And the winner is…nobody

By J Alexander Thier and Sara Thrall The slow trickle of results from Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential elections paired with its high volume of fraud complaints is pushing that country’s already fragile political system into crisis. Thus, anxiously awaiting the vote totals like everyone else, we decided to try and extrapolate the outcome based on ...

581488_090901_ballots22.jpg
581488_090901_ballots22.jpg

By
J Alexander Thier and Sara Thrall

The slow trickle of results from Afghanistan's August 20 presidential elections paired with its high volume of fraud complaints is pushing that country's already fragile political system into crisis. Thus, anxiously awaiting the vote totals like everyone else, we decided to try and extrapolate the outcome based on the official vote totals released by the Independent Electoral Commission.

By
J Alexander Thier and Sara Thrall

The slow trickle of results from Afghanistan’s August 20 presidential elections paired with its high volume of fraud complaints is pushing that country’s already fragile political system into crisis. Thus, anxiously awaiting the vote totals like everyone else, we decided to try and extrapolate the outcome based on the official vote totals released by the Independent Electoral Commission.

As of August 31st, results from 47.8% of polling stations had been released. These include vote tallies from all 34 provinces, but at different rates. Votes from only 2.7% of polling stations in Nuristan have been added to the count, whereas 86% of the total polling stations in Jowzjan have been recorded.

In order to reach a result, we have weighted the partial votes from each province as if the results were 100% of polling stations reporting. Thus, if Balkh province is reporting 100 voters with 50% of stations reporting, we counted Balkh as having 200 voters, and multiplied the candidates individual tallies by the same factor as well.

Caveat Emptor

There are a slew of provisos here about our method and the results.

  • The percentages reported are the number of polling stations and not the number of actual votes; however, our calculation counts the percent reported as equivalent to the percent of votes. It may be that some polling stations are larger than others — perhaps with urban results reporting in but not rural areas, thus skewing the eventual totals.
  • This same problem could also skew the way in which people voted. We assume 40% for Karzai at 60% reporting will also mean 40% for Karzai at 100% reporting. Maybe urban voters, or those from safer areas (where reporting presumably came in first) won’t vote the same as those in other areas.
  • Several provinces still have low percentages of poling stations tallied which reduces the likely accuracy of their extrapolations, e.g. Paktika at 6.2%, Kandahar at 13.7%, Helmand at 12.9%
  • The initial releases are only for “clean” stations, which means that the data entry of the results form revealed no automatic red flags (e.g. a station that has 600 votes cast all for one person). Polling stations with implausibly high numbers of votes will only be added towards the end (if at all), which could effect the outcome.
  • Our result is based on the relative accuracy of the total extrapolated number of votes, which could also be off. This is important because it’s not about who comes in first, but rather whether one of the candidates tops 50%. If the total extrapolated votes is too high or too low, it would make all the difference in a tight race.

And the Winner Is…?

All that said, as demonstrated in the chart available here, we show Karzai with 49.2% of the vote and Abdullah with 26.7%, out of a total of 5,644,906 votes. That suggests a run-off, but with Karzai at a substantial advantage in the second round. It also shows that the outcome may be very close to the 50% mark, which means that decisions to include or exclude votes based on allegations of fraud may well decide the whole election.

J Alexander Thier is the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United States Institute of Peace, where Sara Thrall, the
author of “Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan: Necessary and Inadequate” (University of London, SOAS Masters Thesis, 2008),
is a program assistant.

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

J Alexander Thier, the founder of Triple Helix, was the executive director of the Overseas Development Institute in London and was USAID’s chief of policy, planning, and learning from 2013 to 2015. He is writing in a personal capacity. Twitter: @Thieristan

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.