Afghan rival camps concerned over further delay in poll results

Newly graduated Afghan National Army soldiers march during a ceremony at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul after a three-month training program. (AP)
Updated 29 October 2019

Afghan rival camps concerned over further delay in poll results

  • Independent Election Commission says outcome will be published on Nov. 14

KABUL: The camps of the two frontrunners in Afghanistan’s presidential election voiced concern on Monday about a further delay in the announcement of last month’s poll results.

On the basis of the timeline of the election, which was already delayed twice and saw the lowest turnout of any ballot held in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ouster, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) failed to release the preliminary results on Oct. 19.

Officials of the government-appointed body said at the time that the IEC would announce the results within a week. 

But on Sunday the head of the IEC, Hawa Alam Nuristani, said the outcome would be published on Nov. 14, which will push back the declaration of the final results too.

The IEC cited technical issues and hacking of its server as the main reasons for the delay. 

This has created skepticism that the process will create a crisis similar to the 2014 polls, which progressed to the second round and led to — based on a deal brokered by Washington — Ashraf Ghani becoming president and his arch rival Abdullah Abdullah becoming chief executive.

FASTFACT

Afghanistan welcomed the killing of Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as a major blow to terrorism that is expected to weaken the South Asian branch of the Middle Eastern militant group.

“Despite the fact that we’re concerned about any delay (in the announcement of the poll results), if that aids the transparency of the election then it’s bearable,” Fazl Ahmad Manawi, a chief manager for Abdullah, told Arab News.

Harun Mir, an official representing Ghani’s side, said: “We see no legal or moral justification for delaying the results. People expect the IEC to explain with transparency the reasons for it.”

Officials of the two camps said divisions between IEC commissioners, the partiality of some of the nominees and poor management were the causes for the postponement.

Asked if the delay was part of a compromise to allow the resumption of US talks with the Taliban so the group is given a share in the future setup, Manawi said: “I don’t see any political plot, but anything is possible in Afghanistan.”

The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is currently in Kabul, where he has met with Ghani, Abdullah and other influential Afghan politicians to discuss resuming talks with Taliban.

The Taliban wants the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan, considers Ghani’s administration a US “puppet,” and says it will not accept elections under occupation.

Speaking at the Council of Ministers meeting on Monday, Abdullah said both the talks and election process were very important for Afghanistan.

“We must act on opportunities for peace, but at the same time we mustn’t forget a transparent election result,” he added.

“A transparent election will rescue democracy and the democratic process, and will bring stability to the country. We’re asking the IEC to keep its independence for the remainder of the process.”


Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

Updated 16 min 22 sec ago

Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

  • At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested
  • Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee

HONG KONG: A small but determined group of protesters remained holed up Thursday inside a Hong Kong university campus as the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party urged voters to “kick out the black force” in upcoming elections seen as a key gauge of public support for anti-government protests.

At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, that has been ringed by police for days, resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested. They are the holdouts from a much larger group that occupied the campus after battling police over the weekend.

Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee.

The city’s largest political party slammed the flareup in violence in the past week and urged some 4.1 million voters to use the ballot box this Sunday to reject the “black force” that had thrown the semi-autonomous Chinese territory into unprecedented turmoil since June.

“The black force say they want to fight for freedom but now people cannot even express their views freely. We have even been stripped of our right to go to school and work,” said Starry Lee, who heads the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The party is contesting 181 of the 452 district council seats, a low-level neighborhood election held every four years. For the first time, all the seats will be contested and a huge win by the pro-democracy bloc could bolster the legitimacy of the protest movement.

Protesters, who believe China is increasing control over the territory, are demanding fully democratic elections and an independent probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

The government, which rejected the demands, has warned the polls could be delayed if violence persists and transport links are disrupted. Earlier Thursday, there were long lines and delays at some subway stations. Some stations remained shut and protesters tried to block train doors from closing but the disruption was relatively minor.

A Hong Kong restaurant owner was deported from Singapore for organizing an illegal gathering last month to discuss the protests, Singapore media reported.

Alex Yeung, who founded the Wah Kee restaurant chain and is a staunch pro-Beijing supporter, will also be barred from entering Singapore without prior approval.

In a video posted on YouTube from Singapore’s Changi Airport, Yeung said he has been warned to refrain from any criminal conduct. He didn’t say where he was heading but urged Hong Kong residents to cast their vote on Sunday to “reject violence and support peace.”

Lee said the party’s candidates have faced threats and some have even been beaten up but they are ready for a “tough battle.”

“We believe that if we are united and if everyone comes out to vote, Hong Kong can be restored and violence can be stopped,” she said at a campaign event in a park downtown with dozens of the party’s candidates.

Lee and some candidates kicked black footballs as a symbolic gesture to banish the black-clad protesters.

More than 5,000 have been arrested since the protests started in June over a now-abandoned extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. The protest has since swelled into an anti-China movement as many fear a loss of freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese control in 1997.

A 12-year-old became the youngest protester to be convicted Thursday after pleading guilty to spraying graffiti outside a police station and subway exit last month, the South China Morning Post reported. A lawyer for the student reportedly said he was remorseful and acted on impulse. The court will sentence him on Dec. 19.

Pressure ratcheted up on Hong Kong as the US Congress approved legislation late Wednesday to sanction officials who carry out human rights abuses and require an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

Another bill bans export of tear gas and other non-lethal tools to Hong Kong, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bills into law, which is sure to anger China and jeopardize trade talks between the two economic giants.

“If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “No one should underestimate China’s determination to safeguard the interests of national sovereign security and development, to implement the ‘one country, two systems’ policy and to safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that the US legislation was baseless and an unnecessary meddling into the city’s affairs. He urged Washington to reconsider, warning it would also hurt the interest of more than 1,000 American businesses in Asia’s top financial hub.