2009 Afghanistan presidential election

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For more information, see: Hamid Karzai.
See also: Independent Election Commission (Afghanistan)

On 20 August 2009, Afghanistan voted for President of Afghanistan, who serves a four-year term. The incumbent, Hamid Karzai, ran for reelection, but did not receive the majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Abdullah Abdullah, who would have been in a runoff with Karzai, declined to participate in that election, thus keeping Karzai in office. A number of external observers also report widespread fraud, leading to the deputy chief of UNAMA, Peter Galbraith, leaving or was being fired from his post, the United Nations Mission to Afghanistan; [1] the chief, Kai Eide, said he would leave when his contract ended.

It appeared election was held with no major interference by the Taliban, although there were incidents of violence. [2] Turnout was lower than desired, informally estimated at 51 percent versus the 70 percent in the 2004 election. The concern is with the actual voting. It is generally accepted there was widespread fraud.

Allegations that supporters of President Hamid Karzai stuffed ballots and committed voting fraud have marred the election Adjusted totals gave no candidate the necessary majority, but, on November 1, 2009, Abdullah announced he would not participate in the runoff, although he did not call for a complete boycott. "'The decision I have made was not easy. I made it not only for those who voted for me, but for everyone in Afghanistan...[all Afghans] 'have the right' to participate in free and fair elections, but that some had been threatened with having their houses burned down if they voted for him on Nov. 7. At a news conference later Sunday, Abdullah described a private meeting he had with Karzai Wednesday at the behest of U.N. officials. He said it had offered a "critical chance" to resolve the impasse but had failed to do so. 'Unfortunately, the meeting was inconclusive, to say the least,' The Washington Post reported his chief demand "Karzai remove the head of the electoral commission, Azizullah Lodin, whom Abdullah accused of bias and of engineering election fraud in August."

Abdullah did not rule out participation in a Karzai government, or a last-minute compromise on the election. "He said he had not withdrawn from the race 'in exchange for anything from anybody,' but also said he would 'leave the door open" for future discussions with Karzai.'" [3]

United Nations and the vote

There was disagreement in UNAMA in supporting the results of an election with questionable counts. While the U.S. representative, to the U.N. Security Council indicated the U.S. was supporting the process, [4] Peter Galbraith, a U.S. diplomat who was the deputy chief of UNAMA, left Afghanistan over disagreements with UNAMA chief Kai Eide.[1] Galbraith wanted major recounts while Eide felt more limited recounts were adequate.

In October, Galbraith went public.

Before firing me last week from my post as his deputy special representative in Afghanistan, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon conveyed one last instruction: Do not talk to the press. In effect, I was being told to remain a team player after being thrown off the team. Nonetheless, I agreed. [5]

Galbraith, however, said he agreed to one reason being announced: "Alain LeRoy, the head of U.N. peacekeeping and my immediate superior in New York, proposed that the United Nations say I was being recalled over a "disagreement as to how the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) would respond to electoral fraud." Although this was not entirely accurate -- the dispute was really about whether the U.N. mission would respond to the massive electoral fraud -- I agreed." but not to what the UN actually said, which triggered his public statements: "Instead, the United Nations announced my recall as occurring "in the best interests of the mission," and U.N. press officials told reporters on background that my firing was necessitated by a 'personality clash' with Eide, a friend of 15 years who had introduced me to my future wife. "


Originally scheduled for May, it was rescheduled for August to give time to put some of the mechanics in place. UN representatives reluctantly accepted this. [6]

The UN Special Representative, Kai Eide, has stressed the importance of this election.

. It is about the legitimacy of leadership.

Therefore, it is critical to ensure a level playing field that can provide the basis for a credible and inclusive election process and a result acceptable to the Afghan people. Nobody's interests can be served by an election result that is disputed and harms the legitimacy of a future government.

The UN has called on all candidates to campaign with dignity and avoid language that is inflammatory and could incite violence. An election campaign will always be divisive. But in this country and at this juncture, it is critically important that the disagreements of the campaign can be followed by unity of purpose in building the country when the next presidential inauguration has taken place. [7]

Main candidates

More than 30 candidates are running, but relatively few appear to have a chance either to win a first-ballot victory, or influence a runoff.

