Written by Tawab Malekzad
As many as 27 candidates have filed their nomination papers for the Afghan presidential elections that will take place in April 2014. However, on October 22, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) overseeing the elections announced that 17 of the 27 candidates did not meet these requirements. The head of the IEC said that the candidates were disqualified mainly because they did not manage to gather enough signatures or because they possessed a dual citizenship.
What is somewhat peculiar is that the candidates who actually qualified did not choose their running mates on the grounds of shared political, economic, or social ideologies; rather, they strategically chose their partners in order to use their political popularity to get into the presidential palace. Right now, there are two teams that could potentially enter the general election.
The first team is the one headed by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. His two running mates are an ethnic Uzbek and a Hazara. The second team is the one headed by Abdullah Abdullah, who lost to Karzai in the 2009 presidential election. Ethnically, he is both Pashtun and Tajik. His running mates are also from different ethnic groups—one is a Pashtun, the other a Hazara.
From the left: General Dostom, Ahmadzai, and Danish [Photo Credit: Reuters]
Ahmadzai, known as ‘the technocrat’, is not a very popular figure among Afghans. Knowing this, he selected two running partners that are instead quite popular among their respective ethnic communities.
Ahmadzai did not chose a Tajik, the second largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, as a running partner because Uzbeks and Hazaras had the highest voter turnout for the past two presidential elections. Ahmadzai hopes that having such partner-candidates will earn him enough votes to get into the Gul-Khana.
Ahmadzai might win the support of Uzbeks. However, the political landscape of Afghanistan has changed since the last election. Ahmadzai may not achieve the majority of votes if the number of Tajik voters increases this election. Moreover, his second vice president is not as popular as Abdullah’s second vice president among the Hazara community. Therefore, it looks like the majority of Hazara votes might end up going to Abdullah.
From the left: Mohammad Khan, Abdullah, and Mohaqiq [Photo credit: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images]
Like Ahmadzai, Abdullah has selected his running mates with the hope of playing on their popularity. While Ahmadzai’s strategy is to select running partners based on those ethnic groups with historically high voter turnouts, Abdullah’s strategy seems to be a desire to bring together three popular civil war rivaling parties— Hezb-e-Islami, Hizb-e-Wahdat, and Jamiat-e-Islami— hoping to earn the majority of the votes.
However, his strategy of bringing these three parties onto the same ballot could end up costing him votes, primarily because Tajiks accuse his Pashtun partner of having taken part in the killing of a senior Tajik resistance fighter in the late 1980s. Nevertheless, Abdullah could still possibly gather the Tajik vote because Afghanistan has been ruled by Pashtuns for the past 300 years. Therefore, Tajiks see this as an opportunity to finally install a Tajik into power.
Afghans Worry About the Withdrawal, Not the Election
In spite of the intricacies of Afghan election politics, the outcome of the 2014 elections are not the primary concern among Afghans and neither are corruption and voting frauds: these are inevitable in Afghanistan. Through recent phone conversations I had with an Afghan official, it is clear that Afghans are more concerned about the outcome of their Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S., than about anything else.
Afghans are more concerned about security and stability in the country, particularly after the international troops will depart next year. Whether the BSA is signed or not, the U.S. has no choice but to support the central government of Kabul. Once the international troops withdraw there is no doubt that the Afghan National Army (ANA) will no longer be capable of defending the majority of the country. Therefore, the U.S. should provide enough support for the ANA such that it can defend major cities from falling back into the hands of the Taliban.
Abdullah Ghani during a press conference [Photo credit: AFP]
Between the two candidate teams, Abdullah’s team is the one more likely to bring stability to Afghanistan with the help of the Americans.
Abdullah is the better candidate for two reasons. First, Afghans are more likely to relate to and, thus, support Abdullah than Ahmadzai; Abdullah is seen as a person who was in Afghanistan during the Afghan jihad and fought the foreign invaders, while Ahmadzai was seen as sitting behind a desk somewhere in the west.
Second, compared to Ahmadzai’s teammates. Abdullah’s partners have much influence over a larger portion of the Afghan population and they are held in high esteem by their respective ethnic communities. Consequently, if Abdullah and his running mates make it into office, they will have great support from the population.
Such support will unite Afghans behind one man, thus giving him the best chance of finally bringing stability and security to the country.