The Afghan Election Crisis: What Would King Solomon Do?

220px-Giorgione_SalomoneTwo women approached King Solomon, each claiming to be the mother of a baby.  According to the Book of King’s, the first woman claimed that the other had accidentally smothered her own baby, and exchanged his place with that of the first woman’s child to make it appear as if her baby lived and the other was dead.  The second woman denied this.  The women came to King Solomon for judgment.

Solomon called for a sword to be brought to him.  He claimed that the only fair solution was to split the live baby in two and to give a half to each woman.  The second woman cried out in horror and begged the King to preserve the baby’s life, even if that meant giving the baby to the other woman.  The first, however, accepted Solomon’s decision to carve the infant in two.

The Afghan election crisis took another turn for the worse with protests by Abdullah supporters following yesterday’s announcement of preliminary results: Ghani 56.44% and Abdullah pulling in 43.56%.

It is highly unlikely that either candidate condoned fraud on his behalf.  Nonetheless, widespread cheating occurred on both sides (more appearing to benefit Mr. Ghani) and on such a scale that the true vote count will probably never be known.

Mr. Abdullah has repeatedly denied the validity and independence of Electoral bodies, citing phone conversations allegedly implicating the Deputy of the Independent Elections Commission in directing ballot stuffing.  Abdullah spokesman Fazlurrahman Oria told the BBC,  “As we had rejected the outcome of the result before and had declared that we could not trust the election commission, our stand is the same today.”

Abdullah supporters have staged protests in Kabul, reportedly chanting “death to Karzai” (whom they blame for engineering the Ghani vote).  Balkh governor Mohammad Atta Noor has allegedly called for Abdullah to set up a parallel government.

According to RFE/RL, Mr. Abdullah appeared to respond to such calls.   “We are proud. We respect the votes of the people. We were the winner,” he told thousands of supporters on July 8.  

After phone calls from U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry,  Mr. Abdullah reportedly urged patience and noted, “Until the clean votes are separated from the unclean, we will not accept the result … Once they are separated, we have nothing to say and will accept the result.”

Nonetheless, one wonders if any result short of declaring Mr. Abdullah the winner would be acceptable to him.

The vote count was higher than expected in the South and East, and reportedly lower than expected in Mr. Abdullah’s strongholds in the North and West.  While some of the increased votes may be fraudulent, Mr. Ghani did run a very well-organized and aggressive second-round compared to Mr. Abdullah.

Ashraf Ghani has called for the Constitutional electoral process to continue.  This means that Electoral Complaint Commission (ECC) will review reported disputes and make judgments.  Once that process is completed, the election results will be final.  The results are intended to be announced on 22 July.

Reportedly, the votes currently in dispute at the ECC may be less than the margin of Ghani’s lead over Abdullah.   Following the process may therefore be a safe approach for Mr.  Ghani.  To his credit, Mr. Ghani has been consistent about maintaining the legal process both before and throughout the election.

Mr. Ghani’s supporters in the normally restive South and East reportedly want to organize counter-demonstrations. In a refreshing contrast, Mr. Ghani has denied such requests, not wanting the crisis to escalate.  His supporters have thus far obeyed.

Mr. Kerry will reportedly arrive in Kabul on Friday.  He excels in these situations and has the potential to play a highly constructive role.  The U.S. and the international community should not attempt to engineer a solution, but can play a supporting role in helping to prevent the worst outcomes.

They should focus on 4 Avoids:  1) urge both candidates and their supporters to avoid de-stabilizing actions or calls for extra-legal interventions; 2) avoid outcomes likely to be seen by the Afghan people as illegitimate; 3) avoid outcomes that would undermine the likelihood of political and economic reform; 4) avoid outcomes that would further erode the prospects of a peace process.

As I noted in an earlier post, this is a crisis that Afghans must resolve for themselves.  Ultimately, it is the Afghan people who need to emerge from the election as the winners.  At least one candidate, it seems, understands this.

In the story above, Solomon declared the second woman as the true mother.  A loving mother, he noted, would want her baby to live, even if that meant surrendering him to another person.  If both candidates and their supporters can be more like the second woman, the country may emerge from this crisis even stronger and more able to address the challenges ahead.

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Kolenda Strategic Leadership LLC

Kolenda Strategic Leadership LLC