President Vice President Vice President Notes
Hamid Karzai Mohammed Qasim Fahim Karim Khalili Incumbent
Abdullah Abdullah Homayon Shah Asifi Cherag Ali Cheragh
Ashraf Ghani Has been offered Chief Executive Officer by Karzai
Ramazan Bashardost Little chance to win but may draw votes from Karzai; support growing
Shahla Ata Statement of role of women; socialist platforms

Abdullah and Ghani are both technocrats with considerable appeal in the West; Abdullah does have local recognition with a history of fighting the Soviets and Taliban. Bashardost recently polled in 3rd place, ahead of Ghani. [8]


Voting was on August 20. Multiple voting will be prevented by marking voters' fingers with indelible ink. Within 48 hours of the voting day, the Independent Election Commission intended to announce preliminary results. To win at this point, a candidate must garner over 50 percent of the votes.

The commission will then hear and adjudicate complaints, and then announce a final vote. If no candidate wins 50 percent, there would be a runoff between the two candidates with the greatest number of votes, Karzai and Abdullah.

Violence was isolated, [2] but there was widespread allegation of vote fraud. Prior to the election, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Humayun Hanidzada, said on August 11, “Ministry of Interior and other security forces in cooperation with the international security forces will provide security to more than 6500 polling stations across the country and Afghans can go to these stations and cast their votes in a peaceful environment.” [9]

Al-Jazeera announced that Ahmad Wali Karzai, Karzai's brother and campaign manager, said "I asked [tribal] elders to talk to the Taliban and they ... have assured me that the local Taliban have agreed not to cause trouble...There are some agreements already reached between elders and local Taliban, but not with those Taliban who are part of al-Qaeda." Speaking for the southern Taliban, Qari Yusuf, said no agreements about a truce been made. "If we accept the election, then we give legitimacy to the government and allow the invaders to invade our country...I am 100 percent sure even low-level commanders won't be traitors. Whatever Ahmed Wali said is propaganda." [10]

Assessment of the election

Shortly after the election, the Afghan oversight commission asked for time, and UNAMA asked for acceptance. There is now strong conflict among international observers.

The head of the Independent Election Commission (Afghanistan), Daoud Ali Najafi, told the candidates to stop speculating: "If someone's observers have estimated the numbers, it doesn't mean it is final...We are the reliable source." The Commission will report preliminary results on August 25. [11] Abdullah asked for calm while the count is finalized and the grievance process can come into effect if needed. He said he would prevent his followers from taking to the streets if he lost[12] Galbraith said of this Commission, "Despite its name, the commission is subservient to Karzai, who appointed its seven members. Even so, the international role was extensive. The United States and other Western nations paid the more than $300 million to hold the vote, and U.N. technical staff took the lead in organizing much of the process, including printing ballot papers, distributing election materials and designing safeguards against fraud."[5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ed Johnson (16 September 2009), "UN Mission Split Over How to Deal With Afghan Election Fraud", Bloomberg
  2. 2.0 2.1 Steve Herman (22 August 2009), "Taliban Reportedly Cut Off Fingers of 2 Voters", Voice of America
  3. Pamela Constable (1 November 2009), Karzai challenger refuses to participate in Afghanistan runoff vote
  4. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, U.S. Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs (September 29, 2009), Statement on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), United States Mission to the United Nations
  5. 5.0 5.1 Peter W. Galbraith (4 October 2009), "What I Saw at the Afghan Election", Washington Post
  6. Dexter Filkins (30 January 2009), "Afghan Presidential Election Delayed", New York Times
  7. Kai Eide (13 July 2009), "UN Envoy Kai Eide On Afghanistan's Critical Election", Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty
  8. Jason Motlagh (16 August 2009), "The Don Quixote of Afghanistan: A Long Shot's Quest", Time (magazine)
  9. Security measures to cover polling stations soon: Humayun Hamidzada, Office of the President, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, August 11, 2009
  10. Warren Mass (14 August 2009), "Upcoming Afghan Presidential Election", New American
  11. Anand Gopal and Matthew Rosenberg (22 August 2009), "Afghan Contenders Claim Leads", Wall Street Journal
  12. Jim Michaels (22 August 2009), "Abdullah prepares for election results, challenges, uproar", USA Today