South Asia is currently in the midst of two momentous elections. Afghanistan wrapped up its first round of voting in early April, and the preliminary results were released a couple of days ago (update: official first round results here). India’s elections are in progress, with Punjab, Gujarat, the part of Andhra Pradesh that will become Telangana, plus parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Kashmir voting today. Because we don’t yet know the results of India’s elections, I’m mainly focusing on Afghanistan in this post, but I have some thoughts about the Indian election at the end. The first round of the Afghan election failed to produce a winner, as no candidate exceeded 50% of the vote. This means that the top two vote-getters, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah, will face each other in a runoff in late May or early June. Before we get into any analysis, here are some maps of the election results. This first map shows the winner of each province:
For a more detailed look, the next map shows the colors in proportion to the percentage of the vote each candidate won, to distinguish between a landslide and a narrow win:
Notice for example that while Ghani won the south and the east, he dominated in the east, but eked out most of his wins in the south. To me, this map yields several interesting pieces of information:
1. Karzai’s Clout- President Hamid Karzai was widely seen as supporting Zalmai Rassoul, a southern Pashtun. Karzai’s brother Quayum withdrew from the race and supported Rassoul, making Rassoul the likely proxy for Karzai. Rassoul never really had a chance to make the runoff, but how well he did could indicate how much clout Karzai has left, and how much influence he will retain when he leaves office.
With the results in, things don’t look good for Karzai. Rassoul netted about 11.5% of the total vote, finishing a distant third, behind Abdullah (44.9%) and Ghani (31.5%). He did win Karzai’s home base of Kandahar, but he was shut out everywhere else. Rassoul only surpassed 20% of the vote in a few southern provinces: Urozgan, Zabul, Helmand, and Nimroz. He received 8.4% of the vote in Kabul. This would seem to indicate that outside of Kandahar, Karzai’s support and influence have largely eroded, even in the south. I wonder if these ugly results for Rassoul will change Karzai’s thinking on whether to leave Afghanistan when his term is over or even seize power by declaring a state of emergency.
2. A Tajik President?- If Abdullah wins the second round, he would be one of the very few non-Pashtuns to lead Afghanistan. Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, consisting of roughly 40% of the population. Abdullah is half Pashtun and half Tajik, but he is identified mainly as a Tajik and he was a member of the Tajik-led Northern Alliance in the 1990s. Afghanistan has been led by Pashtuns for almost all of its history, with one notable exception being Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was president in the 1990s between the fall of the Soviet puppet government and the arrival of the Taliban. The question about an Abdullah win is whether the Pashtuns would accept a northerner, especially one with close ties to Ahmed Shah Massoud, as President. Ethnic tension in Afghanistan has been relatively low since the American intervention, but if Abdullah fails to convince the Pashtuns of his legitimacy, the stage could be set for a north vs. south civil war to reignite.
3. Where were the Uzbeks?– One of the more mysterious results of the election was Ghani’s relative weakness with Uzbeks, who make up about 9% of the population. His top Vice President (they get two in Afghanistan) is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek warlord who fought the Taliban in the 1990s, sometimes as part of the Northern Alliance. He was selected to ensure that Ghani had at least one ethnic group other than the Pashtuns in his corner. Ghani won two northern provinces, Juzjan and Faryab, but failed to win several other provinces– such as Samangan and Kunduz– that are thought to have large Uzbek populations. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that there was vote fraud in those provinces, and Abdullah didn’t really win them. Two is that Dostum only influences the western Uzbeks in Afghanistan. Three is that many Uzbeks didn’t show up to vote. Four is that there aren’t as many Uzbeks as is usually assumed.
To me, the fourth explanation is the most logical. Afghanistan has never done a full Census, with the most serious attempt in 1979 interrupted by a coup, civil war, and the Soviet invasion. The most common map of Afghanistan’s ethnic makeup, seen here, is of unknown providence (to me at least), but it very well could be decades old. This map, which is not the usual map shown for Afghan ethnic groups, seems to dovetail better with the election results, and it shows the Uzbek area as much more limited in size. My other reason for leaning towards a smaller Uzbek population is that there is no explanation that makes sense for why one of the first three options is right. I have seen no indication that Dostum only holds sway of part of the Uzbek population, that voter fraud was particularly bad in the north, or that half of the Uzbeks didn’t vote while the other half did. If indeed the Uzbeks are fewer than previously thought, or live in a more concentrated area, then the ethnic makeup of the north needs to be reevaluated, and the strength of the Tajiks may be greater than everyone has assumed for years.
Who will win?– A lot depends on who the also-ran candidates endorse, but Rassoul or fourth place finisher Pashtun warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf could put Abdullah over the top if they swing their votes to him. Unless Ghani manages to rally all of the non-Abdullah candidates to his side, he will have a very tough time making up the lost ground. Even if he does, Abdullah could win on his own, especially if the Uzbeks are less influential than Ghani calculated and turnout is low in the Pashtun south. So I think that Abdullah is the likely winner. The real question is how close the runoff will be and how much trouble the Taliban causes. Neither one of these is knowable right now, but a very close result would open the door to claims of fraud from the loser, and Taliban attacks could de-legitimize the results or even goad Karzai into calling a State of Emergency and holding on to power.
A few thoughts on India’s elections– India’s elections are still ongoing, so it is hard to come to any conclusions yet, but some trends seem to be emerging. One is that turnout is fairly high, about 5-10% higher than in 2009. This is typically reported to favor the BJP, and Narendra Modi and the BJP seem to be doing very well. Polls have shown the BJP-led NDA getting about 100 more seats than Congress’s coalition the UPA, but the most recent polls have indicated that the BJP’s margin of victory could be even greater than that. There is even some possibility that the BJP won’t need to expand its current coalition at all to form a government.
There also appear to be some big shifts coming at the statewide level. The statewide polls show that Congress, which won 33 out of 42 seats in Andhra Pradesh in 2009, will essentially get wiped out in the state (or states, as Andhra is set to be bifurcated soon). The breakaway YSR Congress and the Telangana-based TRS are set to win 5-10 seats, and the BJP’s partner in the state is polling in the high teens, leaving Congress with around 5 seats in what had been one of its most important states. In Bihar, Congress and its coalition partners could actually gain seats, with the Janata Dal (U) looking like the BJP’s main victim. The JD(U) won half of Bihar’s 40 seats in 2009, but it could win as few as two or three this time. The BJP is also poised to nearly sweep two huge states, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh that it won narrowly in 2009. It also seems possible that Congress will lose all seven of Delhi’s seats, which it swept in 2009. Congress won 20 of Rajasthan’s 25 seats in 2009 and may only hold on to two or three this year.
The biggest shift appears to be coming in the massive northern state of Uttar Pradesh (population about 200 million). In 2009 Congress won 21 of UP’s 80 seats, with the BJP winning 10. The two main regional parties, the Dalit-focused BSP and the Samajwadi Party have typically been very powerful. In 2009, the BSP won 20 seats and the SP won 23. The BJP may be on the verge of establishing itself as the biggest party in the state. Congress is heading towards the low single digits, and the BSP and SP are in the low teens. That means that the BJP could win 40 or even 50 seats in Uttar Pradesh, which would be an incredible achievement in India’s fractured electoral landscape.
Of these results, the worst for Congress, in my opinion, is the wipe out in Andhra Pradesh. Congress has lost the state only twice in its history, and fought hard to create the new state of Telangana as a way to hold on to some support there. Only winning a handful of seats would be very bad. But really, none of the individual states are deadly for Congress, as Indian elections are notoriously swingy, and states often move against the prevailing political winds. The real problem is that all of these debacles are occuring at the same time, with precious few bright spots in other parts of the country. In other words, things look very very bad for Congress and very very good for the BJP.
Update 2: See my post on the preliminary results of the runoff here.