Afghan vote outcome makes case for coalition


Abdullah Abdullah, the frontrunner in Afghanistan’s elections, insists optimistically that Afghans have “risen beyond” ethnic politics. And his electoral success, with 45 per cent of the first round vote, well ahead of nearest rival Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, might suggest as much. If elected president, Abdullah, whose father was a Pashtun from Kandahar, but who has been more closely identified with the Tajiks in the north, the country’s second ethnic group, would become one of the few northerners to lead a country long dominated by the Pashtun – 42 per cent of the population.

But, in truth, the elections, significantly cleaner, and with a substantially higher turnout by an enthusiastic six million voters, than the deeply tainted poll that Abdullah lost to Hamid Karzai in 2009, were also marked by largely ethnic voting. The vote of Ahmadzai, a Pashtun, was largely drawn from his own community and the Uzbeks, while Abdullah’s drew on the Tajik and Hashara minorities. To win a majority in the second round the latter will need to win the endorsement of the next two candidates, both Pashtun.

One alternative would be for both leading candidates to forgo a second round and agree a coalition government led by Abdullah with Ahmadzai, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser who served in his administration, in a senior ministerial position. Such a move, argues Michael Semple, a former EU and UN adviser on Afghanistan, would allow the formation of a government representing up to three quarters of the electorate with strong support across all ethnic communities. And it would deny the Taliban the opportunity of violently disrupting a second election.

Politically both men are not far apart – specifically, and unlike Karzai who had become increasingly alienated from the US, both are willing to sign the bilateral security agreement with the US that it needs to keep US troops in the country beyond the end of the year. The result has gone down well in Washington.