Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Afghanistan – The government of national unity in crisis over electoral reform

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In September 2014, after months of deadlock over the contested electoral results, the two presidential candidates signed a power-sharing deal to protect national unity, introducing the office of the Chief Executive. The relationship between Ashraf Ghani, President, and Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive, has not always been rosy with frequent conflicts erupting between the two highest offices of the state. The latest chapter in this troubled relationship is the conflict over electoral reform. There is a shared agreement that electoral reform is of fundamental importance in order to ensure a fair electoral process on the occasion of the next Parliamentary election which will take place in September 2015. Last Thursday, Abdullah declared that the upcoming parliamentary election must not be held unless the national electoral system, which he forcefully criticised during the negotiations for the power-sharing agreement in 2014, is changed.

After becoming the leaders of the National Unity Government, Ghani and Abdullah promised to reform the electoral system in order to prevent crises in future elections. Some amendments are under discussion in the Parliament, in particular in the appointment process and responsibilities of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Further changes include statutes making the IEC a temporary body only formed during election time, requiring members of the commission to go through a re-appointment process in a bid to boost their accountability.

However, these changes are not considered to be enough by law experts, MPs and by foreign donors. Members of the Judicial Commission of the House of Representatives are strongly in favor of further reform. ‘Afghanistan was not brought to crisis by Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, but Afghanistan was brought to crisis by the corruption of the electoral commissions,’ said Muhammad Abdo, a member of the Parliament’s Judicial Commission, referring to the period of uncertainty prior to the formation of the National Unity Government.

Also foreign donors and international institutions are calling for extensive reform. The report by EU chief observer, Thijs Berman, released in December 2014, makes several recommendations, calling for an independent board to nominate all members of Afghanistan’s IEC and Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The report argues that investigation mechanisms around electoral offenses and corruption need to be reinforced and that a biometric voter identification data base should be introduced. Also, measures to ensure that women have access to secure and appropriate polling locations, led by female staff, should be implemented.

Abdullah agrees with the necessity of boosting the reform, not surprisingly as the IEC and the ECC were both accused by him during the election to have conspired in favor of his rival Ashraf Ghani winning the presidential race. Mujeebul Rahman Rahimi, a spokesman for the Chief Executive, recalled that the reform of Afghanistan’s election laws and electoral commissions was a precondition to Abdullah’s acceptance of the power-sharing plan with Ghani. ‘Reform in the electoral system, election laws and election institutions – who were directly involved in the fraud – was among the preconditions to the formation of the national unity government,’ Mr. Rahimi declared on Thursday. ‘Reform in the electoral system is important, and without it, there will be no elections’ he added.

However, there is uncertainty over how and what the reform should change. Mr. Rahimi declared that the main reason behind the delay in reform is disagreement between Ghani and Abdullah over ‘reform details’. In particular, ‘regarding the creation of an electoral reform commission, the President Ghani’s opinion was that the commission should be created after the announcement of the cabinet, but our [meaning the Office of the Chief Executive, Mr. Abdullah] preference was to create it after the inauguration and it should have started its work and should not have been related to the cabinet’.

Also, despite agreeing on the necessity of reforming the system, the IEC is calling for caution. The IEC’s commissioner Sareer Ahmad Barmak declared that nobody including the President could fire the IEC commissioners unless they prove the crimes of IEC officials. ‘Reforms are required both in the electoral system and the structure of the election commission,’ Barmak said, however adding that ‘some personal reforms are also being proposed from outside which is intolerable for us’. Moreover, commentators maintain that MPs do not have the legal right to change the election laws this year. ‘Based on the law, the House does not have the right to bring changes to the electoral law during the last year of their tenure,’ university professor Tahir Hashemi told, adding that ‘they can bring changes in the appointment, jurisdiction and authorities of the electoral commissions.’

There is a widespread concern that the gridlock over the reform could spark further uncertainty in the country, to the point of bringing about protests and disorder should the upcoming parliamentary election be held under the same law. Fuelling possible popular distrust and lack of confidence in the electoral process, there are rumors that the members of the electoral commissions are holding meetings with MPs to dissuade them from supporting the legislation by promising favors in exchange for upcoming elections.

Afghanistan – Ex-presidential rivals strike power-sharing deal. Ghani new president

Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

After months of mutual accusations and threats of major political turmoil and mobilisation, the two rival presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, reached an agreement to solve the national crisis and form a government of national unity. In a televised ceremony on Sunday, they signed a power-sharing agreement that makes of Ghani the new President of Afghanistan and Abdullah the Chief Executive Officer of the government, a new office for Afghanistan similar to a Prime Minister. Abdullah might also nominate someone else to occupy the office. Ghani is expected to be sworn in as the new President of the country on Sept. 29. This agreement and the formation of a government of national unity have been greeted by the international community as welcome news, since the atmosphere of bitter conflict and political uncertainty was damaging the already fragile security of the country.

