. Abdullah for the second round of voting.

According to a poll taken in July, over 20% of voters supporting a candidate other than Karzai and Abdullah said they would simply not vote in a run-off election. In order for Abdullah to win - however - he needs to get their support.

After two months of controversy surrounding the August election - and the reports of widespread fraud on behalf of Karzai - perhaps Abdullah is in better position than ever for solidifying a strong anti-Karzai vote from Afghans who were originally non-Karzai/Abdullah supporters. If he can pull off the right campaign strategy to do so in the next two weeks it would go a long way towards winning him the presidency.

3) A Winter Election

The first round of votes happened in August for a reason. During the winter in Afghanistan, movement around the country becomes extremely limited. For the tribal peoples outside of the big cities - namely Kabul - the rapidly approaching winter is more than likely to keep them from going to the polls.

At this point it is unclear exactly who that will help. The amount of fraud by province is not yet accessible and so it is not certain exactly how much Abdullah can depend on Kabul.

According to preliminary results (prior to the fraud reports) Karzai beat Abdullah in Kabul by a 55% - 24.6% margin. Not only does that compare to the preliminary results nationally (about 55% - 28%) but it is far more balanced than results in the northern and southern provinces.

In some of the northern provinces, Abdullah won with as much as 55% of the vote while in some of the southern provinces, Karzai won with as much as 91% of the vote. Many of those provinces are expected to see a sharp decline in turnout for the November 7th run-off.

The results of this run-off election will largely depend on what kind of turnout there is in Kabul compared to turnout in the rural provinces, how much anti-Karzai support Abdullah can drum up, and the extent to how fraud will play a part yet again. We’ll have to wait and see how these things affect the outcome in just a few weeks.

No comments: