Was There Fraud in Afghanistan’s Elections?

In my last post on Afghanistan’s Presidential election, I remarked that Abdullah was very likely to win the runoff, and then added in passing that Ghani would “need a miracle or massive vote fraud” to win. Perhaps I was too dismissive about the possibility of fraud, given the blatantly fixed 2009 Presidential election. In any case, the preliminary results have been released, and fraud certainly seems to have taken place on a massive scale. The fraud was blatant but largely confined to one area of the country, which should at least make it easier to combat, if anyone in Afghanistan actually tries. First, I’ll post the map of the preliminary results below. It simply shows the official winner of each province; the second map reflects whether the winner of the district won narrowly or in a landslide.

Preliminary Province winners


Afghanistan Runoff Preliminary Relative

If you look back at my original post  back in May, on the first round of the elections, the second round followed largely similar patterns, although a handful of provinces changed hands. Abdullah added Farah province, while Ghani took Kandahar from third-place finisher Zalmai Rassoul, and Kabul, Wardak, Kunduz, and Sar-e-Pul from Abdullah. The other 28 provinces stayed in the same hands, so it is unbelievable that Ghani managed to more than double his vote total between the first and second rounds (2,084,547 to 4,485,888). This wasn’t a rising tide lifting all boats; it was Ghani running up the score in a few provinces he already dominated in the first round. The seven provinces more or less opposite Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are the main suspects. These provinces are, roughly from north to south, Kunar, Nangarhar, Logar, Wardak, Paktia, Khost, and Paktika (see here for a map of Afghanistan’s provinces). Unsurprisingly, given their proximity to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, these provinces are some of the most war-torn in Afghanistan. TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah is believed to be based in Kunar, and Khost is the Haqqani Network’s home base. These seven provinces make up about 16.8% of Afghanistan’s population, and accounted for about 17% of the vote in the first round. In the first round, a hefty 31.9% of Ghani’s total vote came from these provinces. In the second round, 26.3% of the total vote, and 40.8% of Ghani’s vote came from the suspicious seven; 97.6% of the turnout increase between the first and second rounds came from these seven provinces. I couldn’t find the number of registered voters by province, so I used the percentage of the total population that turned out to vote as a proxy. Since children can’t vote and many eligible voters don’t cast a ballot, the turnout should rarely exceed about 40% of the population. I would estimate that any number above 50% of the total population voting is approaching 100% turnout of eligible voters. Below is the map of Afghan provinces by percentage of total citizens who voted in the first round.

First Round Turnout

And next is the map showing the same variable from the second round:

Turnout Second Round

While turnout in the East increased in general, three provinces, Paktika, Paktia, and Khost stand way out (I imagine even someone who doesn’t know Afghanistan’s provinces could identify these three on the map above). These provinces form the core area of operation for the Haqqani Network and are among the most violent in Afghanistan. The idea that these areas would have “normal” high turnout is a stretch, but what we see here is preposterous. Paktia province had about 64% of its population vote. To give a bit of context, in 2012, about 54% of high-turnout Minnesota’s population voted in the American Presidential election (that would be 76% of eligible voters). Khost province saw turnout reach 73.2% of the population, and Paktika clocked in at a positively inspiring 97.8%. Since over half of Afghanistan’s population is under 18, I doubt that more than 60% of any province is eligible to vote, and that is generous. That means that turnout of eligible voters in Paktika approached 200%, and the other two were almost certainly over 100%. These three provinces netted Ghani about 970,000 votes, or 94.4% of his winning margin.

