Research Paper

Anna Larson and Noah Coburn

Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council elections on 5 April are potentially a milestone in the country's continued democratization, but there are many hazards ahead, particularly in the coming months, that could undermine this process.

Local women poll observers watch over a polling station, as Afghans defy Taliban threats and vote in record numbers in presidential elections on 5 April 2014, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images.Local women poll observers watch over a polling station, as Afghans defy Taliban threats and vote in record numbers in presidential elections on 5 April 2014, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images.

Summary

  • Voting in Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council elections on 5 April was marked by a higher turnout and better security than had been expected.
     
  • Voters at polling stations were determined and some were enthusiastic, but in many cases this was not enthusiasm for particular candidates. Rather, it represented a rejection of both insurgent attempts to disrupt the election and the attempts of existing Afghan elites, particularly the regime of President Hamid Karzai, to consolidate their grasp on power.
     
  • Concerns now centre on the counting process, as well as the likelihood that candidates will accuse one another of fraud and that Karzai, the Independent Electoral Commission or the international community will meddle in the election results.
     
  • High-profile Taliban attacks have received wide international media coverage, not least because journalists themselves have been targeted, but these do not seem to have deterred Afghans, including women, from voting.
     
  • The elections are potentially a milestone in the continued democratization of Afghanistan, but there are many hazards ahead, particularly in the coming months, that could undermine this process.
     
  • The international community has a role in helping to ensure that these elections result in a peaceful transfer of power. Particularly if the results are disputed, it should avoid hasty reactions, continue to insist upon the legitimacy of the process, and adopt a unified approach in responding to Afghan expectations of its role in mediation. Specifically, the international community can:
     
    • Provide support for a transparent counting and complaints process, coupled with an awareness that some corruption and fraud are likely;
       
    • Prepare to step in as an unbiased mediator if disputes are raised between candidates; and
       
    • Commit to continue supporting electoral institutions in Afghanistan, particularly looking ahead to 2015.