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.”


South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

Updated 59 min 47 sec ago

South Korea to deploy anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz

  • South Korea will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct

SEOUL: South Korea’s military said on Tuesday it plans to expand the deployment of an anti-piracy unit now operating off the coast of Africa to the area around the Strait of Hormuz, after the United States pressed for help in guarding oil tankers.
Attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran last year prompted US officials to call for allies to join a planned maritime security mission.
While South Korea, a key US ally, will deploy its forces to the area, including the Gulf, it will not officially be joining a coalition of forces known as the International Maritime Security Construct, the defense ministry said.
“The South Korean government decided to temporarily expand the deployment of the Cheonghae military unit,” a ministry official told reporters, adding that the step would ensure the safety of citizens and free navigation of South Korean vessels.
The decision to divert the navy unit already operating southwest of Arabia is a political compromise that will not require fresh authorization by parliament ahead of an election in April.
The Cheonghae unit will continue with its mission while it cooperates with the coalition, the ministry said, adding that the United States had been briefed on the decision, which was also explained to the Iranians separately.
The United States welcomes and appreciates South Korea’s decision to expand the mission of its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, William Coleman, spokesman for the US Embassy in Seoul, told Reuters on Wednesday.
“This decision is a demonstration of the strength of the US-ROK alliance and our commitment to cooperate on global security concerns.”
The Iranian embassy in Seoul had no comment on the matter.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East, the defense ministry says.
Sending troops to the area has been a politically sensitive issue in South Korea ahead of the election.
A survey by pollster Realmeter last week showed 48.4% of South Koreans were opposed to dispatching soldiers to the Strait, while 40.3% supported the idea.
Tuesday’s move was broadly supported by lawmakers although some said it could risk Iran ties and the safety of South Koreans in the region. A number of progressive activist groups issued a statement criticizing the decision and said they will stage a protest in front of the president’s office on Wednesday.
The Cheonghae unit has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, working to tackle piracy in partnership with African countries as well as the United States and the European Union.
The 302-strong unit operates a 4,500-ton destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, South Korea’s 2018 defense white paper showed.
Among its operations were the rescue of a South Korean ship and its crew in 2011, shooting eight suspected pirates and capturing five others in the incident.
The South Korean troops have also evacuated South Korean citizens from Libya and Yemen, and as of November 2018 had escorted around 18,750 South Korean and international vessels.
South Korea, the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers, stopped importing Iranian crude from May after waivers of US sanctions ended at the start of that month.