What I find curious about the fraud is how blatant it is. Even Kim Jong-un only managed 99.97% turnout in his recent “election” victory in North Korea. 200% turnout is hilariously blatant, and was therefore almost certain to be uncovered. Why didn’t Ghani’s people just stuff ballot boxes throughout the country to give him a 10% boost? Abdullah seems to be alleging that Ghani did that as well as the blatant fraud in the east, seeing as he wants 2 million ballots thrown out. It is hard for me to evaluate that claim based on the data I have, though Ghani did do better in the second round across the board. Either there was wider fraud or Ghani experienced a surge in support. Whatever the case is with the potential for wider fraud, I think it is indisputable that massive ballot stuffing in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost occurred in Ghani’s favor. The fact that the massive fraud was concentrated there is interesting. Ghani was already very successful in these provinces in the first round, so the fraud didn’t overturn the will of the voters there; it amplified it. This may explain why there was so little fuss kicked up by local officials. Abdullah cried foul of course, but I haven’t seen anyone from these provinces comment on the fraud. They want Ghani to win. I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility that local leaders stuffed the ballot boxes in an attempt to curry favor with Ghani.

The real question though is whether Abdullah actually won the election or if Ghani won anyway and was just gilding the lily. I don’t know the answer, but I suspect the actual election was very close. If we use the percentages from the second round but the turnout from the first, Ghani wins 51.8% to 48.2%. If we use the second round results but replace the results for seven provinces mentioned above with the first round results, Abdullah would win very narrowly. The other question is whether someone who engaged in blatant fraud on a massive scale should be allowed to ascend to power, even if he won the election legitimately. The fraud shows that Ghani has little respect for democracy and is willing to do anything to gain the Presidency. People like that should be kept far away from power. Imagine if President Obama, having legitimately won the 2012 Presidential election decided, just in case, to fake a few million votes in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Denver. It is very hard to imagine anyone in a functioning democracy surviving that politically.

A few other thoughts in closing: Last time I wrote about this topic, I discussed how the Persian-speaking part of Afghanistan has the demographic power to dominate the Pashto-speaking parts, and that an Abdullah victory has the potential to tear Afghanistan apart if it is built entirely on Persian voters. The reverse is true for Ghani. If he builds a coalition of Pashtuns and Uzbeks, and adds a million or so fraudulent votes, he could cut the Tajiks and the other Persian speakers out of power permanently. The ethnically-based voting patterns we have seen in Afghanistan are characteristic of dysfunctional democracies. Many voters in third-world countries treat democracy as a way to capture more power for their ethnic or religious group. This has been the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan. Last time, I wrote that the Pashtuns would not take kindly to being disempowered, and that they might not accept the results. The fraud in the heavily Pashtun east essentially reflects the Pashtuns not accepting the first round results. Now, the Tajiks are the ones who have been marginalized, and the exact scenario I laid out last time of increased ethnic tension and a north-south civil war could play out, but with the roles reversed.

Anyone who looks at Afghanistan today has to wonder whether this mess was worth a nearly fifteen-year occupation for the United States. All that blood and treasure was spent for what exactly? Ghani, if he ends up becoming President, will have won in part by stuffing ballot boxes in areas of Afghanistan dominated by the Haqqani Network, one of America’s bitterest enemies in the region. If the Haqqani Network didn’t like Ghani, they wouldn’t have allowed their home turf to become a vote factory for him. How can the U.S. maintain a relationship with someone like that? It is a cruel coincidence that, at almost the exact same time that Iraq descends into chaos, and the American adventure there is revealed to be a total failure, Afghanistan too has fallen apart. In this case, the collapse came even before American troops left, which should silence the people who wanted to keep American troops in Iraq (but it probably won’t). In Iraq, the failure of the democracy came because the two main religious groups weren’t able to play nice. In Afghanistan, it has been an ethnic divide. The really worrisome fact for the U.S. is that the failure of Iraq’s democracy presaged the collapse of its security apparatus. In Afghanistan the same thing is likely. At this point, it is hard to imagine Tajiks accepting Ghani as President, or Pashtuns accepting Abdullah. There is some possibility that the two will hash out some kind of compromise power-sharing agreement, but even if they do, Afghanistan’s democracy is dead. Let’s hope the Afghan state isn’t soon to follow.

