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.”

Philippine president defends new anti-terror law

Updated 12 min 12 sec ago

Philippine president defends new anti-terror law

  • Rights groups fear law will target critics, stifle free speech

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended the country’s new anti-terror law, saying that law-abiding citizens had no reason to fear it.

The new law criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.”

The law also grants the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists; allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists without charge for up to 24 days; and permits the government to conduct 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps.

Speaking for the first time about the controversial legislation since it was signed on July 3, Duterte stressed that the bill would
be used to protect the country from terrorism.

“For the law-abiding citizen of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity: Do not be afraid if you are not a terrorist, if you don’t destroy the government, blow up churches or public utilities ... just to see the nation fall,” Duterte said in a taped address.

He stressed that the new anti-terror law was a much-needed legal weapon that the government could use to fight terrorism, citing attacks in Mindanao which “have killed many people” and threatened peace and order in the southern part of the archipelago.

He described the country’s democracy as “a little bit shaky” and emphasized that it was his obligation to defend and protect the nation from those who intended to destroy it.

“Once you blow up a church, blow up a marketplace ... the right to defend itself accrues to the government heavily,” he said, adding that “if you kill people, I will really kill you.”

Duterte also took a swipe at the country’s communists, branding them terrorists for their continued rejection of the government’s call for peace.

“They think that they are a different breed. They would like to be treated with another set of law. When, as a matter of fact, they are terrorists,” Duterte said, lamenting that he had spent most of his days as a president “trying to figure out and connect with them on how we can arrive at a peaceful solution.”

The anti-terror law has been widely criticized, with many groups and personalities saying it is prone to abuse. 

As of Wednesday, five petitions had been filed before the Supreme Court, questioning its constitutionality and seeking a temporary restraining order to stop its implementation temporarily.

Among the provisions of the law being questioned by the petitioners are the definition of terrorism and the arrest of suspects without a warrant and their prolonged detention.

Rights groups described the new law as yet “another setback to human rights” in the country.

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) respected Duterte’s decision to sign the law.

He added that the BARMM was open to engaging with the government to address terrorism, recommending Bangsamoro representation in the Anti-Terrorism Council.

Bangsamoro leaders had previously called on Duterte to veto the measure to allow Congress to review and address some of the law’s controversial provisions but, since it has been signed into law, Ebrahim said: “We trust that the president will ensure that the concerns and apprehensions of the Bangsamoro people on some provisions of the law will not happen.”

The Anti-Terror Act will take effect 15 days after being signed into law.