Afghanistan will hold presidential elections in the spring of 2014 in a vote “considered crucial for their country’s stability and security after more than 11 years of war,” AP reports:
Afghan politicians and the country’s foreign backers hailed Wednesday’s announcement as a step toward a peaceful transition of power. The Taliban, who could make or break the poll, denounced it as meaningless and vowed to keep on fighting. The government-appointed Independent Electoral Commission set polling day as April 5, 2014, the same year that most troops in the U.S.-led NATO coalition will have left in a withdrawal that has already begun.
The date is in line with the Afghan constitution adopted after the coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. But the Taliban claimed the vote was an American ploy.
“The announcement of the calendar is a positive development and we certainly welcome this,” said Ahmad Nader Nadery (above), chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, and a former member of the country’s Independent Human Rights Commission.
But some opposition politicians “viewed the date with suspicion,” reports suggest:
Farooq Miranai, who ran for parliament in 2010 in Nangarhar province, warned that early April could prove difficult because heavy snowfalls might interfere with campaigns and voting. He also said if Afghanistan remains without an electronic national identity card system, the potential for fraud would stay high.
“There will be no legitimacy to the election,” Miranai tells the LA Times.
Afghan democrats and civil society groups fear a repeat of the widespread fraud that marred previous polls in the absence of new regulations to guarantee a transparent electoral process. “The announcement of the date for the presidential election is really a good step toward conducting a free election, but at the meantime it required to see some specific other steps – from electoral commission side, from the government side, from the civil society side – especially regarding electoral reform process,” Jandad Speenghar, executive director of the Free and Fair Election Foundation, tells VOA.
Speculation will focus on the aspirations of incumbent President Hamid Karzai who is constitutionally prohibited from contesting the poll.
“The constitution limits Karzai to two terms, and he has said he will not try for a third,” AP reports:
But Afghans generally consider his government to be corrupt and to have favored his political allies and members of his family, and although many of the allegations have not been proven, there are concerns he might seek a way to remain in power or appoint a family member to run as a proxy in the 2014 election.
Although no one has openly declared a candidacy, possible contenders mentioned so far are mostly members of the former Northern Alliance, which ousted the Taliban after the American invasion in late 2001. They include former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who lost to Karzai in 2009, and Quayum Karzai, one of the president’s brothers.
“The question many people have been asking is whether Karzai is going to actually step aside and let someone else be president,” said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The choosing of a date goes some way towards assuaging those fears.”
Afghanistan risks a “precipitous slide toward state collapse” unless measures are adopted to prevent a repeat of the “chaos and chicanery” of 2009’s election, the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, recently warned.
A further round of fraudulent elections “could undermine what little hope remains for stability after [Kabul] takes full responsibility for security,” according to Afghanistan: The Long, Hard Road to the 2014 Transition,
“There is a real risk that the regime in Kabul could collapse upon NATO’s withdrawal in 2014”, says Candace Rondeaux, the Group’s Senior Afghanistan Analyst. “The window for remedial action is closing fast”.
“The Afghan army and police are overwhelmed and underprepared for the transition”, says Rondeaux. “Another botched election and resultant unrest would push them to breaking point”.
The Taliban insurgents are unlikely to lay down their arms and participate in the election.
“These are not elections, they are selections,” said spokesman Qari Youssof Ahmadi. “The U.S. wants to select those people it wants and who will work for the purpose of the enemy. The Afghans know the country is occupied by the enemy, so what do elections mean?”
Karzai may welcome the chance to escape the pressures and threats associated with the job, says one observer:
After the first assassination attempt on his life in September 2002, Karzai chose to hole himself up in the Presidential Palace and the impression among average Afghans, as well as foreigners working there, was that his administration was heavily dependent on the US Ambassadors of the time, Robert Finn and Zalmay Khalilzad.*
Most of his ministers were rude, arrogant and corrupt. As aid agencies and international NGOs struggled to find their feet, arrogant foreign consultants brought in to help Afghan Ministers were proving a big impediment. They seemed like colonial rulers but minus the sophistication of the original colonialists.
*Zalmay Khalilzad is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.