Updated Afghan Election Results Map

Today, Afghanistan will conduct the runoff for the Presidential elections. I wrote about the first round last month, and I want to add a couple of quick notes before today’s voting. First, since my last post, the final results of the elections have been posted. For the last map, I was working off of preliminary results before the votes had been checked for fraud. I also found a district-level breakdown here, allowing more detail than before. The resulting map is posted below.

Afghanistan Elections Districts

Obviously, this map isn’t very different from the original one I posted, but it does demonstrate that Rassoul was very competitive throughout the rural south. He won a number of districts in Helmand and Nimroz provinces, which didn’t register on the first map because Ghani won the overall vote in both. Also, even though Rassoul won Kandahar province, he did not win the city of Kandahar (Ghani did), instead relying on his strong showing in the rural areas of the province. A couple of pockets of support for Ghani in the north also make an appearance. His main support in the north showed up in the two provinces he won, but there is also the small cluster on the border with Tajikistan as well as one around the Wakhan Corridor, which borders China. The people who live in the second area include speakers of Pamiri languages, such as Wakhi, which I mentioned in my last post on the languages of Pakistan. These languages are related to Pashto, which is the dominant language in the south. Also note that three minor candidates who didn’t win any provinces show up on this more detailed version.

The real question is who is going to win today. To me, it seems hard to construct a path to victory for Ghani. Both Rassoul and Sherzai have endorsed Abdullah, and Sayyaf’s vice-presidential candidates have as well. Add those vote totals up, and Abdullah should receive 65% of the vote. This means that Abdullah only needs to win about a quarter of the votes of the candidates who endorsed him. Basically, Ghani would need a miracle or massive vote fraud (always a real possibility in Afghanistan) in order to win. This has the potential to change the way everyone views politics in Afghanistan. Pashtun dominance of Afghan politics has long been taken for granted. The royal family of Afghanistan was Pashtun; the Taliban is Pashtun. Even the puppet leaders installed by the Soviets in the 1980s were Pashtuns. One of the reasons the U.S. decided to back Hamid Karzai is that he was one of the only Pashtuns with anti-Taliban credibility, and American policymakers felt that the new leader of Afghanistan had to be both untainted by Taliban connections and a Pashtun.

However, Pashtuns constitute only about 40% of the population. This means that, in a democracy, they can’t dominate the country as they used to. Karzai, as a southern Pashtun with northern ties, was able to bridge some of the divides in Afghanistan’s demography, but the bottom line is that Tajik rule is probably going to become entrenched. Tajiks, of course, only consist of about 30 percent of the population. This statistic is often repeated by the media, and even used to argue for more Pashtun control. The “Tajik” ethnic designation is very hazy and confusing though. Varieties of the Persian language are spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, the local dialect is called “Tajiki”. In Afghanistan, it’s “Dari”. In Iran, it’s “Farsi”. For some reason, the speakers of the Dari and Tajik varieties of Persian get lumped into one ethnic group, and the Farsi-speakers into another. I think this likely reflects the Shia-Sunni split between Iran and Afghanistan/Tajikistan. The same is true in Afghanistan, where the Persian-speaking but Shia Hazara are considered ethnically distinct from the Sunni Tajiks. To get a better idea of the number of “Persian” people in Afghanistan and ignore arbitrary “ethnic” lines, the best bet is to look at the languages. In fact, about half of Afghans speak the Dari dialect of Persian as a first language, making them the majority and Pashtuns the minority.

