Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Protests in Kabul over vote recount for Afghan presidential election

Candidates' supporters allege fraud as electoral authority works to compile delayed results

People march in Kabul on November 29, 2019 to protest against alleged fraud in Afghanistan's September 28 presidential election. Hikmat Noori for The National
People march in Kabul on November 29, 2019 to protest against alleged fraud in Afghanistan's September 28 presidential election. Hikmat Noori for The National

Thousands of people gathered in Kabul on Friday to protest over the recount of votes in the presidential election held on September 28.

Most of the demonstrators were supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, the country's current chief executive and one of the leading candidates, but there were also many supporters of other candidates who have boycotted the recount of votes, many of which they allege are fraudulent.

“We voted despite so many challenges and security threats, and we are here to defend our votes," Haji Aimal Jalali, a 28-year-old protester from Kabul, told The National. "We are here to bury the people who are behind election fraud.”

Mr Jalali was taking part in the protest in the north of the capital and marching with a crowd of nearly 1,000 people to Pashtunistan Square in central Kabul. Marches from around the city are converging at the historical square, and security forces are expecting more than 10,000 people to gather there by the end of the day. While some protesters were carrying guns, the demonstrations have been peaceful so far.

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Elections observers from Mr Abdullah’s team, called the Stability and Convergence campaign, claimed that as many as 300,000 votes are fraudulent and has called for them to be declared invalid before a recount.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission has already rejected nearly one million votes over irregularities, leaving only about 1.8 million votes from a total of 9.6 million registered voters. The commission has postponed the announcement of the election results several times already, citing technical issues and the need for transparency.

“We are out here asking for justice from IEC," said Malik Gul Rabi, 40, a supporter of Mr Abdullah. "I voted and I will defend our votes for as long as I am alive. We will not let the fraudulent people lead this country,” he told The National.

Mr Rabi travelled from his home in Kapisa province, about 50 kilometres north-east of Kabul, to join the demonstrations.

“We want the winner of the election to be the president of this country and that person is Abdullah Abdullah. We don’t want another NUG [National Unity Government],” he said, referring to the US-brokered coalition set up after a similar dispute over the results of the last presidential election five years ago.

Mr Abdullah and President Ashraf Ghani accused each other of fraud in the 2014 election, leading to a deadlock despite two rounds of voting. The dispute was resolved after an intervention by then US Secretary of State John Kerry, resulting in a power-sharing deal between Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah.

With the surprise visit to Afghanistan by US President Donald Trump on Thursday night, speculation over the outcome of the election is rife.

However, Mr Abdullah's supporters are adamant that they will not accept another unity government. "We accepted last term and look what happened. Security situation got worse and ten thousands of people lost lives; we have widows, martyrs and what not,” said Mr Jalali angrily.

“We lost 45,000-50,000 security forces and all this happened under NUG. We won’t want such a government again.”

Updated: November 29, 2019 04:27 PM

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