US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

  • Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process

KABUL: A US newspaper report that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering asking the Afghan government to postpone the presidential election has drawn backing from some in Afghanistan’s political quarters, while others have criticized it.
The report comes amid speculation that the presidential poll will be delayed and that instead an interim government will be formed involving the Taliban leaders in a effort to end the 17-year-long conflict.
It comes after last month’s long-delayed and chaotic parliamentary elections and the renewed US efforts for peace talks which involved the appointment of special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad in recent weeks has spoken with leaders of the regional powers, Taliban emissaries and the Afghan government as well as regional strongmen, some of whom fear that the outcome of presidential poll in a fractured government at this time may push the country into deeper chaos.
On Tuesday, citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was looking into postponing the vote.
“The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents,” The Wall Street Journal said.
The current administration of the joint National Unity Government (NUG), where the power is shared by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, was formed as a result of allegedly rigged polls held in 2014.
Public frustration has mounted over the NUG’s failure to curb the crime rate, alleviate poverty and stop the deadly attacks by militants in the past four years.
Some politicians push for formation of an interim government, while others, including former President Hamid Karzai, deem the convocation of a traditional assembly, known as Loya Jirga, as a solution for the political and security crisis the country faces.
Officials close to Ghani, who is standing for re-election in the April 20 vote, said the poll will have to take place.
“Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposal that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people will not be acceptable to our people,” Fazel Fazly, an adviser to Ghani, said.
Abdullah, following the Wall Street Journal report, met on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass. Abdullah in a tweet said he discussed the parliamentary and presidential elections with Bass, who told him that “the upcoming presidential election will take place on time.”
Later in the day, Bass said the US was helping Afghans to hold the elections based on the time stipulated, but added that the Afghans themselves can choose the time
for it.
“We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of the Afghan election is for the Afghans to decide,” he said in a statement. Bashir Bezhen, a lawmaker in President Ghani’s government, argued that delaying the polls goes against the constitution and it will damage the credibility of the US as well.
“This issue (the US option for delaying polls) is in violation of the constitution and it will also be a blow to US prestige because Afghanistan’s fate has its impact on the US as it has been fighting here for over 17 years,” he told Arab News.
However, he said there is no guarantee that a proper time will come that can pave the way for fair elections.
“We do not have the hope for a democratic, free, transparent election under this government and the current situation, but to hope that things will get better is a merely a dream.”
He said if the election is not held on time, then one solution would be an interim government or convocation of Loya Jirga and either way, Ghani will lose.
“Ghani is keen to hold the poll so he can win by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes. We feel worried about the future both if the election is held or delayed, but we have to know... what will happen if the polls are not held.”
Mohammad Nateqi, a politician, former diplomat and member of the government-appointed High Peace Council, said delaying the poll is necessary if it can lead to peace with the Taliban.
“If an interim administration or postponing of the election can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying the poll) will not be a problem,” he said.


Spain threatens to send national police to Catalonia after protests

Updated 11 December 2018
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Spain threatens to send national police to Catalonia after protests

MADRID: Spain’s interior minister said he would send national police to Catalonia if local authorities did not do more to stop protests like the one that shut down major highways over the weekend.
Fernando Grande-Marlaska accused the local Catalan police of doing nothing to prevent pro-independence protesters blocking the AP-7 toll road, which runs up Spain’s Mediterranean coast, for more than 15 hours on Saturday.
The involvement of national police would be a contentious issue in the northeastern region which has its own administration and where polls suggest almost half the population wants to split away from Spain.
It would also stir memories of Madrid’s decision to send in a large contingent of national police in September last year after the Catalan government called an illegal independence referendum.
“Serious disruptions of public order and traffic security, such as those seen in the last few days, need to be dealt with by the regional police,” the minister wrote to his regional counterpart in an open letter late on Monday.
“If this does not happen ... the government will order an intervention by the state police,” he added.
Catalonia’s government would respond to the questions raised in the letter, spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said on Tuesday, without saying when or going into further detail. She repeated calls for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.
Spain’s previous conservative government took control of the region when the regional administration unilaterally declared independence following the Oct. 1, 2017 referendum.
Many of the Catalan politicians that took part in the declaration are in prison awaiting trial for rebellion or in exile.
Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — who came to power in June — has said he is open to a referendum on greater autonomy and has promised to lay out detailed plans in parliament on Wednesday.
But Grande-Marlaska said the local authorities had to show they could keep order and prevent a repeat of Saturday’s protests.
“It was observed that there was no intervention (by the regional police) ... a reality that is difficult to deny,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday morning.