Afghan Concern at Candidate Disqualification
The election authorities in Afghanistan have been accused of bowing to political pressure after they disqualified 17 of the 27 candidates hoping to stand in next year’s presidential election.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said on October 22 that those ruled out had either retained the nationality of another country or had not submitted the required documents and the signatures of 100,000 voters from all of Afghanistan’s provinces.
Those deemed ineligible including the only female contender, Khadija Ghaznawi.
The remaining ten include a number of ex-ministers and former militia leaders. The former include ex-finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai; Abdullah Abdullah, once foreign minister and now opposition politician; another ex-foreign minister, Zalmai Rasoul; and Abdul Rahim Wardak, formerly minister of defence.
Then there are conservative Islamic figures – Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, once head of the armed faction Ittehad-e Islami, and Qutbuddin Hilal, formerly a senior figure in Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami, which is still part of the insurgency.
Finally, there is Hedayat Amin Arsala, previously a senior advisor to President Hamed Karzai; the president’s brother Qayum Karzai; Gul Agha Sherzai, until now governor of Nangarhar province; and Sardar Naim, a grand-nephew of Mohammad Daud Khan, Afghan president between 1973 and 1978.
The disqualified candidates have 20 days to lodge appeals with the Elections Complaints Commission. The IEC will announce a final candidate list on November 16.
The 17 candidates ruled out include Bismillah Sher, a businessman who heads the Wafaq-e Milli party. He told IWPR that he had been wrongly accused of holding two passports.
“I challenge the commission to produce documents proving that I have dual citizenship,” he said. “I will [then] go to jail myself – but if they fail to do so, they should go to jail.”
Sher has appealed, but was pessimistic that the IEC’s decision would be overturned.
“The election commission has shown that it is not an independent election commission, but an independent commission of the government,” he said.
Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, a former finance minister who heads the Afghan Mellat party, insisted that he too had met all the requirements to be approved as a candidate.
“The commission has not told us the reasons why we were disqualified. We don’t know what we have done wrong,” he said. “We condemn the unprofessional actions and lack of transparency of the election commission, and regard it as a grave threat to the transparency of the forthcoming election.”
The 2009 presidential election was marred by widespread allegations of fraud. Next year’s polls are seen as crucial to Afghanistan’s future direction and its relations with the international community once NATO-led troops withdraw next year.
President Karzai is not entitled to run for a third time, and opposition groups have accused him of interfering in the political process so as to hand-pick a successor.
Earlier this month, Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Nur told the TOLO news channel that Karzai had offered him a “blank cheque” if he supported a particular candidate, whom he did not name.
Presidential spokesperson Adila Raz dismissed allegations that Karzai was trying to influence the outcome in any way.
“Karzai… has always supported fair and transparent elections and he has never interfered in the [election] commission’s business, nor will he do so in the future,” she said.
Despite such assurances, election-watchers and political analysts interviewed by IWPR questioned the IEC’s independence and the fairness of its vetting methods.
Jandad Spinghar, head of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan, pointed out the IEC’s own rules stated explicitly that the selection process needed to be publicly observed. This had not taken place, he said.
“If there had been observers from various institutions present, the commission would not now be facing questions,” he said.
Civil society activist Bashir Ahmad told IWPR that the IEC’s failure to follow the rules was likely to damage public confidence in the 2014 election and hence result in a low turnout.
“There is no doubt… that the commission has been influenced by government,” he concluded.
IWPR made numerous attempts to speak to the IEC, but was unable to obtain an interview.
Political analyst Ahmad Sayedi believes both the IEC and the complaints commission are subject to political pressures.
“This election doesn’t have any point,” he said. “Whether or not people go to vote, the ballot boxes will be filled by the election commission, by President Karzai, and by the candidate whom the president wants to win.”
Sayedi said he suspected that Karzai’s preferred successors were either his brother Qayum or his long-time ally Zalmay Rassoul.
Human rights organisations have raised concerns about some of the names on the preliminary shortlist, linked to alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in past conflicts.
“Had the Afghan government in the last decade properly addressed crimes of the past, several current candidates would now be disqualified from seeking office – or would even be serving time,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Foreign donors should press the Afghan government to ensure future elections are not being contested by serious rights abusers.”
On the streets of the Afghan capital, prospective voters also expressed dismay at the selection process.
Kabul resident Navidullah said he thought the candidates who had been eliminated were better educated and more popular than those who remained in the running.
“I have six voters in my family, but as yet we have not decided whether to vote or not; we’re confused,” he said.
He said the one thing he was sure of was that Karzai wanted to see his preferred choice come to power.
“The people casting their votes will just be for show,” he added.
Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kabul.