Programme Paper

Anna Larson and Noah Coburn
Afghan election workers count ballots at an Independent Election Commission office in Herat, Afghanistan 17 April 2014. Photo by Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images.Afghan election workers count ballots at an Independent Election Commission office in Herat, Afghanistan 17 April 2014. Photo by Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images.

Summary points

  • A surprising number of urban Afghans are planning to vote in the elections on 5 April, despite recent attacks on electoral officials, the threat of more general violence, the precedent set for widespread electoral fraud in 2009, suspected backroom deals between elites and rumours of international meddling.

  • Further, an overwhelming majority of those interviewed in a Chatham House-sponsored project suggested there was no alternative to elections as a means to transfer power, indicating that international support for the electoral process is welcome and necessary.

  • However, participation is less about an embrace of democratic practice or the policy platforms of different candidates than about wanting a peaceful handover of power and a secure rather than violent future.

  • To this end, reasons for voting are not so much about choosing the kind of government that people want to see established, but instead to ensure that a government of sorts is established. The reasons include religious and/or moral duty; needing to counter fraudulent votes with ‘real’ ones; needing to convince elites that elections are the only means of transferring power from one president to the next; making a stand against Taliban attempts to disrupt the process; and demonstrating the size of the candidates’ support bases.

  • These elections are also seen as a harbinger of the country’s political trajectory over the medium term. Whether parliamentary elections occur in 2015 very much depends on what happens this year.

  • Much speculation, both positive and negative, exists about the role of international actors, with rumours of international interference in the outcome countered by a widespread desire for an international presence at the polling stations and in the medium to long term through the Bilateral Security Agreement) (BSA). This potential mandate for assistance is encouraging, but must be considered carefully if it is to lead to a productive relationship between the new Afghan government and the international community.

  • For the Taliban, the elections will involve a show of strength to disrupt the process as far as possible, without going so far as to lose credibility among the members of Afghan society whose support they have won.