From a technical point of view, the agreement changes quite significantly the structure of government of Afghanistan. The highly-centralised presidential system will now have to face a number of challenges to integrate the new role, the CEO, in its functions considering that it will share a number of prerogatives with the president, such as for instance control over key institutions including the Army.  The agreement gives substantial powers to the newly created position, defining it as having the functions of an executive prime minister. According to the agreement, a new institution is created, the council of ministers, which will work in parallel with the President’s cabinet. The council of ministers will be headed by the CEO and will include two deputies and all cabinet ministers. The council will implement the executive decisions of the government. As for the President’s cabinet, it will be headed by the President and will include all ministers. The CEO will be responsible for managing the cabinet’s implementation of government policies, and will report on progress to the president directly and in the cabinet. Another clause calls for parity in the selection of personnel between the president and the CEO at the level of head of key security and economic institutions.

Although relief is understandable, there are a number of unclear points that cast a certain shadow on the optimism. First of all, the Taliban have already expressed their opposition to the pact and rejected the national unity government pact as a ploy orchestrated by the US administration. This means that national security is still in danger and that this government will not be a government of national unity. Secondly, it is not clear how the power-sharing agreement will work, and how the role and notion of a CEO will be received by the population and local elites. Given the rather conflictual relationship between Abdullah and Ghani, it is not certain that the national unity government, with two powerful offices within it, will be actually able to work or whether will be torn apart by internal conflicts. Thirdly, the technical implementation of the agreement might take a long time, as the CEO is a new institution that needs to be integrated in the Constitution. Under current provisions, the agreement calls on the Loya Jirga to amend the Constitution to create the position of an executive prime minister within two years.

The new president and the new government are expected to rule Afghanistan during very sensitive times, as the withdrawal of US troops is to be completed by December 2014.

Afghanistan – Second round of the presidential election

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On Saturday 14th June, Afghan citizens voted for their president in the second round of the presidential election that took place on the 5th April. In April, none of the candidates obtained more than 50% of the votes, making a second round necessary. The two contenders are Abdullah Abdullah, a close associate of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance, turned into a doctor and Minister of Foreign Affairs between 2001 and 2005; and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a World Bank technocrat and former Minister of Finance between 2002 and 2004. The results are still unknown, and doubts have been voiced about the actual number of people that turned out to vote and the likelihood of electoral fraud. However, Afghanistan could hardly bear the cost of further disorder and political uncertainty, which would not only undermine the economy but also weaken the central government’s power to manage the country after the withdrawal of foreign troops. In the meantime, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, continues acting as the president. According to the Constitution, he is barred from seeking a third re-election, a condition which makes the current election the first democratic transfer of presidential powers in the country.

Both second-round contenders promise to sign a long-delayed security pact with the United States, which President Hamid Karzai has always rejected. This deal would allow nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country until 2016 after the withdrawal expected in December 2014. The troops will conduct counterterrorism operations and continue training and advising the Afghan army and police. Both declare that they will fight for peace and against corruption. Abdullah and Ghani Ahmadzai, however, have also a number of differences. In particular, their different ethnic and biographical background ended up mirroring the very troubled history of this war-torn country.

Abdullah was a vocal critic of the Taliban during their years in power and fought against them along with Ahmad Shah Massoud. Because of this, he ended up by being perceived as the non-Pashtun candidate. Although he was once an ally of Karzai, serving in his government as foreign minister, he challenged the incumbent president in the 2009 election. Then, though, he dropped out after the first round to protest what he said was large-scale voting fraud.

Ghani Ahmadzai is a technocrat economist, former academic and American citizen who gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009. He worked as an adviser to Karzai and served as finance minister in his Cabinet. He is perceived as a Pashtun with no Jihadist history. He is seen as the favorite by a large majority of the Pashtuns. Because of his ‘American’ past, he has emphasised his Pashtun ethnicity by adopting his tribal name ‘Ahmadzai’, growing a beard, performing a Hajj pilgrimage and showcasing piousness.

According to official sources and to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, more than 7 million Afghans turned out to cast their vote. This seems to suggest that the very serious security threats caused by the Taliban’s opposition to the election have not succeeded in keeping voters away. Nevertheless, elections have been marked by a high degree of violence. By Saturday 14th June, there had been more than 150 attacks, with 10 Afghan soldiers, 14 civilians and 19 insurgents killed.

Over and above security issues, legal ones are also making headlines as candidates are very suspicious of the trustworthiness of the electoral results. As already voiced by an observer, a major fear is that candidates are focusing on fraud in an unscrupulous attempt to set the ground for complaints if they lose. Echoing the nearly 300 complaints filed against electoral procedures and against the Independent Election Commission’s staff, Abdullah has declared that he would not accept the results of Saturday’s election unless the IEC Chief, Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhail, appointed by Karzai, is suspended and a full investigation of possible electoral fraud is conducted. This declaration is a further obstacle to a smooth electoral process in Afghanistan.

Definitive results are expected to be declared on the 22nd July.