The implications of this split for Afghanistan’s future are very serious. Pashtuns feel that they have a right to govern Afghanistan, but they probably will never be able to as long as Afghanistan’s democracy stands. Obviously, a democracy with issue-based parties that cut across ethnic lines would be ideal, but that possibility is remote in a country where ethnicity is so important. This means that violence and rebellion could be the Pashtuns’ only hope for regaining power. Of course, a Pashtun militant group already exists: the Taliban. That means that we could see a surge in popularity of the Taliban amongst Pashtuns, and a turn towards more explicitly Pashtun nationalist rhetoric from the Taliban. The other factor is that two-thirds of Pashtuns live in Pakistan, and their homeland there forms the base for the Pakistani Taliban or Tehirk-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The possibility of revived Pashtun nationalism is somewhat scary for Afghanistan, but downright terrifying for Pakistan. Afghanistan was the only country to vote against Pakistan’s inclusion in the United Nations because it claimed Pakistan’s Pashtun territory. The North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) was only included in Pakistan in the first place through some fancy footwork and a boycott of the polls by a major anti-Pakistan party. If the current Islamist insurgency in Pakistan is coupled with revived Pashtun nationalism, Pakistan could soon be facing dissolution. This shows why elections can be dangerous for countries where ethnic or religious identity trumps national identity. In these cases, elections are seen as a way to capture power for a particular ethnic group. An election turns into nothing more than a glorified census. Elections accelerate the breakdown of weak states. They do not consolidate them. Whether that means that the West should allow weak states to split up or support dictators who hold them together is a whole different argument, though I would lean towards the former. Today though, we may see the first act of a renewed Afghan civil war, and eventually a serious challenge to the integrity of two of Asia’s weakest states.

Update: See my post on the preliminary results of the runoff here.

What Languages Do Pakistanis Speak? (With Pakistan Language Map)

One of the many frustrations I have faced when trying to understand South Asia is the near total lack of recent data on which languages are spoken and where. The lack of interest in South Asian languages is stunning, especially given that South Asia is home to some of the most spoken languages in the world. The language everyone has heard of is Hindi/Urdu (essentially one language with two scripts), which is spoken by over 300 million people, even if the closely related Rajasthani and Bihari languages are excluded. In the West though, awareness of the other South Asian languages is low. Just to give an idea of how large many of these languages are, here are some comparisons: as many people speak Punjabi as Japanese; roughly as many people speak Bengali as German, French, and Italian combined; as many people speak Oriya as Ukrainian; Pashto has as many speakers as Polish; Marathi, Telugu, and Tamil each has more than three times as many native speakers as Dutch. I have searched for up-to-date statistics for language in India, but haven’t been able to find anything more recent than the 1931 Census. I was able however, to track down tehsil-level date for Pakistan from the 1998 Census. In Pakistan, tehsils are the third level of administrative divisions, after provinces and districts. The data set I found isn’t perfect (more on that later), but it has most of what I was looking for. The data can be downloaded here, and the site also has a link to a pretty cool interactive map.

Before I post the map, I’m going to give a quick rundown on language in Pakistan. English and Urdu are the national languages, and are widely understood, at least by the educated. English, obviously, is nobody’s first language in Pakistan, and Urdu is the first language of about 7% of the population, mostly descendents of immigrants from north India who arrived in 1947. The most widely spoken tongue by far is Punjabi, which is the first language of slightly less than half the population. When Saraiki and Hindko, two Punjabi dialects that are sometimes classified as separate languages, are included, well over half of Pakistanis speak Punjabi or a closely related language. As anyone who read my post on the partition of Punjab will know, a large population of Punjabis (about 35 million) live across the border in India. The second most widely spoken language is Pashto, which unlike Punjabi, an Indo-Aryan language related to Hindi, is an Iranian language. This makes it a relative of Farsi and Kurdish, although Pashto’s closest relatives are a cluster of minor languages known as the Pamir languages which are spoken on the mountainous border between eastern Tajikistan and northeastern Afghanistan. Pashto, like Punjabi, is split between two countries. It is the dominant language in southern Afghanistan, but the majority of Pashtuns live in Pakistan. About 15% of Pakistanis speak Pashto as a first language. Right behind Pashto at 14% is Sindhi, which is a relative of Punjabi. There are a few million Sindhi speakers in India as well, some right on the opposite side of the border, and some Hindus who fled Sindh after Partition. The other major regional language is Balochi, spoken by by about 4%. Balochi, like Pashto, is an Iranian language, though it is not particularly closely related. It is actually closer to Kurdish, leading to the theory that the Baloch may have migrated to their current location fairly recently from the Middle East. Balochi is also spoken in southern Afghanistan and eastern Iran. There are some other minor languages, which I’ll discuss later, but those are the major languages. Below is the Pakistan language map.

