Special Report

Afghan Elections

On August 20th, Afghans vote in the first presidential election monitored and administered by the country itself in more than 30 years. Who is likely to win? And What is at stake?

The Blog Daily Brief Jihadistan Afghan Election Watch

The Afpak Crystal Ball


In the last hours before the Afghan election, our AfPak experts make their final election-outcome predictions. Surprisingly, their thinking predicts a much tighter race than many originally expected, closer than forecasts made even just a few weeks ago. Indeed, a slim majority of our experts believe that incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, will be forced into a runoff by receiving less than 50 percent of the vote, and even those who predict an outright Karzai win think he will receive just over 50 percent. No one will know the results for at least two weeks more, there are over 30 candidates contesting on tomorrow’s ballot. Here are Karzai's three main competitors.


And the Winner Is...


No matter what the pundits and the election commission say after tomorrow's elections in Afghanistan, one thing seems clear: we know who has won. It is the people of Afghanistan. Rather than hurl rockets or grenades at each other, they have debated and traded arguments. Rather than picking up arms, they clicked on to their computers and glued themselves to their TV screens to watch what the candidates were saying.


The Perils of Polling


On the eve of the Afghan presidential election, there are very few public polls on which analysts and commentators can base their forecasts. So it's worth taking a moment to evaluate how useful these are and consider some of the biases that confound accurate polling.


The Afghan Elections: An Insider's Guide


With three days until ballots are cast in presidential and provincial elections here, an air of uncertainty hangs over a process that U.S. President Barack Obama has called the most important event of the year in Afghanistan. Threats of violence along with worries about the potential for electoral fraud and possible post-election political violence loom, and no one knows what quite to expect in the coming days and weeks here.


The Run-off Risk


The good news from Afghanistan is the seeds of democracy have clearly taken root and there has been vigorous public discussion in the build-up to the August 20 election. The bad news is that election dynamics and poor election management could exacerbate historic ethnic and North-South tensions, leading to a potentially explosive mix.


Candidates on Parade in Kandahar


With only four days to go before the elections, I thought it might be useful to comment on how the opposition candidates' rallies went this past week. Myself and my colleague were graced with the presence of a good half dozen members of the international press corps this week, and in all likeliness you'll read several pieces from Kandahar in the next few days. I've just seen Jon Boone did one for the Observer which isn't that bad. Give it a read.

Wednesday the 12th was Abdullah's day in town. The old Communist governor of Kandahar, Noor ul-Haq Ulumi, who was responsible for buying off the mujahedeen in greater Kandahar at the end of the anti-Soviet war had come down a few days earlier to meet elders and prepare for the rally. He chose an empty patch of land next to his house as the site for the rally, and people began to arrive there early in the morning.


Karzai in Trouble?


Afghanistan should, perhaps, be called the "graveyard of expectations." Every time the shrewd analyst thinks he knows what is going to happen, the picture shifts. The country's presidential election, scheduled for August 20, is no exception.

Just a few weeks ago, pundits were nodding sagely at the political astuteness of the incumbent, Hamid Karzai. He has spent the past year assiduously courting and bullying the tribal leaders and strongmen who control the country, promising them jobs, perquisites, forgiveness of past sins, even the odd province or two. The process might have been a bit unsavory, but international election experts were saying they expected a "fair enough" referendum on Karzai's tenure -- in which, both inside Afghanistan and abroad, the president's re-election was thought to be a sure thing.


Candidate profiles, maps, and more.

A primer on the epicenter of global terrorism.

With presidential elections approaching and a wave of U.S. troops who entered last month, Afghanistan has been struggling to establish itself as a stable state. The war that began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has dragged on, and the only thing certain is that there's still a long road ahead.

Special Report

Afghan Elections: The Contenders

Only one will win -- but all five look certain to figure on the Afghan political scene for years to come.

Hamid Karzai


Hometown: Kandahar

Key supporters: Pashtuns, Uzbeks, Hazaras

Background: The current Afghan president was the darling of the Bush administration, which played well at first with his constituency, who felt that U.S.  support would soon translate into U.S. dollars.

