The loser in Afghanistan’s presidential election will play a specific, formal role in whatever new government is formed under a deal negotiated by Secretary of State John F. Kerry over the weekend between the two candidates, a senior Obama administration official said Monday.
The exact nature of that role is not spelled out in a one-page political document the two sides agreed to, the official said. The agreement will operate on a “short-term basis” during a transition period until institutional changes in the way Afghanistan is governed are decided, the official said.
“There are specific features of it that are left to the designation of the person that does not win,” the official said, “and how that person chooses to implement them is one of the things that’s unknown at this point.”
Kerry intervened in Afghanistan’s political crisis last week after Abdullah Abdullah, the loser in a preliminary count of votes from last month’s presidential runoff election, charged fraud, and his followers threatened to form their own government.
Both Abdullah and the ostensible winner, Ashraf Ghani, agreed to a U.N.-supervised recount of all 8 million votes. No matter what the outcome, the two sides also agreed to temporarily share in governing the country.
“This is not necessary because it was an election marred by fraud,” according to the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic negotiations. “This is necessary because there are so many divisions within Afghanistan. There are ethnic divisions and geographic divisions and political divisions.”
Ghani’s support came primarily from southern Pashtuns — the ethnic group of current President Hamid Karzai as well as the Taliban. Abdullah, of mixed ethnicity, was seen as the candidate of northern Tajiks and other minority groups, although he received support from several prominent Pashtun figures.
A European official whose country is part of the international military coalition in Afghanistan said the temporary structure will probably allot certain power centers or cabinet positions to the losing side. Several officials stressed that specifics would be decided by the candidates in the next few days.
“This structure was meant to codify and provide some comfort to all the parties in Afghanistan that they will still have access and be part of the leadership of their country,” the administration official said. “But beyond giving that broad framework, it’s well too early to discuss exactly how that will work, or . . . which positions are maybe held by which people, which is not really in that document.”
Whether Afghans will ultimately want to replace their current system, which features a singularly powerful president, with a parliamentary system or something else will take several years to decide, officials said.
“It’s premature to talk too much about what this may look like a few years from now, because the Afghans will decide how they alter their institutional structures to reflect the need for representation,” which both candidates “agreed was necessary,” the administration official said.
None of the political arrangements can be implemented until the vote recount is done. Under the agreement, roughly 23,000 ballot boxes from around the country will be brought to Kabul by U.S. and other international forces already in Afghanistan.
“Auditing of boxes currently in Kabul will begin in 24 hours,” the United Nations said in a statement late Sunday, under supervision by candidate agents, the United Nations, the media, and other international and domestic observers.
The U.N. statement did not explain the exact basis on which fraudulent votes will be determined, although it said the recount will be based on a checklist seeking “ballots which are obviously similarly marked, [and] evidence of tampering with the results sheet and coherence with the number of ballots in the box.” The audit will also compare “the results sheet copy with that processed in the national tally center” and will include a “review of information on the polling station journal and list of voters.”
It said that “ballot boxes will receive particular attention . . . when they register results that . . . require special scrutiny,” such as “significant differences” between turnout and results in the first election round, in April, and those in last month’s runoff.
Prior to the conclusion of the audit, the United Nations said, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission “will provide a full explanation of the discrepancy between turn-out numbers announced on election day . . . and those announced as part of the preliminary results.”
“It will be a very bumpy ride on the technical side,” the administration official said. “And will things go wrong in a process that fundamentally alters the shape of a political process in a nascent country? Absolutely.” But both candidates, the official said, “recognize what’s at stake.”