As we get closer to the withdrawal deadline of US and NATO troops in 2014, security transition and political and economic stability tops among domestic concerns. Despite the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement, NATO has an exit schedule but lacks a concrete post-withdrawal strategy. Transitory plans are based on assumptions of success in peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban for a political settlement. There is not a Plan B scenario when insurgent attacks will increase, getting deadlier, and negotiations fail to reach a breakthrough by 2014. Flawed as it has been, a major blunder made in the negotiations is that political opposition is left out in the entire process. International stakeholders and the Karzai Administration are moving with contrary objectives and interests out of it. The two dominant groups in the Palace circle have their own designs for manipulation of the situation.
However, regardless of the results of peace talks with Taliban, the political opposition that consists of three major blocks—The National Coalition led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, National Front led by Massoud, Muhaqiq and Dostum and Rights and Justice Party of former leftists and intellectuals—are anticipating a smooth political transition in 2014, the election year when President Karzai cannot participate for third term as per the Constitution.
There are talks of early polls discussed among inner circles of President Karzai. Last month after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, he mentioned possibility of early elections. With huge security threats, the power transition in Kabul is also a challenge for the international community. There is less optimism about talks with Taliban to succeed in a settlement on terms acceptable to of the Karzai Administration, political opposition groups and the international community. Therefore, it is required of the situation that polls be held before the bulk of US and NATO troops withdraw to ensure its security.
President Karzai’s tenure will end in May 2014, and constitution requires the polls to be held by the end of 2014. President cannot change election schedule. However, if Karzai resigns, it is possible to conduct earlier election. He has time and again reiterated that he cannot be and will not attempt to be nominated for elections. But opposition groups have expressed concerns that manipulation designs are underway in the Palace. President’s brother Qayom Karzai might be a nominee. Other options include power-sharing deals with one of the factions of opposition. It will be welcoming if President Karzai resigns, and supports his brother or bring any other candidate from among his circle, and an earlier election is scheduled. But an adventure with manipulation of the constitution through bogus Loya Jirga-ism or attempts of deal-making with any opposition group to arrange a ‘solution’ for the two-term limit to remain in power would derail the hard-won political legitimacy and credibility of the entire system.
Two important political blocks, the National Coalition and National Front in a joint press conference two weeks ago said changing the election dates is unconstitutional, unless President resigns, which they would welcome. They issued a joint charter of demands with following proposals:
- Amendments in Electoral Law and the Law of Organization and Authority of the Independent Election Commission (IEC)
- Computerization of voter lists countrywide
- Conduct the electoral process in partnership with the international community/UN
- Security transition plan and US/NATO withdrawal schedule must consider election challenges in particular.
- National population census and distribution of electronic national ID cards be completed six months prior to elections.
- As per the Constitution, elections of provincial and district councils, and municipalities must be held before Presidential polls.
Free and Fair Election Foundation for Afghanistan (FEFA) has also called for reforms in the Electoral Law. IEC has issued a new draft with amendments, which are yet to be presented to the parliament and approved. The amendments do not include major proposals from organizations like FEFA and political parties.
There are concerns about impartiality of the IEC commissioners and its administrative procedure. Opposition parties have expressed concerns on neutrality of five IEC commissioners appointed earlier in January. They are considered supporters of President Karzai. With the amendments introduced in the Electoral Law, the Karzai Administration wants to limit participation of international community in the monitoring and transition process for a free and fair elections.
After the joint press conference and talks of alliance between National Coalition and National Front, the third major group Right and Justice Party also called for major electoral reforms. In a press conference last week, Right and Justice leadership said they would field a consensus candidate for polls. They called for establishment of an Electoral Reforms Commission.
All opposition groups are calling for legal participation of political parties in the elections. It is the biggest crack in our political system that parties have no legitimate role in the electoral process and parliamentary affairs. It is time the Government heed to the demands of opposition groups and take practical steps for reforms. Legal role of political parties is inevitable for political transparency and credibility. It will increase mass political participation and activism, generating awareness, something that an overly centralized concentration of power in the Presidential office, which is more like an electoral authoritarianism, does not want. The international community must push for steps to ensure long-term political stability in Afghanistan, which should not be ignored for transitory strategies.
To be continued…