Pakistan Language Map

Note that I colored the Saraiki and Hindko speaking areas shades of blue because it remains undetermined whether they are separate languages or dialects of Punjabi. Since I don’t speak any of these languages, I can’t make a determination for myself, so I split the difference by making them different shades of the same dark blue. I should also mention two other problem areas. One is the central Balochistan area, which is traditionally considered the Brahui zone. Brahui is a fascinating language. It is Dravidian, which means that it is related to the major South Indian languages, such as Tamil and Telugu, but it is spoken far away from the other Dravidian languages. Brahui barely registers in these data. There are several possibilities. One is that Brahui has lost ground to Baloch. Another is that the Brahui learn both Balochi and Brahui and are equally comfortable in both, leading most to identify the dominant Balochi language as their native tongue. According to some sources, the Brahui have a complicated system of code-switching in which people use Brahui in some situations and Balochi in other situations. Apparently, even within families, there are some times Balochi is used (elder son addressing father), and other times Brahui is used (younger son addressing father). The father speaks to the children in the language of the mother, and wives address their husbands in Balochi. This all seems crazy, but if true could explain why many Brahui would feel comfortable calling Balochi their native language. In any case, it seems that almost all Brahui are fluent in Balochi. Just as a side note, Ethnologue (and Wikipedia) say Brahui is spoken by four million people. This is a ludicrous number, implying that Balochistan, which has 7 million people, is majority Brahui-speaking.

The other problem area was the far north, including northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir. I couldn’t find Census data on Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir (which combined make up Pakistan’s part of Jammu and Kashmir). As a result I had to look around the internet for information on these areas. In Azad Kashmir, I had to distinguish between Hindko and Pothohari, another Punjabi dialect being pushed as a separate language (included with Punjabi in this map). It’s a bit difficult to figure out where one begins and the other ends, but it seems that Hindko is spoken in Muzaffarabad, and south of that it is Pothohari. In Gilgit-Baltistan, I was able to use this survey from the early 1990s, which goes into some detail about the northern languages. The other problem is that the languages of northern K-P (Hindko, Khowar, and Kohistani) are all grouped under “other” in my data set. Luckily the geographic ranges of these languages are fairly well known and distinct, so it was easy to figure out which “other”-speaking areas belonged to which language.

I have already mentioned Hindko, but I’ll quickly go through the other six languages that show up on the map in the north. Three of the languages, the aforementioned Khowar and Kohistani, as well as Shina, are Dardic languages, the most northwestern branch of the Indo-Aryan language family. The Dardic languages form an arc in the far north of South Asia. To the southeast in Indian Kashmir, Kashmiri is the most spoken Dardic language. On the other side, in Afghanistan, Pashayi is spoken by perhaps half a million people south of Nuristan province. The other languages in the north are Burushaski (in brown), a language isolate with no known relatives, Wakhi (light purple) which is related to Pashto, and Balti (orange), which is related to Tibetan, and is spoken in Indian Kashmir, though the dialect there is called Ladakhi. The Baltis are almost exclusively Shia; the Ladakhis are split between Shia and Buddhist.

Hopefully this map underscores how linguistically diverse Pakistan is, and possibly explains why the country is so fragmented. Two other features worth noting are the huge swath of northern Balochistan that is Pashto speaking. The 1998 statistics put Pashto speakers at around 30% of Balochistan’s population, but with high birth rates and a surge of refugees from Afghanistan in the last decade, the Pashtun and Baloch populations in the province may be approaching parity. It is also worth noting the tiny presence of Urdu, the national language. While most educated people in Pakistan can speak Urdu, and almost everyone has at least a rudimentary knowledge of it, very few people speak it as a first language. Only the Sindhi cities of Hyderabad and Karachi are majority Urdu speaking. Hyderabad and Karachi were among the only significant Hindu-majority areas of British India that went with Pakistan, and it is possible that the Urdu speakers leaving India went there simply due to the availability of real estate once the Hindus left. Punjab would have been a more logical destination given Lahore’s traditional position as the most important city in northwest India, but Punjab was already overrun with Muslim refugees from India. Sindh wasn’t partitioned, which means it had to absorb fewer refugees. That might explain why the powerful Urdu-speaking community chose the cities of this arid backwater province as their new home.

