Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday he was considering bringing the 2014 national elections forward by a year, The Washington Post reports.Karzai’s second five-year term of office expires in 2014, the same year that NATO is due to withdraw.
Afghanistan’s constitution bars him from running for a third time, and requires that the election be held 30 to 60 days before that, according to The Telegraph. And while Karzai says he has not made up his mind, and the election commission says the schedule is unchanged, holding elections in 2013 makes sense, both for Afghanistan and for Karzai himself.
Here’s four reasons why…
1. It would reduce the strain on national security forces
Having national elections the same year as NATO and U.S. troops withdraw could create a power vacuum in the fragile democracy. It’s happened before, when the Soviets pulled out in the 1980s, which led to a civil war that saw the Taliban rise to power.
Despite the fact that the transfer of authority has already begun, and NATO’s assurance of continued support, Karzai remains wary. “…with the complete return of international forces to their homes from Afghanistan and the holding of the presidential election at the same time — whether that will be an agenda that we can handle at the same time,” Karzai told reporters in a joint interview with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, according to the AP.
Afghan security forces are still heavily reliant on foreign funding and training, and are not yet equipped enough to handle the Taliban on their own, especially given the recent spate of bombings and the breakdown of peace talks between the Taliban and the U.S., Reuters reports.
2. The Taliban could prevent people from voting
Even if the troop withdrawal doesn’t lead to complete chaos and civil war, the insurgents could still delay elections by preventing people from going to vote. This has also happened before, in 2009, which led to complaints of fraud at the polls (and Karzai’s election to a second term).
The Taliban is not the only worrying factor for the election commission. Ethnic strife is still rampant in Afghanistan, often perpetrated by politicians themselves. Even the native Afghan troops are made up of various tribes and ethnic groups, some who are loyal to leaders complicit in the post-Soviet civil war.
“If a significant proportion of the population can’t come out to vote, you can’t have an election. No election commission will take the risk,” Omar Daudzai, a former presidential chief of staff and current ambassador to Islamabad, told the Guardian. No elections could create unrest among powerful leaders who have since 2001 observed at least the broad outlines of Afghanistan’s democracy.
3. It could help Karzai stay in power
While Karzai has said he will not seek a third term in office, both Afghan rivals and western diplomats in Kabul are concerned he may use worries about security and stability to prolong his reign. According to an influential member of the Kabul establishment, Karzai believes that if elections cannot take place in 2014, “he will hang in there for a couple more years,” the Guardian reports.
Only a few Afghans have publicly announced their intention to run for president: a former minister under Karzai, Ali Ahmad Jalali, who is based in the United States, and a member of parliament, Fawzia Koufi.
Another worrying report from the country is that Karzai’s advisers are attracted by the “Putin Model”: where the head of state steps down as president after two terms (in accordance with the constitution), becomes prime minister and retains hold on power, and then gets re-elected as president, according to Davood Moradian, a political science professor at the American University of Afghanistan, and former chief policy adviser to the Afghan foreign minister.
4. It could help the West lend legitimacy to new leaders
On the flip side, if Karzai loses the elections, NATO and U.S. presence in the country could help give legitimacy to his successor. As The Australian’s David Ignatius writes, an earlier election would focus everyone’s attention on the political transition ahead rather than the military situation.
The Taliban might be more eager to bargain if the U.S. encouraged new political leaders, he argues. Striking a deal with insurgents before a new leader is elected could be risky.
“A new president will allow us to press the reset button, domestically and vis-a-vis the international community,” a source told the Guardian. “Another two years of Karzai could literally drown the country and our international relationships.”
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