The list of presidential candidates announced by the Afghan Election Commission has generated a mixture of optimism and uncertainty about the outcome of the polls.
The April 2014 presidential elections are an opportunity for Afghanistan to climb out of the predicament of war and work towards democracy.
Afghanistan’s history of war and insurgency has resulted in numerous challenges to good governance and stability. With the imminent withdrawal of the international forces, and mounting pressures of controlling a weak economy, there is a need for strong institutional and policy structures. The presidential elections in April 2014 serve as an opportunity for Afghanistan to climb out of the predicament of war and work towards democracy.
In July 2013, the Parliament of Afghanistan introduced a series of electoral laws to establish the groundwork for free and fair elections. An independent election commission has been set up to oversee the democratic process. In October 2013, the Election Commission received 27 nominations for the forthcoming elections.
After a controversial process of elimination, nearly 16 candidates were disqualified for insufficiency of paperwork and their educational background. The decision was heavily criticized as the Commission only excluded ‘soft targets’ from the electoral process while the majority of the successful candidates were influential politicians. More significantly, Khadija Ghaznawi, the only female candidate, and Hashmat Ahmedzai, the leader of Afghanistan’s nomad population were also disqualified. This raised serious questions about the representation of women and indigenous groups in the
In November 2013, the Election Commission announced the final ballot list for the presidential elections. The list has generated a mixture of optimism and uncertainty about the outcome of the polls.
Abdullah Abdullah’s nomination comes as a beacon of hope. In the 2009 presidential elections, he contested as an independent candidate and managed to gain 30.5 percent of the total votes. However, Abdullah boycotted the runoff election as he was skeptical of Hamid Karzai’s commitment towards change.
Determined to challenge Karzai’s brand of democracy, Abdullah formed the Coalition for Change and Hope, which was subsequently renamed the National Coalition of Afghanistan. Over time, the forum has received an overwhelmingly positive response from Afghan political parties and members of parliament. Owing to his unflagging dedication to a humanitarian agenda and willingness to work towards the welfare of Afghanistan, Abdullah has been billed as an efficient and accountable leader.
The nomination of General Abdul Rahim Wardak has generated both expectations and doubts. Wardak’s political profile is, at best, confusing. He had previously served as defense minister of Afghanistan and managed to strengthen diplomatic relations with Pakistan and alleviate tensions between ethnic groups in the country. However, his tendency to show excessive support for the United States has earned the ire of many Afghan politicians. In August 2012, Wardak received a vote of no confidence from the parliament for his pro-U.S. stance on political issues.
Despite the uncertainty and doubts, it has become evident over time that General Wardak is committed to combating terrorism and building a strong central government. His astute observations on the problems that plague the region make him a suitable presidential candidate. But whether he will be able to find realistic solutions to these problems remains a moot-point.
Abdul Qayum Karzai is also among the potential candidates for the presidential elections. His nomination is largely controversial and could undermine the possibility for change. Abdul Qayum is the eldest brother of President Hamid Karzai and has a questionable reputation as a leader. While he has previously served as a parliamentarian in the Wolesi Jirga, he was frequently reprimanded for his poor attendance and lack of commitment. His alleged involvement in a clandestine deal to negotiate with the former Taliban government has further dented his credibility. Abdul Qayum’s nomination has raised doubts about the transparency of the electoral process.
Gul Agha Sherzai’s decision to contest the presidential elections also adds fuel to the fire. Sherzai has served as governor of two provinces. He had provided assistance to the American forces in seizing Kandahar from the Taliban in 2001. Sherzai was involved in a conspiracy to oust Mullah Naqib, the previous governor of Kandahar. He was sacked as governor of Kandahar because of his alleged involvement in opium trafficking. Since he is a trusted ally of Hamid Karzai, it is unlikely that he will bring any positive change to the status quo.
Despite the doom-and-gloom scenario, some candidates on the final ballot list provide hope for progress and economic stability. Hedayat Amin-Arsala’s selection for the presidential elections is a cause for celebration. An accomplished economist and politician, Arsala has consistently worked towards improving the image of Afghanistan. He has previously served as finance minister, foreign minister, vice president and senior minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. He was the first Afghan to join the World Bank where he worked for 18 years. He actively resisted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and organized a peace campaign which played a pivotal role in the political development of the region.
Arsala has led the Independent Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission and chaired the Economic Coordination Council and the National Census Committee. He has, on numerous occasions, served as a member of the National Security Council, and even, acting president.
His contributions to the introduction of the first budget in Afghanistan strengthened his image as a strategist. He has also worked with the IMF to generate economic stability in the region. Arsala has drafted laws geared towards achieving economic development and has consistently tried to encourage bilateral trade agreements in Afghanistan. Owing to his expertise and innovation, Hedayat Amin Arsala stands out amid the glut of incompetent politicians.
After the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014, Afghanistan will need to formulate a viable strategy towards democracy and stability. But positive change can only come with innovation, belief and hard work. The National Democratic Institution of International Affairs has expressed ‘guarded optimism’ about the forthcoming elections. The final ballot list by the Election Commission provides ample justification for the margin of doubt about the forthcoming elections. Only time will tell whether Afghanistan will benefit from positive change or continue to fall prey to the machinations of a corrupt leadership.