Alliance formed to challenge Afghan president’s re-election bid

Key Afghan government officials and major political parties have forged an alliance in a bid to challenge any move by President Ashraf Ghani to extend his term, in the face of growing concerns about elections being postponed. (AP)
Updated 27 July 2018
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Alliance formed to challenge Afghan president’s re-election bid

  • The alliance, launched on Thursday, said it aims to improve governance, create jobs, ensure the holding of transparent elections, and maintain security across the country.
  • President Ghani said the coalition should help the government resolve key national issues.

KABUL: Key Afghan government officials and major political parties have forged an alliance in a bid to challenge any move by President Ashraf Ghani to extend his term, in the face of growing concerns about elections being postponed.
The Grand Coalition of Afghanistan includes First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, who recently returned from 14 months in exile, Second Deputy Executive Chief Mohammad Mohaqiq, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, key regional strongmen and former Cabinet ministers.
Dostum’s unexpected participation in the alliance comes amid reports of a stalemate in talks with Ghani over the release of one of the vice president’s commanders.
His arrest a few weeks ago sparked massive anti-government protests in the north, and led to Dostum’s return to put an end to them.
The alliance, launched on Thursday, said it aims to improve governance, create jobs, ensure the holding of transparent elections, and maintain security across the country.
The coalition “marks a major display of unity in which Afghanistan’s core political and social forces have converged to bring democratic changes in accordance with our peoples’ will and needs, for a democratic, all-inclusive and stable Afghanistan,” Rabbani said.
The alliance said its focus is primarily on “growing instability, poverty and ethnic divisions” in the country, among other issues.
Ghani recently said he will run for a second term in next year’s presidential election, which will be followed by long-delayed parliamentary polls.
With the Taliban gaining ground, and the Ghani administration losing its writ over hundreds of polling stations due to rising violence and deepening divisions within the government, many believe that neither election will be held as announced.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the de facto ruler of the northern Balkh province, said at the launch of the alliance: “Afghanistan is on the verge of collapsing due to the ineffectiveness of government leaders.”
Nearly 4 million people, out of 9 million registered by the government-appointed election body, are “fake voters,” he added.
Dostum said the alliance comprises different political and ethnic groups, which “articulated peace, stability and a constructive role to improve the current state of affairs.”
Mohaqiq also lashed out at the government during the launch of the alliance, describing the current situation in Afghanistan as “worrisome.”
People are fleeing their homes due to insecurity, and a significant part of the country is under militant control, he said.
Ghani said the alliance should help his administration overcome challenges. “The NUG (national unity government) welcomes pragmatic approaches, suggestions and plans by political parties, coalitions and civil society, provided they’re in accordance with the law and wishes of the people,” said a statement released by the president’s office.
“Given the current circumstances, elections, peace and reconciliation are top priorities of the NUG.”
Ghani said his administration pays utmost importance to achieving consensus between the government and political parties.
Constructive ideas and proposals by these groups can help the government and the people to achieve critical national objectives, he added.
Waheed Mozhdah, a Kabul-based political analyst, told Arab News that the formation of the alliance is a “serious challenge for Ghani,” and a sign of how his “wrong policies” alienated senior government members and reconciled old rivals.
“This is a major development. It’s in fact the formation of a front against Ghani, who has failed to reach peace with the Taliban, leading the US to try to hold direct talks with the group,” Mozhdah said.
“It’s highly likely that the elections won’t be held, so the alliance is bracing itself to block any extension of Ghani’s power when his mandate expires,” he added.
“Afghanistan is an unpredictable place. Unless things change, the chance of Ghani winning another term is doomed to failure.”
Atta Nasib, a pro-Ghani parliamentary candidate, said the alliance has nothing to offer common Afghans.
The factions that are part of the coalition had forged similar ones in the past, but without any impact, he added.
“Welcome to the New Grand Coalition of the same old tried and tested telepathic superheroes riding high on jihadi ballistic missiles,” Nasib tweeted.
“For once I’m curious to learn more about issue-based politics that this fragile coalition claims to bring to the table.”


Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

Updated 23 September 2018
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Families bury victims as Tanzania ferry disaster toll passes 200

  • Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat
  • With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya

UKARA, Tanzania: Grieving families were on Sunday preparing to bury victims of Tanzania’s devastating ferry disaster, with more than 200 confirmed dead after the crowded boat capsized in Lake Victoria.
Hopes were fading of finding any more survivors three days after the ferry sank on Thursday, even after rescuers pulled out an engineer who had managed to find refuge in an air pocket in the upturned vessel.
“We are going to start burying bodies not yet identified by relatives,” said John Mongella, governor of Mwanza region, where the MV Nyerere ferry had been coming in to dock on the island of Ukara.
“The (burial) ceremony will be overseen by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, in the presence of clergy members of different denominations,” Mongella said Saturday on TBC 1 public television.
Divers were also set to continue their grim search in the waters around the boat, where late Saturday they were watched by anxious crowds gathered just meters (yards) away on Ukara’s shore.
Mongella said 218 people had been confirmed dead, while 41 escaped the tragedy with their lives — a total figure far above the official capacity of the boat, which was in theory only able to carry 101 passengers.
One survivor was an engineer who shut himself into a “special room” with enough air for him to stay alive until he was found, said local lawmaker Joseph Mkundi.
Transport Minister Isack Kamwelwe said on Saturday that 172 of the victim’s bodies had been identified by relatives.
State television cited witnesses reporting that more than 200 people had boarded the ferry at Bugolora, a town on the larger Ukerewe Island. It was market day, which usually sees the vessel packed with people and goods.
Witnesses told AFP the ferry sank when passengers rushed to one side to disembark as it approached the dock. Others blamed the captain, saying he had made a brusque maneuver.
Dozens of wooden coffins lined the shore on Saturday, waiting to be seen by families as police and volunteers sought to keep hundreds of curious locals at bay.
Aisha William came to collect the body of her husband. “He left on Tuesday around noon, but he never came home. I do not know how I am going to raise my two children,” she said.
Ahmed Caleb, a 27-year-old trader, railed at a tragedy “which could have been prevented. I’ve lost my boss, friends, people I went to school with,” he sighed.
The aging vessel, whose hull and propellers were all that remained visible above water, was also carrying cargo, including sacks of maize, bananas and cement, when it capsized.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli on Friday ordered the arrest of the ferry’s management and declared four days of national mourning.
In a speech broadcast on TBC 1, Magufuli said “it appears clear that the ferry was overloaded,” adding that the government would cover the funeral expenses of the victims.
With a surface area of 70,000 square kilometers, oval-shaped Lake Victoria is roughly the size of Ireland and is shared by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
It is not uncommon for ferries to capsize in the lake, and the number of fatalities is often high due to a shortage of life jackets and the fact that many people in the region cannot swim.