Afghanistan Swears In New President
Ashraf Ghani -- Afghanistan's new President
NEW DELHI: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai was sworn in as Afghanistan’s new President on Monday, replacing Hamid Karzai in the country’s first democratic transfer of power and bringing to an end an election marked by months of political wrangling.
The swearing in ceremony took place in Afghanistan’s presidential palace, with Ghani sporting a dark black turban that is popular in the country’s south and rival candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, who took the position of a chief executive in a compromise unity deal, also present.
The inauguration marks the end of a six month election that was fraught with repeated allegations of fraud. Abdullah, who won the first round of the elections, led the charge, insisting that the run-off was rigged to benefit Ghani, with the preliminary results of the second round showing the latter in the lead.
Although the two sides agreed to an audit of the 8 million votes cast, the process has was fraught with delays. Most recently, supporters of candidate Abdullah Abdullah released an audio recording supposedly implicating Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili, who was said to be encouraging vote-rigging in favour of rival candidate Ashraf Ghani.
Khalili and Ghani dismissed the recordings as fake. "The audio is completely fake ... Khalili does not speak like that," Abbas Basir, chief of staff for Khalili was quoted as saying, adding that “our rival team is resorting to such an act because they are under immense pressure.”
The agreement on the audit, in turn, had been brokered by Kerry and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, after Abdullah boycotted the preliminary results of the presidential run-off and threatened to form a parallel government.
The audit involved recounting of 8 million votes cast in the second round of the presidential elections, in the presence of international observers. Prior to the audit, initial results had shown that Ghani received 56 percent and Abdullah 43 percent of 8 million votes, which were up by more than 20 percent of voters from the first round of elections in April. The turnout itself is a measure of dispute regarding fraud, with Abdullah alleging the stuffing of ballot boxes with fraudulent votes and Ghani’s camp attributing it to more robust mobilization.
The first round of elections concluded with Abdullah in the lead with 45 percent of the 6.5 million votes cast and Ghani in second place with 31.6 percent. Afghan election procedures mandate that the winning candidate must secure over 50 percent of the vote in the first round, failing which, the elections go into a second round.
The run off was a gamble for both candidates, with Abdullah needing to augment the 45 percent votes cast in his favour by an additional 400,000 votes to win the run-off, whereas Ghani needed an extra one million votes - i.e., all the votes of Zalmai Rassoul who placed third with 11.5 percent and Professor Sayyaf, who came in fourth with 7.1 percent of the vote.
The preliminary results indicated that Ghani managed this extraordinary feat, with a huge surge in voters between the two rounds of elections. In central Wardak, Ghani’s votes increased by ten times; in southern Kandahar by six times; in other provinces his votes tripled and quadrupled. With Abdullah crying foul, Ghani’s camp attributed the increase to mobilisation efforts directed at clerics and in convincing conservative Pashtun voters to allow women in the family to vote for the first time.
Spokesperson for the Abdullah camp, Fazl Rahman Orya, dismissed the announcement of the preliminary results saying that the figures “hold no credibility.” Abdullah had earlier made a statement indicating that he would not be accepting the results, saying, “we will not accept the preliminary results until clean votes are separated from fraudulent votes… The international community wants a government based on legitimate votes.”
Abdullah said that a number of his observers had been beaten up and detained, being released only after counting. Abdullah additionally complained that there had been no explanation offered regarding what he termed as inflated voter turnout, nor any explanation for the sacking of several thousand election workers after the first round of the Afghan elections which had placed Abdullah in the lead.
Pinning the blame directly on Karzai, Abdullah stated that “everybody knows that unfortunately the president of Afghanistan was not impartial” and that ballot boxes had been stuffed with votes a day before the second-round election.