Thursday, October 10, 2013

Afghan Elections for the Future of Afghanistan

According to local Afghans in Kabul, a number of reasons make the presidential elections in 2014 vital to Afghan democracy. 
Most people cite that since power is highly centralized and the president is the chief executive making the ultimate decisions, many want to seek that power.

According to the Afghan Constitution, the president has the authority to veto laws, dissolve parliament when a state of emergency is announced, appoint the cabinet, and name governors for Afghanistan's 34 provinces. All report to the president.

This highly centralized hold on power makes running for the supreme office important for all in Afghanistan.

Now that current President Hamid Karzai has served two terms in office and has vowed to hold free and fair elections in which power would be democratically transferred to the next hopeful, Afghans are thinking on who to vote for as their new president.

Some genuine concerns loom in Afghans' mind as the country prepares for the 2014 elections.

Conversations with local Afghans reveal that inclusiveness, popularity and credibility of candidates, as well as transparency and acceptance of the results by all parties involved, are some of the principle challenges facing Afghan elections in 2014.

Inclusiveness becomes an issue since Afghanistan still struggles with an armed opposition.

The Taliban, although agreeing to initial negotiations in Doha, haven't yet explicitly affirmed their participation or acceptance in the upcoming elections.

Despite Afghans' enthusiasm for going to the ballot boxes, a rejection of the elections or non-participation by the Taliban may present serious security challenges, particularly in regions far from Kabul.

Another challenge that looms around the elections is that there doesn't seem to be any explicit favorite candidate.

Various names such as ex-ministers in the Karzai administration, the president's elder brother, and names from the Afghan diaspora get discussed among Afghan commentators. Some analysts would go even far beyond accusing President Karzai of wanting to prolong his tenure although this cannot be proven.

Transparency and holding free and fair elections is another challenge Afghans speak about when discussing the elections.

Although a new electoral law has been introduced that addressed some of the issues, Afghans are still concerned about the repetition of a 2010 scenario where allegations of fraud were made by all sides involved.

Wazhma Sadat, an Afghan student studying at Yale University and now working on economic development in Afghanistan, mentions that due to allegations of perceived fraud and a prevailing weak culture of accepting political loss, Afghanistan's political stability may become volatile, and the country's march toward economic development and prosperity could be stalled.

All in all, Afghan history, and particularly modern political culture, hasn't been as receptive to change as one would hope for.

Since there is a lot at stake in presidential elections in Afghanistan, legitimacy and acceptance of the results of upcoming elections can even be contested just for the sake of it.

If mismanaged and deliberate, this can create unfortunate friction and power struggle resulting in difficult circumstances for post-2014 Afghanistan.

However, if the elections are free and fair to all and accepted by all stakeholders, President Hamid Karzai will make unprecedented history if he can ensure a democratic transfer of power to the next head of Afghanistan. Whether this happens remains a question to be answered next year.

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