Now, eight years later, most Afghans have not seen the benefit of the foreign presence. Karzai is blamed for a multitude of problems: the failure of aid programs, deteriorating security situation, booming corruption, and an inability to rein in foreign troops, whose heavy-handed actions have precipitated a backlash and curried support for the insurgency, especially in the south. Karzai is still the front-runner, most likely due to the Afghan penchant for picking the winning side. He has used and, many say, abused the liberal advantages of incumbency and has outspent his rivals by a wide margin.  But Karzai's support is broad, not deep, and could evaporate quickly if he begins to look vulnerable.

Odds of winning: High

Abdullah Abdullah


Hometown: Contested -- either Kabul or the Panjshir Valley

Key supporters: Tajiks

Background: A trained ophthalmologist, Abdullah is suave, at ease with the press, and speaks several languages, including English. Although running as an independent, Abdullah was the pick of the National United Front, a loose coalition of parties opposed to Karzai. He has a strong following in the north and in the provinces directly north of Kabul; as his popularity grows, so does the possibility of his tipping a swing vote away from Karzai.

Abdullah's greatest asset is his close association with the legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, whose handsome, brooding face graces many of Abdullah's campaign posters. But Massoud, who was assassinated two days before the September 11 attacks, might prove to be just as much of a liability to his former spokesman. Called the Lion of the Panjshir, he is revered as a national hero by a large part of the population, but reviled by the Pashtuns -- who see him as no better than the rest of the warlords who tore the country apart during the civil war from 1992 to 1996.

Odds of winning: Slim, but growing

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai


Hometown: Logar province

Key supporters: Pashtuns and intellectuals

Background: The former finance minister does not suffer from an excess of modesty. When asked what went wrong with the Karzai administration, of which he was once a prominent part, Ghani said simply, "I left."

A brilliant theoretician, Ghani has the best shot at getting Afghanistan back on track, say many informed observers. He has detailed, coherent plans for fixing the economy, dealing with the international community, attracting investment, and creating jobs for Afghans. He has a good track record as an administrator, but is not an adept politician, making his plans moot unless he teams up with a likely winner. Ghani has stated publicly that he will not accept a position in a Karzai government.

Ghani's ego seems to be at least as prominent as his intellect, and it might be difficult to convince him to accept anything less than the top spot. Still, insiders say that he is in close contact with Washington, which, despite disclaimers, seems to be trying to broker an alliance between Ghani and Abdullah. He has also brought in Washington insider James Carville, the campaign strategist credited with Bill Clinton's 1992 win, as an advisor.

Odds of winning: Next to nil

Mirwais Yasini

Hometown: Kabul

Key supporters: Virtually no Afghan supporters, but popular with the international community

Background: This parliamentarian, who is not well known at home, has risen to campaign prominence thanks to visits from several prominent international guests, among them EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who met with him as one of a trio of "leading contenders," along with Abdullah and Ghani. Yasini is much more popular with the international community than with his compatriots, but this might be enough to gain him a prominent position in the new administration.

Yasini is a former deputy minister for counternarcotics and is currently first deputy speaker of the parliament. This does not explain the fascination that the international community seems to have for him. He is frequently mentioned as one of the top three, though this assessment would not be shared by many in the electorate.

Odds of winning: zero


Ramazan Bashardost


Hometown: Ghazni province

Key supporters: Broad-based support among those disgruntled with other candidates; also popular among his fellow Hazaras

Background: This firebrand reformer is running an electrifying campaign, fulfilling the dark-horse role of raising questions that the mainstream candidates do not want to and cannot answer.

Driving around the country in a rickety bus, meeting with laborers and farmers in remote corners of the country, the outspoken Basher Dost lambastes almost all of his rivals with equal fervor. He has bitterly criticized the small army of nongovernmental organizations that exist, he says, just to bilk the Afghan people of money that should rightfully be theirs, and he decries the lavish cars and homes of his fellow parliamentarians.

He is running an unorthodox campaign, on a very thin shoestring. His headquarters are in a tent pitched outside the parliament, and in his first two weeks of campaigning he said he spent about $200. And though he is too colorful to ever become mainstream, he looks sure to serve as Afghanistan's populist conscience for some years to come.

Odds of winning: Next to nil