The decision of the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) underlines recent statements, including from Karzai himself, that the Constitution will be respected and should help to (somewhat) ease suspicions as to the real intentions of the current administration. It also partly addresses a recommendation recently made by the International Crisis Group (ICG) but the IEC must now follow up – quickly and convincingly – with a timetable and practical measures for a new voter registry.
An April election is the best option in that i/ it should calm opposition fears that the Executive will bypass the Constitution and ii/ ISAF will still have sufficient boots on the ground to support the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in carrying out their duties.
On the latter point, ISAF personnel will limit their role to strategic support, as per the process of security transition which will have reached its final stages by April 2014. The Afghan Police and Army will take the lead in ensuring both physical security and electoral security (e.g. chain-of-custody of ballot boxes). Again, this is consistent with the security transition but more importantly means that the elections of the sovereign Afghan State will be conducted by their own people.
The widespread fraud and vote-rigging that marred the 2009 presidential elections cannot be repeated in 2014. While impossible to fully eradicate, electoral fraud must be significantly reduced if the legitimacy of the next president is not to be undermined. Thus the already complex practicalities of voter registration have become highly politicised, as demonstrated by the recent statement from the Coordination Council of Political Parties (CCPP), a loose umbrella organisation for the political opposition.
Moreover, the opposition have predictably rejected the Palace’s statement that the Election Complaints Commission (ECC) must be solely composed of Afghans [NB: In the past, two of the five Commissioners have been foreigners]. In the short-term, the elections will be fought on these technical issues: nobody is ready yet to identify candidates.
At this stage, it is extremely difficult to predict who will run. According to the Constitution, Hamid Karzai must step down in 2014 after serving two full terms but, according to the ICG, “[t]here are alarming signs Karzai hopes to stack the deck for a favoured proxy.”
This is almost certain but, as yet, nobody stands out as an obvious choice. Arguably, any such individual would not only be Karzai’s straw man but rather that of his current entourage. For example, some believe that Farooq Wardak, the influential Minister for Education, will stand in 2014 but it is equally possible that he will bide his time until 2019, when the conditions for his candidacy may be more favourable, but still maintain considerable influence until then through a proxy.
In truth, there is no certainty whatsoever as to the identity of the Executive’s favoured candidate or even that of his potential opponents, despite ongoing opposition activity.
That said, however Karzai stacks the deck, any candidate supported by the current Executive would almost certainly win anyway as no single political party has their means to reach the majority of the population. The real concern is that if Karzai over-reaches (as in 2009) the fundamental legitimacy of the result will be undermined and that would be highly dangerous in the context of 2014.
An important point to note is that Afghan voters will elect a president but also his running mates on a single ticket. Afghanistan has two Vice-Presidents – currently Fahim Khan, a Panjshiri affiliated to Jamiat-e Islami, and Karim Khalil, a Hazara from a minority faction of Hezb-e Wahdat. That being the case, whichever individual Karzai and his entourage put foward will need to form some sort of coalition with influential blocs in order to ensure a manageable political equilibrium
To put it crudely, enough powerful people must be given their piece of the pie, as always. However, in the current political climate it is crucial that the Afghan people believe - at last – that their elected representatives have been legitimately elected and are genuinely representative.
This is an absolute minimum if the Afghan body politic is not to explode in 2014. The stakes are now much higher than in 2009 so all concerned must i/ ensure that the technical aspects of the elections are conducted properly and, ii/ beginning now, there must be real political dialogue so that, when Karzai steps down, the winner is accepted as legitimate and the losers believe they can best advance their interests through democratic means and not through violence.
This is a very tall order but the Afghans must deliver – for their own sake.
Photo credit: isafmedia
Tagged Afghan National Security Forces, Afghanistan, ANSF, CCPP, Constitution, ECC, Fahim Khan, Farooq Wardak, Hamid Karzai, Hezb-e Wahdat, ICG, IEC, ISAF, Jamiat-e Islami, Karim Khalil, Police, Taliban