Just when the success of the election process seemed to be in doubt, US Secretary of State John Kerry went to Afghanistan to once again play a mediator’s role, meeting with the two presidential candidates and with outgoing president Hamid Karzai to help broker a solution to the disputed election process. After two days of intense negotiations, Kerry succeeded in getting the two sides to agree on an audit of all of the runoff election votes as well as the creation of a national unity government.
The news was welcomed by most Afghans as well as the local media, bringing an overwhelming sense of relief among Afghans and creating hope that the final results will be fair. Under the agreement, the exact terms of which have not been made public, all votes cast in the June 14 runoff election will be audited in the presence of international observers, and fraudulent votes will be excluded. After a complete audit, both candidates will accept the results, and both will form the next government together.
Although the details of the national unity government are not yet spelled out, most people believe that the agreement may remove the dangers of exclusion and rivalries. Some also believe that the formation of a national unity government will reduce tensions between ethnic groups and help create a peaceful and hopeful environment for ordinary Afghans.
After the announcement, both candidates put aside their rivalries and appeared happily at a press conference with the US Secretary of State. This showing was in contrast to the presentation of the candidates after the runoff election results were announced by the Afghan Independent Election Commission in July when both candidates claimed to be the rightful next president of Afghanistan. Some people had taken to the streets and gathered to protest the election results, claiming that the process had been marred by fraud. One of the candidates even announced that he would form a parallel government. These actions created tense feelings among Afghans, and people feared the situation would create chaos and animosity between the different ethnic groups in the country.
But with the current agreement creating a government of national unity, both camps will be included in the next government. This has opened a window of conversation between the presidential candidates and among all Afghans as a whole.
Neither the audit process nor the creation of a unity government will be quick or easy. As John Kerry wrote in an op-ed for Afghan ToloNews, “Afghans took an enormous step on the road toward a stronger democracy in April and June when millions of people went to the polls to choose the country’s next president. Every vote was a courageous endorsement of democracy, and an expression of hope for the future.” Yet, he continued, “the road to democracy is bumpy and the journey is not completed overnight.”