Afghanistan – Fraud and security concerns cast a shadow over elections

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On Saturday, Afghans will vote for their preferred candidates at both presidential and local elections. Out of a total population of 31 million people, there are about 12 eligible voters, an increase of almost 4 million since the last election in 2010 as more people have registered to vote this time. According to a poll conducted by the Independent Election Commission, which had been established by the last electoral law approved in July 2013 and which is overseeing the whole process, about 76% of registered voters will participate in upcoming elections. Voters will choose from eight presidential candidates and will elect representatives to the 34 provinces that compose the Afghan territory. The incumbent president, Hamid Karzai, who has ruled the country since the Taliban were ousted by the US-led invasion in 2001, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

The presidential election is attracting more attention than the local one, because of the relevance of the race. Poor security conditions and fears of electoral fraud are casting a shadow over the reliability of the electoral process, which is considered to be crucial for the stability of the country after ISAF withdrawal. However, concerns linked to the security of local elections and candidates are also high, given the fact that few days ago 18 candidates were ‘abducted’ by the Taliban. Since the beginning of the electoral campaign, the Taliban have been responsible for the most deadly attacks against the candidates themselves, campaign headquarters, and the Independent Election Commission. Yesterday, another attack was conducted by the Taliban against a provincial council candidate, who died along with nine of his supporters in the northern Sar-e-Pul province.

Concerns about the likelihood of electoral fraud in the presidential election are also present, according to the candidates themselves. Fraud is even considered inevitable, with more than 6,000 polling centres, many of them in remote areas difficult to monitor. Abdullah Abdullah, one of the favourite presidential candidates, declared that if fraud costs him the election, he would not advocate violence. Instead, he would mobilise thousands of people to effectively shut down the country’s institutions until the vote was resolved. However, many fear that candidates are focusing on fraud in an unscrupulous attempt to set the ground for complaints if they lose, and risk discouraging voters and discrediting the election process.

Three out of the eleven original presidential candidates withdrew from the race. Of the eight remaining candidates, there are three front-runners: Zalmay Rassoul, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah (a French-trained physician, an anthropologist, and an opthalmologist respectively). They have declared that they would sign an agreement with the US to allow American troops to remain in the country beyond 2014. However, given the unstable security environment and the Talibans’ apparent strength, it is not clear what kind of compromise, or moderate position they could adopt in order to enhance national security standards.

Afghanistan – Presidential candidates compete for vote

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The Afghan presidential election will take place on April 5th 2014. Candidates have been running their elections since February 2nd, when the campaign period officially began. The current president, Hamid Karzai, who has been in office since 2001, is constitutionally banned from seeking a third term.

The selection of who will run for the presidency was completed last November, and the Independent Election Commission allowed eleven candidates to compete for the office, out of the 27 individuals who wished to take part into the election. The 2014 election, through which Afghan citizens will chose their president as well as the members of the local provincial councils, will be held under the new electoral law. Passed in July 2013, it establishes independent electoral commissions, providing them with stronger legal basis to prevent other Afghan institutions from interfering in the election process, as was the case in 2010.

The presidential candidates are:

  1. Ashraf Ghani, the strongest candidate, former Finance Minister, ethnic Pashtun, who is running with former Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum and former justice minister Sarwar Danish as vice-presidents;
  2. Abdullah Abdullah, former Foreign Ministers, ethnic Tajik;
  3. Zalmay Rasul, former Foreign Ministers, ethnic Pashtun;
  4. Hidayat Amin Arsala, former senior presidential adviser and former vice-president, ethnic Pashtun;
  5. Abdul Rahim Wardak, former Defense Minister, ethnic Pashtun;
  6. Qayum Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother;
  7. Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Afghan Islamic Salafi leader, ethnic Pashtun;
  8. Gul Agha Sherzai, former Governor of Nangarhar Province, ethnic Pashtun, son of a prominent Mujahideen commander he joined in fighting against the Soviet invasion in Southern Afghanistan;
  9. Qutbuddin Hilal, Islamist leader, former deputy Prime Minister between 1993 and 1996 during the tenure of president Rabbani when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was Prime Minister;
  10. Sardar Nadir Naeem, former royal family member;
  11. Davoud Sultanzoi, a former parliament deputy from Ghazni Province who was reintegrated after an initial exclusion from the presidential race.

The campaign is ongoing and the candidates have taken part in TV debates. The topics of their electoral campaigns range from fighting corruption, to women’s rights and, of course, military and security issues. The ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) is indeed due to withdraw from Afghanistan later this year in December. While opposed by Karzai, all the candidates who participated in the first TV presidential debate earlier in February back a security deal with the United States which would keep a contingent of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Ethnic divisions also play an important role in these elections, and all candidates represent a wide range of ethnic diversity.

Analysts say the vote is crucial to the future of Afghanistan. It is the first independent vote organised by the national government without direct foreign assistance. Security issues are high also because the Taliban have rejected the election and stepped up attacks in an effort to sabotage it. So far, one episode of violence has interfered with the electoral campaign, as two senior members of Abdullah Abdullah’s campaign team were shot dead in street in Herat province, Western Afghanistan, in early February.