By: Dr. Khesrow Sangarwal
In Afghanistan’s recorded history, it has been rare that the head of the state has willingly and constitutionally completed his assigned term in office. In fact, in last 40 years, every single Afghan president who has served more than 2 months in office has either been killed during his term, or shortly after. The office of presidency in Afghanistan has always cost lives, not just of the presidents’ but of many thousands more.
For the first time, however, it seems that the people of Afghanistan not only want a difference, but expect it. Afghans today want to see their President graciously and amicably hand over power to his successor in person, as opposed to forceful and violent exits from office, as has been the recurrent story during Afghanistan’s history.
Despite the widespread international media antagonism, spirits are high in Afghanistan. There has not been much pessimism from the Afghan people, including from within the Afghan political system, regarding Afghanistan’s post-2014 election era; there are not many who believe that Afghanistan will be hit by significant destabilisation. Neither Afghanistan, nor the international community, can afford another destabilised and anarchic Afghanistan. We are all too familiar with the consequences of a lawless and divided Afghanistan. Similarly, no one underestimates the challenges of power transition post-2014 election era. These challenges will present in various forms and layers.
There will be obstacles created by inexperienced and amateur political factions who will try to exaggerate their disappointment at election results, and resort to the type of street demonstrations that unfortunately tend to turn violent in Afghanistan, producing an atmosphere that opportunistic anti-state forces will benefit from. On the other hand, the immediate post-election period can provide a good opportunity for regional powers to try to negotiate and secure their strategic interests in the country.
The change of administration and managerial set up across all the institutions in Afghanistan, from the armed forces and the police to the ministries and the local governments, is in itself a challenge of considerable magnitude. Developing effective procedures are required to ensure smooth transition and to extend administrative allegiance to the post rather than to the individual.
Challenges to Power Transition
The panel divided the challenges faced by the post-election power transition into 2 main categories:
1. Challenges associated with the elections and its outcomes:
The challenges in this category should have ideally been addressed before the Election Day by many months. The most important consideration in this category is the security of the voters, and that of the ballot material. A rise in insurgent activities during the period running up to the election can dissuade people from turning up on Election Day. Violent attacks on Election Day not only costs lives, but can also destroy the ballot material. In both scenarios, the legitimacy of the elections can be seriously threatened.
The Election Commission has a duty to attract the necessary assistance from the security services to maximise the number of open voting centres on Election Day. The flaws of previous elections, where an entire province has been under-represented in the ballot, cannot be afforded. The interference of high profile government figures and institutions in the election process is another major hurdle.
The legitimacy of the election outcomes and ensuring undisputed election results is the major challenge to a successful Election Day. This is a multifaceted challenge that has many aspects ranging from security issues to obstacles during quarantine, transport and counting of the votes.
2. Challenges associated with the handover process:
The panel also identified some impediments in the actual process of handover of power; if the election results are disputed, and consequently the formation of the new government takes months, the outgoing president needs to continue to govern according to the constitution, resulting in a prolonged vacuum of democratically allocated power.
President Hamid Karzai has recently instructed the ministries to prepare for a power handover, but there is no evidence of an organised approach for such an undertaking. Afghan ministries and local government posts have been allocated based on the allegiance to the president, and particular political groups in power. These allegiances to outgoing power elite could inevitably cause problems when the new team takes power; the continuity of ongoing economical and reconstruction projects could be at risk, and the transparency and accountability of these projects could be at stake.
The participants at Discourse Hour suggested that all the different pillars of the state have a responsibility, and a role to play, in ensuring the country’s first ever peaceful power transition. The panel had some specific recommendations for different institutions, which all have a unique chance at these elections to be remembered as being on the ride of the history.
a) The Afghan Government: The elections will determine the legacy of president Karzai. Unfair, biased, and rigged elections will corrupt all the positive aspects of President’s rule over the last decade. The government really needs to show that it is absolutely impartial with regards to the candidates.
b) The Election Commission: Ensuring a maximum number of voting centres across the country is of paramount importance. The commission must be able to secure voting in most districts, even if it means delaying elections in areas where elections do not take place for security reasons. The Commission should not hasten the publication of election results. Instead, it should prioritise maximising the number of independent national and international invigilators to overlook all stages of vote counting. This does not mean that the process of counting should slow down unnecessarily.
c) The Parliament: The Afghan Parliament has unfortunately already been divided by allying itself to different candidates. It could, however, form a committee of its well-reputed and independent members to monitor the conduct and outcomes of the election, and report to both Jirgas of the Parliament.
d) The Candidates: The candidates have the ethical and moral duty to manage and reduce the tensions between their voters during the elections. They should not exploit the emotions and enthusiasm of the voters in the run up to the elections. Any disputes surrounding the election results must be resolved with the relevant state institutions, which include the Electoral Complaints Commission and the Estera Mahkama, and should certainly not attempt to be resolved on the streets. If the affected candidates are forced to resort to public demonstrations, they should ensure that such demonstrations are peaceful, and free of vandalism and anarchic behaviour. One way to achieve this would be if the protesting candidates ask their female and children supporters to launch demonstrations, while discouraging men from demonstrating on the streets. This is not necessarily a democratically desirable approach, but it can reduce the negative impacts of public demonstrations.
e) The media and civil society: The most important and effective role can be played by the media and the civil society. Like the Afghan Parliament, the media can also be biased in favour of certain campaigning teams. There are, however, numerous independent media houses and civil societies with a reputation for impartiality, and their example should be followed by those media outlets who seek to defame rival candidates. An alliance between neutral independent media houses and the civil society can diffuse post election tensions, and allow for constructive reporting in the run-up to and during Election Day. Indeed it is a social responsibility for media outlets to report the facts, so that the people of Afghanistan may exercise their democratic right to make an informed selection of a presidential candidate.