The South Asia Channel

Elections 2014: Afghan-style

Elections 2014: Afghan-style

Perhaps confirming the deep pessimism amongst the Afghan people about the fairness and transparency of Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential elections, there is a lot of political jockeying underway that appears aimed at pre-engineering its result.

The date for the presidential election has been set by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) for April 5th, 2014. The announcement of a specific Election Day was meant to provide a measure of clarity for Afghans on the future of their government, and raise the public’s confidence in the upcoming election. But uncertainty still surrounds the potential presidential candidates as well how the election is to be held.

A group of prominent individuals has emerged, who call themselves the "national consensus" advocates and seek to select from amongst themselves the next electable candidate.  This group consists primarily of former and current government officials, as well as leaders of the opposition political parties. The list includes, among others: former interior ministers Ali Ahmad Jalali, Hanif Atmar and Mohammad Yunus Qanooni; current Minister of Commerce and Industry Dr. Anwar ul Haq Ahadi the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmai Khalilzad; current Head of the Transition Process Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai; Head of Wahdat Party Mohammad Mohaqiq, President Karzai’s governance advisor Ghulam Jilani Popal; governor of Balkh Province Atta Mohammad Noor; Minister of Finance Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal; and Senator Ehsan Bayat.

In a country where politics-of-patronage is dominant, the concept of reaching consensus on such a vital and sensitive matter as the next president is a mirage. Historically, Afghan political leaders -whether part of the regime or the opposition – have been fragmented and have rarely agreed on a common political platform on which to unite. The "national consensus" advocates are faced with a similar impasse. It is unlikely that strong candidates will comply and sacrifice their candidacy if they are not chosen by this group, although they have all claimed to be ready to give up their individual ambitions and appetite for the country’s top job in order to come to a broad-based agreement on a single candidate.  "We are trying to reach a consensus on a candidate through this mechanism, but at the same time we are encouraging other politicians to unite behind our candidate," said an advocate to Waheed Omar, President Karzai’s former Spokesman.

Nevertheless, some of these advocates for national consensus believe that through this process, they might surface as the candidate of choice, and may not have to face a strong opposition during the election campaign that is scheduled to kick off late this year. But most of the ‘national consensus’ front-runners face a lack of trust from the public due to their political affiliations and past loyalties, as well as some allegations of criminal activity and corruption. For example: individuals like Mohammad Yunnus Qanooni, Mohammad Mohaqiq and Atta Mohammad Noor have been labelled warlords, while Mohammad Hanif Atmar is known for his affiliation with former communist groups. Potential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Ali Ahmad Jalali and Zalmai Khalilzad have been criticized for being technocrats with dual citizenship and little mainstream support.

It is clear that President Karzai and some other members of his inside circle do possess significant political leverage at this point, but not to the extent that they will be able to discourage other candidates from declaring their candidacy. The fact that President Karzai is an outgoing president and may not have the degree of influence he had back in 2009 is interpreted by some potentially strong candidates as a signal that they should go ahead and declare their candidacy, form campaign teams, and publicize their political platforms. They have recognized that waiting for Karzai’s approval might not pay off. But the reality is that no one expects the President to be completely hands-off with regard to elections, as his own survival could depend on who is going to be his successor. Historically, it has often been the case that rulers of Afghanistan meet a grisly end when they fall from power.

Some potential candidates are still waiting for President Karzai’s green light in order to kick off their election campaign, in the belief that his support and resources will increase their chances. And while President Karzai is aware of his key role in the upcoming election, he is using the time he has left in office to further boost his authority and impose his candidate of choice, who will carry on his legacy and who is expected to maintain a degree of loyalty to him. Last month, President Karzai’s younger brother Mahmoud Karzai told Reuters that their older brother Qayum Karzai is planning to make an "independent" run for president in 2014, though it remains unclear whether the current president will actively support him.

Although conspiracy theories abound that Karzai may wish to remain in power post 2014, many analysts agree that he wouldn’t risk his political legacy by making such an irrational decision. "President Karzai will not jeopardize his legacy and the stability of Afghanistan by impeding elections or favor alternatives to election," said a close member of President Karzia’s inner circle on condition of anonymity. Notwithstanding the outcome of the so-called ‘national consensus’ effort promoted by some Afghan politicians, the free and fair nature of elections will determine the faith that Afghans have in the next President of Afghanistan. But it is widely anticipated that the decision – if any – of the national consensus advocates, due in September 2013, could be a pre-engineered selection of the future president, and the ‘election’ merely an instrument for its legitimacy.

Hamid M. Saboory is a political analyst, former employee of the Afghan National Security Council, and a founding member of the Kabul- based think tank Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness(A3).