As forecast (thus passim) Ashraf Ghani Amadzai and Abdulllah Abdullah appear to have polled around 44 and 42 per cent of the votes cast, with Rassoul trailing at under 10 per cent. The polls are somewhat elastic, however. Newsweek, for example, for some reason reported Rassoul as a front runner, despite evidence that he is at best running a distant third. It is also interesting to note that authoritative sources such as The Economist reported Abdullah as leading and remain keen to point out Ghani's links to strongman General Dostum, former 2009 Karzai warlord supporter, while failing to note that Abdullah's running mate, Hazari warlord Mohaqiq also supported Karzai in 2009 and arguably has as colourful a past in the Northern Alliance. Just saying.
Ghani's camp claimed a 57 per cent majority based on their own exit polls, a claim quickly withdrawn. It is almost certain that there will be a runoff when votes are finally collated and counted. Abdullah, whom certain Washington elements appear to favour, has also declared himself the winner, hinting at a deal with Rassoul, the Karzai candidate. If this were indeed the case, he might be in a strong position to win the second round. On the other hand, since the meagre Rassoul showing indicates very strong anti-Karzai sentiment, such an alliance might be counter-productive. In any event, an Abdullah/Rassoul administration might also signal a return to SNAFU. Also, it would not be the first time that the US has backed the wrong horse for reasons best known to themselves.
Despite over 3000 reported incidents of irregularity, intimidation and widespread fake ballot papers, particularly in Northern areas, the election was agreed by all sides as a vast improvement on 2009, though if an outright winner emerges in the first round, as per 2009, more than eyebrows will be raised. Taliban (and other) intimidation tactics were kept under relative control by largely home grown security efforts, but there will be renewed insurgency efforts ahead of the next voting round. For this reason alone it would be great if a clear winner would emerge, but this is highly unlikely.
So problems will start anew in the run off. The comets' tail of strongmen candidates will line up with either Ghani/Dostum or Abdullah/Mohaqiq. Both candidates will find it hard to repress the zeal of their strident supporters. Abdullah, especially if 'endorsed' by Rassoul, Karzai's proxy, will feel he is in the driving seat, by hook or by crook. But it is genuinely hard to see why Karzai would back a candidate who has been so ferociously critical in the past, unless Rassoul feels he can escape from Karzai's shadow and makes a genuinely independent choice. If so, he'll need to be aware of the bloke living at the bottom of the garden when he goes to see the new Prez – Karzai is allegedly going to remain in a residence in the Presidential grounds. There is also the real prospect of Rassoul's Pashtun vote (and some minority votes) migrating to Ghani on anti-Karzai sentiment, which would see him to victory.
Afghans, especially the southern Pashtun majority, have risked much to vote in these elections. Despite horrible threats, bombings and violence, only around 200 of 6000 polling stations were closed in the first round, and around 7 million people voted, nearly 40 per cent women. It would be a shame to see their votes wasted on a 'meet the new boss, same as the old boss' outcome, whoever that might be. Ghani still holds out the promise of forming a national government if successful. Not so Abdullah, who has made his contempt for his rival, Ghani, clear and now appears to have suddenly buried the hatchet with Karzai, whom he threatened to topple with Civil War when defeated in 2009. So, will Afghanistanis choose their first truly democratic election to vote for division and a possible continuation of the status quo in a different guise? Possibly, but what hope for real progress if they do?
Revised and edited 10 April by J.Kelly.