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

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.


French ex-president Sarkozy loses challenge to cash-from-Libya case

Updated 1 min 52 sec ago

French ex-president Sarkozy loses challenge to cash-from-Libya case

  • Sarkozy has been accused by former members of Qaddafi’s regime of taking millions from the late Libyan dictator
  • Sarkozy, who quit politics after a failed comeback attempt for the 2017 presidential vote, has accused the Paris judiciary of hounding him
PARIS: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy lost his bid Thursday to throw out an inquiry into claims he used Libyan cash for his 2007 presidential campaign, a ruling that could require him and several associates to stand trial.
A Paris appeals court upheld the validity of the investigation, launched in 2012 after reports that Sarkozy accepted millions of euros from the regime of former strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
Sarkozy, 65, has denied the allegations. His lawyer declined to comment after the hearing on whether he would appeal the decision to France’s top criminal court.
But the failed legal challenge means the inquiry by two anti-corruption judges can continue, though it remains uncertain if they will eventually seek a trial.
Sarkozy has been accused by former members of Qaddafi’s regime that he took millions from the slain Libyan dictator, some of it delivered in cash-stuffed suitcases, in his successful 2007 presidential run.
The investigation began after the Mediapart published a document in 2012, allegedly signed by Libya’s intelligence chief, purporting to show that Qaddafi agreed to give Sarkozy up to 50 million euros ($58 million at current exchange rates).
Judges are also investigating claims by a French-Lebanese businessman, Ziad Takieddine, who said he delivered suitcases carrying a total of five million euros from the Libyan regime to Sarkozy’s chief of staff in 2006 and 2007.
Also charged in the case is Alexandre Djouhri, a businessman known to be close with several top rightwing politicians, who is suspected of acting as a middleman for the cash transfers.
The former president was charged in 2018 with taking bribes, concealing the embezzlement of Libyan public funds and illegal campaign financing.
Two of his former ministers, Claude Gueant and Eric Woerth, are among several others who have also been charged in the case.
“I think the judges proved they were able to resist all sorts of pressure being put on them,” said Vincent Brengarth, a lawyer for the Sherpa anti-corruption NGO, one of the civil parties in the case.
The allegations that Sarkozy took money from Qaddafi — whom he welcomed to Paris with pomp and ceremony shortly after his election victory — are the most serious to emerge from several investigations that have dogged him since he left office.
The claims first emerged in 2011, as France and Britain were preparing a NATO-backed intervention to support rebels seeking to end Qaddafi’s tyrannical 41-year rule.
Besides the claims of cash-stuffed suitcases, investigators suspect that Sarkozy’s campaign got cash from the 2009 sale of a villa on the French Riviera to a Libyan investment fund managed by Bashir Saleh, Qaddafi’s former chief of staff.
Djouhri is suspected of being the owner of the villa, which was sold at an inflated price to mask the alleged funds from Libya.
It is not the only legal headache for Sarkozy, who has enjoyed renewed popularity since retiring, with his memoirs seeing strong sales.
He has also been charged in two other cases, one relating to fake invoices devised to mask overspending on his failed 2012 re-election campaign, and another for alleged influence peddling involving a top judge.
He is set to go on trial in the second case on October 5, when he will become France’s first ex-president in the dock for corruption.
Sarkozy, who quit politics after a failed comeback attempt for the 2017 presidential vote, has accused the Paris judiciary of hounding him.