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Presidential election: Ethnic divide comes into play in Afghan runoff

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ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan has been ethnically polarised. And this polarisation will dominate the June 14 presidential runoff between Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Dr Ashraf Ghani as no candidate could secure the mandatory 50-plus one votes in the first round in April.

HunzaNews, June 9th, 2014.

Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam – the running mate of Dr Ghani for first vice president – has publicly announced that Uzbeks and Turkmens would vote for his team. Dostam has been accused of rampant rights abuses and even Dr Ghani had been critical of him in the past. However, his pick for the vice presidential slot was to win over Uzbek votes.

Juma Khan Hamdard, the governor of eastern Paktiya province and a senior member of Dr Ghani’s campaign team, told voters in northern Balkh province that if they didn’t support Dr Ghani the country will plunge into further instability. Hamdard specifically called upon two ethnic groups – Pashtuns and Uzbeks – to vote for Dr Ghani’s team, according to Tolo TV.

The ethnic divide was also there during the April 5 first round. Dr Abdullah, who is a Tajik from his mother’s side, bagged nearly 90% votes in some northern provinces where Pashtuns are in minority. Conversely, Dr Ghani, himself an ethnic Pashtun, received maximum votes in the Pashtun-dominated regions. However, there were pockets of support for both candidates among other ethnic groups.

Analysts believe the ethnic affiliations would be a major factor in deciding the June 14 runoff.

Ustad Muzamil, an Afghan writer, told The Express Tribune that some people would prefer to vote on ethnic basis. “The ethnic divide was not so visible when eight candidates were in the field on April 5 but now since only two candidates are in the race, campaigners could try to exploit ethnic sentiments,” he added.

Powerful former warlords and tribal chieftains are hedging their bets in the hope of getting a share in the pie in the next government.

Interestingly, Mahmud Karza has already announced his support for Dr Abdullah.

Interior Minister Umer Daudzai says security challenges could be more serious than the April vote but Taliban militants wouldn’t be able to disrupt the polls. Maj-Gen Syed Abdul Karim, Afghan National Army Commando Brigade commander, said on Sunday that nearly 10,000 commandos would assist other security personnel in ensuring security.

The Taliban have announced to disrupt the runoff, with their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid saying that they would attack election staff. He, however, refused to comment on the recent assassination attempt on Dr Abdullah.

 Express Tribune

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