Afghan president to face 13 challengers in July election

Ashraf Ghani’s presidency has been marred by growing militant violence. (AFP)
Updated 20 January 2019

Afghan president to face 13 challengers in July election

  • The presidential election scheduled for April this year was delayed by three months amid efforts for political reconciliation with the Taliban
  • The candidates belong to various ethnic groups or consider themselves as self-proclaimed leaders of tribes

KABUL: Registration for presidential nominees ended on Sunday in Afghanistan with incumbent President Ashraf Ghani competing against 13 other candidates for the vote slated for July 20.

The presidential election scheduled for April this year was delayed by three months amid efforts for political reconciliation with the Taliban. 

Ghani’s arch rival is seen as Haneef Atmar, a former communist who lost a leg in the war and served for years as Ghani’s national security adviser until last summer when he resigned over what he described as serious differences with the US-backed president over his domestic and foreign policies.

The election is a key test of Afghanistan’s struggle for democracy since the ouster of Taliban regime in 2001, and comes amid rising factional and tribal rivalry and soaring attacks by Taliban militants. 

It is also seen as a colossal challenge for Ghani, who assumed the office following 2014 election that resulted in the creation of National Unity Government (NUG), where Ghani shared power with his then challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, under a US-brokered deal.

Abdullah, who is chief executive (CE) in the government, is also standing for president, as is ex-warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who joined Ghani’s government in 2017 as part of a peace deal;  Rahmatullah Nabil, former chief of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Army General Murad Ali Murad; and former Minister of Women’s Affairs Massouda Jalal. Ahmed Wali Massoud, head of the Massoud Foundation and a graduate of University of Westminster, London, is also in the running with Farida Mohmand, former minister of higher education contesting as his first vice president and Abdul Latif Nazari, a university lecturer, as his running mate for second VP.

The candidates belong to various ethnic groups or consider themselves as self-proclaimed leaders of tribes. They have served different regimes and have fought against each other during the protracted Afghan war. 

Abdul Latif Pedram, Hakim Torsan, Sayed Noorullah Jalili, Enayatullah Hafiz, Zalmai Rassoul, Noorul Haq Ulumi, Faramarz Tamanna and Mohammad Haneef Atmar have also entered the race for the presidential poll. 

Jamiat-e-Islami, the political grouping with its core base in the Panjshir valley, has fielded two presidential hopefuls, Dr. Abdullah and Ahmad Wali Masood, his long-time friend. The valley has two candidates for the position of first VP, one backing Ghani and another siding with Atmar.

A Shiite faction for Hezb-i-Wahdat has pitched three nominees for the position of second VPs who support Ghani, Atmar and Abdullah.

Ghani in a speech on Sunday after registration insisted on a strong presidential system while Atmar recently spoke about creating the post of premiership by changing the constitution, giving authority to provincial governors and the appointment of a third position for another VP.

Atmar’s offer may appeal to factional rulers and regional strongmen, and these key players have thrown their support behind him.

Abdullah said he plans to keep the post of CE and offer it to if his team wins the office. His ticket suffered a blow on Sunday when an ethnic Pashtun he has picked up for CE did not turn up.

Even a key ally of Abdullah in the ticket spoke about it lacking a figure from the Pashtun ethnicity, the largest group which has ruled Afghanistan for much of the past three centuries.

President Ghani has strongly ruled out the notion of forming an interim government until the election is held. 

“We will not accept an interim government, not now, not tomorrow and not even in the next 100 years,” he said.

Changing the composition of leadership of the election commission has been a demand of candidates and political parties following the massively mismanaged parliamentary elections held in October.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) still has not managed to release initial results of the parliamentary poll, which was also marred by allegations of fraud and witnessed major Taliban attacks.

Musa Fariwar, a political science professor, said the elections, if held as slated in July, may affect any possible peace deal with the Taliban.

He listed insecurity as a major challenge for the vote.

“The situation is unstable, there is political instability too. The more volatile the situation becomes, the lower the turnout and that will have a direct impact on the legitimacy of the elections and the government that is formed as a result,” he told Arab News.

He said certain foreign powers were also backing certain candidates who could exploit the dismal condition of Afghans and play on the tribal rifts to work for their favorite nominee to win.

Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

Updated 24 March 2019

Brexit in disarray as Theresa May faces possible ouster plot

  • British politics is at fever pitch and nearly three years since the 2016 Brexit referendum
  • With Theresa May humiliated and weakened, ministers insist she and the British government are still in charge of the country

LONDON: The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union was in disarray on Sunday as Prime Minister Theresa May faced a possible plot by ministers to topple her and parliament prepared to grab control of Brexit from the government.
At one of the most important junctures for the country since World War Two, British politics was at fever pitch and, nearly three years since the 2016 referendum, it was still unclear how, when or if Brexit will ever take place.
With May humiliated and weakened, ministers insisted she and the British government were still in charge of the country, and that the best option was still for parliament to ratify May’s twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal.
As hundreds of thousands of people marched across central London on Saturday to demand another Brexit referendum, May was the subject of what The Sunday Times said was a “coup” by senior ministers seeking to oust her.
The newspaper cited 11 unidentified senior ministers and said they had agreed that the prime minister should stand down, warning that she has become a toxic and erratic figure whose judgment has “gone haywire.”
When asked by Sky about reports in The Sunday Times and other newspapers of a plot and whether she had run out of road, finance minister Philip Hammond said: “No. I don’t think that is the case at all.”
“Changing prime minister wouldn’t help us,” Hammond said. “To be talking about changing the players on the board, frankly, is self-indulgent at this time.”
Hammond said the best way forward would be for parliament to back May’s deal, although he said that it might not be approved and so parliament should then try to find a way to end the impasse.
“I’m realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister’s (Brexit) deal and if that is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it’s against but what it is for,” he said.
Brexit had been due to happen on March 29 before May secured a delay in talks with the EU on Thursday.
Now a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister and she is able to pass her deal. If she fails to do so, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the EU without a treaty.
Some lawmakers have asked May to name her departure date as the price for supporting her deal, though it was unclear when a third vote might take place.
If May’s deal is dead, then parliament will try to find a different option. That opens an array of options including a much softer divorce than May had intended, a referendum, a revocation of the Article 50 divorce papers or even an election.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said May’s deal was the best option and urged people to get behind the prime minister.
“The government and the prime minister are in charge,” Barclay said. May went to her usual church service near her Chequers country residence on Sunday with her husband.
The Sunday Times reported that May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, was one contender to be interim prime minister but others are pushing for Environment Secretary Michael Gove or Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
“I don’t think that I have any wish to take over from the PM, I think (she) is doing a fantastic job,” Lidington told reporters outside his house.
“One thing that working closely with the prime minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task,” he quipped.
Lawmakers are due on Monday to debate a government motion saying parliament has considered a statement made by May on March 15 which set out the government’s next steps on Brexit, including the plan to seek a delay.
They are likely to propose changes, or amendments, to this motion setting out alternative ways forward on Brexit. These are expected to include a proposal to approve May’s deal only if it is put to a public vote.
While amendments are not legally binding, instead simply exerting political pressure on May to change course, lawmakers could use one to attempt to change the rules of parliament to wrest control of the Brexit process from the government.
A British election could be the consequence of parliament seizing control of the Brexit process if lawmakers back proposals contrary to the pledges the government was elected on, Barclay said.