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Candidates Controversy as Presidential Race Kicks Off

Independent electoral commission says few of those competing for the post are eligible to do so.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi
I have no idea who that is,” said Qasem, a driver, when asked about a large campaign poster hanging from a Kabul lamp post. “There are an awful lot of people that nobody ever heard of running for president.”



The final list of 41 candidates was announced on June 12, with the official start to the race on June 16. Since then, the capital has been awash with campaign ads, as major and minor hopefuls seek to get their faces, and names, into the public arena.



But two names were left off the final roster. Mohammad Akbar Bay and Sayed Jafar Hofiani were barred from running because, according to the Electoral Complaints Commission, ECC, they had failed to live up even to the modest requirements of presidential candidates.



According to the constitution, anyone is eligible to run who is a citizen of Afghanistan, Muslim, born of Afghan parents, without citizenship of any other country; he or she must be at least 40 years of age; and should not have been convicted of crimes against humanity or other criminal acts.



Ziauddin, who goes by one name and who was running as a second vice-president to a distant presidential prospect, Sangin Rahmani, was also struck from the lists for ties to illegal armed groups, a common charge in a country with a long history of violent conflict



Akbar Bay, who spent several years in a US prison for drugs conviction, was found to have violated the prohibition on criminal activity as well as having links to outlawed militias; Hofiani was judged to have dual citizenship.



Akbar Bay and Hofiani were indignant about their disqualification.



“If there was a protest or complaint against us, they should have informed us earlier and given us an opportunity to defend ourselves, “said Akbar Bay.



He claimed that the president, Hamed Karzai, had ordered the complaints commission to exclude him, a charge the body has denied.



Hofiani also refutes claims that he has dual citizenship, and said that he had asked the ECC to show him evidence.



“I have lived in America and Germany, but I never held citizenship,” he insisted.



Fahim Hakim, a member of the ECC, told the media that the commission’s work was completely transparent.



“We informed all candidates against whom challenges were received, so that they would have the opportunity to defend themselves,” he said.



The members of the ECC have said that their decision is final; neither Akbar Bay nor Hofiani will appear on the candidate list.



In addition to the presidential candidates, 54 names were dropped from the register of over 3,000 participants in the provincial council election, which will be held concurrently with the presidential poll.



Grant Kippen, director of the ECC, told reporters in early June that the commission had received over 300 challenges from 31 provinces, 50 of them relating to the presidential candidates. He acknowledged that several complaints had been filed against the president, but none of those were judged to be valid.



Out of the 57 persons disqualified, said Kippen, 55 were struck off because of ties to illegal armed groups.



According to the head of the Independent Election Commission, IEC, the wonder is not that three men were barred from running for president, but rather that 41 were left on the rolls.



“If we had the authority, we would only have accepted five of them as eligible,” Azizullah Ludin told a press conference in mid-June.



Ludin lamented the fact that the new election law had not been adopted in time for the presidential ballot, leaving the less qualified able to put their names forward for the country’s top office.



The IEC had made a number of recommendations to the president’s office, said Ludin, but no steps were taken to incorporate them into the election law. He cited higher education, experience, good health, and a good reputation as some positive qualifications for the job, as well as an absence of criminal activity, mental problems, or un-Islamic views.



“There are candidates who are not eligible in this regard, but, unfortunately, we cannot disqualify them,” he said.



Observers agree that more potential candidates should have been struck off, and say that the ECC was not acting independently when it made its final determination.



“The decisions on the candidates were not impartial,” said political analyst Wahid Muzhda.



He pointed to the case of Akbar Bay, whose exclusion, he claims, may have been politically motivated.



In February, 2008, Akbar Bay is said to have fallen victim to Abdul Rashid Dostum, strongman of northern Afghanistan, who at the time held the post of chief of staff to the commander in chief of the armed forces.



Dostum and his men reportedly attacked Akbar Bay, who ended up in hospital. Dostum defied police attempts to take him into custody. He never denied involvement in the incident.



According to a highly placed NATO source, international forces offered Karzai assistance in arresting Dostum, but the president refused.



Subsequently, Dostum left the country. His party, Junbish-e-Milli, said that he had gone to Turkey for health reasons.



In mid-June, the party announced support for Karzai. At about the same time, the president’s office said that Dostum was coming back to Kabul to resume his duties.



“It seems that some kind of compromise has taken place,” said Muzhda. “This violates the commission’s independence.”



IWPR approached the EEC on several occasions to discuss questions that have been raised about its independence, but its spokespeople have not been available for comment.



Another shortcoming of the ECC, according to Muzhda, was its failure to take action against Karzai himself. A complaint was lodged by 75 members of parliament against the president, alleging that he has violated the law on numerous occasions.



But the ECC’s Hakim said that it was not within the commission’s jurisdiction to adjudicate this type of dispute.



“Challenges that were presented to the ECC on behalf of a number of parliamentarians were not under the jurisdiction of the ECC,” he told a press conference on June 9. “They may be valid challenges, but ECC was not the right body to address them.”



Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi is an IWPR staff reporter.