Afghanistan braces for key presidential elections

A campaign poster of the parliamentary election is displayed over the shops in Kabul, Afghanistan, in this Oct. 9, 2018 file photo. (AP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Afghanistan braces for key presidential elections

  • The process is shrouded with further uncertainty over US and Taliban negotiations to bring to a close the longstanding conflict between the group and government-backed forces

KABUL: Amid mounting security threats, ethnic and political tension and uncertainty over timing, Afghanistan is preparing for a controversial and crucial presidential election, with candidates set to begin the campaigning process from Sunday.
“Insecurity will be the main challenge, apart from fraud,” Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a spokesman for the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) told Arab News.
Some 2,000 out of the nearly 7,400 polling centers cannot be secured because of security threats, he added, saying nearly 9.5 million people had registered to vote.
Already twice delayed because of the government’s mismanagement and bickering among leaders regarding electoral law and who should oversee it, the election is slated for Sept. 28 2019.
It follows the October 2018 parliamentary vote, which was hugely delayed and raised questions over transparency and alleged government interference.
Many say they have lost trust in the democratic process, with these issues added to past failures by candidates to deliver on campaign promises.
But others say the poll is the only way to fix Afghanistan, despite some candidates expressing concern that the incumbent, President Ashraf Ghani, is using state resources to his advantage.
The process is shrouded with further uncertainty over US and Taliban negotiations to bring to a close the longstanding conflict between the group and government-backed forces.
Some express concern that even if the elections are held, under the current circumstances, the vote may further deepen the crisis in the country should Washington pursue a withdrawal of US troops.
Taliban opposition to the government in Kabul has seen violent attacks on polling stations in the past. There are fears that the prospect of a US military pullout will only encourage future attacks.
Violence is on the increase in the country anyway, after last week’s wave of strikes in the capital where both the Taliban and the militant group Daesh conducted five deadly assaults that killed multiple civilians.
The contenders for the presidency are all men.
Ghani, 70, is a former World Bank official who took office under a US-brokered deal following the elections of 2014, and who currently shares power with Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, and former communist Mohammad Haneef Atmar, who served as Ghani’s national security advisor until last year, are the president’s main rivals.
The most controversial candidate is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a 70-year-old Mujahideen leader who was on the run from 1975 until he signed a peace deal with Ghani in 2016.
Rahmatullah Nabil, meanwhile, a former spy chief and one of the youngest contenders, is the only candidate who has chosen a woman as one of his two deputies.
The campaign period will last for two months and initial poll results will become clear by October 19 under the current timeline. Final results are set for Nov. 7, with a run-off expected.
Sughra Saadat, a manager at election watchdog Transparency Election Foundation of Afghanistan, said the elections lacked “proper preparedness.”
Taj Mohammad Ahmadaza, a political analyst, told Arab News: “On the surface of things, the government shows that things are on the right track for holding the polls, but they are not.
“There is talk of even cancelling the elections so US and Taliban talks can go ahead and leaving Ghani as head of a transitional government. But in that case, he should not stand for election.”
Fazl Rahman Orya, another analyst, added: “People have become disappointed with elections here as past rounds have been full of fraud and people now ask why they have to risk their lives to vote for someone who cannot then deliver.
“If the elections take place under the current conditions, any stability will be badly damaged and we will see a very deep crisis in Afghanistan, as people and politicians will not accept the result.”


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 44 min 39 sec ago

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”