This map also highlights two large movements for new provinces. The southern Saraiki-speaking Punjab has long had advocates for severing it from the north and creating a separate province centered on Multan. It is unclear how popular this demand is with the average citizen, but the movement has been active since the 1960s and shows no sign of going away. The other potential province would be in the non-Pashto speaking north of K-P. This province would be called Hazara and would be majority Hindkowan (the ethnic group that speaks Hindko).

The final interesting aspect of Pakistan’s linguistic mix is that the border between the Indo-Aryan languages of north India and the Iranian languages runs right through it. This fact, plus the detailed data set I found, gives us the unusual opportunity to investigate the boundary between two major language families. The Indo-Iranian languages form the largest branch of the Indo-European language family. It is typically split into the Iranian branch (Pashto, Farsi, Kurdish and others) and the Indo-Aryan branch (Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi and many others). The Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages diverged about 4000 years ago. While South Asia and Iran share many cultural similarities, they are markedly different civilizations. Most of the Iranian peoples share a basic history and culture as do most Indo-Aryans. Below is the map of the border between the Iranian languages and the Indo-Aryan ones.

Pakistan Indo-Iranian

To me, there are two notable features of this map. The first is the intrusion of Indo-Aryans into central Balochistan. These people are a mix of Sindhi, Saraiki, and Punjabi, which explains why they didn’t register on the first map, since Balochi speakers remain the plurality. Added up though, several tehsils have an Indo-Aryan majority. That corridor between northern Sindh and Quetta is pretty important, because it connects Quetta, and ultimately  Kandahar, to the Pakistani heartland. It is also a major gas producing area for Pakistan. I wonder if the non-Baloch people there are workers who are employed in the gas fields and related industries. That area is also a hotspot for militancy. Perhaps Baloch militants strike there to get at the “foreign occupiers” who are stealing Balochistan’s resources (a common complaint of Balochistan’s active separatist movement).

The second, more macro, feature is the sharp line between the Indo-Aryan languages and the Iranian ones. There are very few parts of Pakistan with mixed communities. This is not at all what I expected. Given that all of these languages, except Urdu, are poorly standardized, I expected the distinctions between them to be hazy. Instead, we see many instances where a 95% Pashto district borders a 95% Punjabi district. This is fairly similar to Western Europe, where the language boundaries tend to be sharp. One doesn’t find many mixed German and Polish towns, or French and Italian. In Europe, most languages are highly standardized and the national boundaries were made to coincide with language borders often through ethnic cleansing. Neither of these is the case in Pakistan. I expected Pakistan’s language map to look a bit more like Southeast Asia’s.

Pakistanis (and Indians) do have very strong ethnic identities. Sindhi speakers know that they are Sindhi and care about the distinction with Balochis. The same is true of Punjabis and Pashtuns. The lack of ethno-linguistic mixing could explain why Pakistan has had such a hard time constructing a national identity. It also could be one of the reasons Pakistan has been so slow to react to the threat of radical Islamic militancy. The vast majority of terrorist attacks in Pakistan happen in Pashtun dominated areas. Since there are few Punjabis or Sindhis living near Pashtuns, those attacks are out of sight and out of mind for the majority of Pakistanis.

Elections, Elections! (Afghanistan Election Results Map)

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:

Afghanistan 2014 Winners by 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:

Afghanistan Election Relative Vote

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: See my updated posts on Afghanistan’s elections here and India’s elections here.

Update 2: See my post on the preliminary results of the runoff here.