Conflicting reports place either Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani taking the lead in the historic Afghan elections. The early results have prompted claims of fraud by opponents, although the wait for the official end of the vote-counting period on April 24 means accurate predictions and results are still far off. With the field packed with contenders for the Afghan presidency (twelve in total), it seems unlikely that any candidate will receive the 50% of votes necessary to immediately declare a winner. In that event, a runoff election is probable. According to the Independent Election Commission’s spokesman, Noor Mohammad Noor, a runoff would likely be held in late May at the earliest.
Preliminary tallies show Abdullah Abdullah has performed better than expected in the Pashtun-concentrated south (as he is half-Tajik and half-Pashtun, it was unclear if voters would find him as attractive a candidate as the Pashtun candidates). However, most IEC staff have reported that Ashraf Ghani’s strong performance in the Kandahar region and his shoring up of support in the north with his running mate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, are much stronger signs that the initial vote count.
Allegations of fraud have already begun to plague key voting centers, particularly in the south. Candidates themselves have been hesitant to levy corruption charges in public, with Ashraf Ghani declaring that the “vote must find a clear winner.” In either case, a run-off between Ghani and Abdullah would be considered a relief for the United States, who have seen relations deteriorate with current president Hamid Karzai. Ghani’s background particularly in international development organizations such as the World Bank make him a Western favorite, in addition to apparently an Afghan one.
- Kazakhstan is currently considering legislation that would criminalize separatist talk as sedition. Kazakh citizens could get up to 10 years in prison for making “illegal and unconstitutional calls for changes to the territorial integrity of the Republic of Kazakhstan.” This would cover calls for separatism or independence made in the media, and also social media platforms.
- Tajikistan has been urged by Reporters without Borders to overturn a ruling against Asia Plus editor, Olga Tutubalina. She is expected to appeal the decision where she was ordered to pay the three plaintifs (apparently Tajik intellectuals) 30,000 somoni (4,500 euros) for insulting the country’s intellectuals in a May 2013 article. The article itself began with a famed Lenin quote, “Intellectuals are not the nation’s brains, they are its shit.”
- The Aral Sea has continued its long ecological decline, but locals in Uzbekistan have begun to turn it into a tourist attraction. The water loss and desertification that has affected the surrounding area has made the area around it into a Central Asian Dust Bowl of sorts. The desertification is believed to have been caused by the damming of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers for irrigation and hydroelectric products in Tajikistan. As a result, the Aral Sea is drying up and there is little hope for its recovery.
- Proven gold reserves in Kyrgyzstan are believed to exceed 566 tons, according to a new report. Kyrgyzstan has managed to develop its mining sector, despite its political problems. The second largest gold mine in the world, run by Canadian mining syndicate Centerra, is located at Kumtor. Kyrgyzstan was honored last year as “Mining Country of the Year” at the 2013 Mines and Money International Conference in Hong Kong and praised for its reforms, transparency, ease of doing business, and investment attractiveness,” according to Kyrgyz Minister of Economy Temir Sariev. However, problems with organized crime in the Kyrgyz south with its coal mining sector, and the consistently diminishing stake of foreign investors in the Kumtor gold mine make those claims slightly dubious.