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Electoral colleges open in Afghanistan for presidential elections

September 28, 2019

Ghani seeks re-election amid doubts about the cleanliness of the process

MADRID, Sep 28 (EUROPE PRESS) –

The electoral colleges of Afghanistan have opened their doors this Saturday for presidential elections that will take place again amid the threat of the Taliban and after the suspension of peace talks between the insurgents and the United States, in which they have not participated so far. the authorities of the Central Asian country.

The elections – which will take place after two postponements for security reasons and lack of time for its organization – will be the fourth presidential elections the country has held since the fall of the Taliban regime after the Washington-led invasion in 2001.

During the day, the elections to the provincial and parliamentary councils in the province of Ghazni will be held, postponed at the time for security reasons.

The current president, Ashraf Ghani, figures as one of the main candidates and aspires to re-election, while Prime Minister Abdulá Abdulá and the former 'lord of war' Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are two other prominent names that will appear on the ballots.

Abdulá has been an uncomfortable ally for the president during his term, as he accepted the position of prime minister after being second in the last presidential elections of 2014 and after a long process of negotiations following irregularities and allegations of fraud .

For his part, Hekmatyar has returned to the frontline after his party, Hezb-e-Islami, signed a peace agreement with the Executive in 2017. Since then he has denounced corruption in the country and has asked the Taliban to follow his example and seal an agreement to end the insurgency.

In total there are 18 candidates and, although three of them have withdrawn during the campaign, they have not officially notified the electoral commission, so they will appear on the ballots and the votes they receive will be considered invalid.

Among the main names that have been separated is that of Hanif Atmar, former Security Advisor to Ghani – a position he held until 2018 – and former Minister of the Interior with Hamid Karzai. Atmar has indicated in recent days that it will not support any of the other candidates.

The polls do not point to a clear winner in this first round – in which a candidate should collect more than half of the votes to be declared the winner -, so it seems likely that a second round, scheduled for November 23.

The polling stations will open their doors at 7.00 (local time) and will have an important security display to try to avoid attacks against voters and electoral workers. The Interior Ministry has announced the deployment of 72,000 members of the security forces.

Official figures point to about 9.7 million Afghans registered to vote in the elections, of which 65 percent are men. However, the “inconsistencies” in the registry and the weaknesses of the verification process call into question the quality of these lists, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

THE THREATS OF THE TALIBAN

The insurgents, who have been negotiating with the United States authorities for months to try to reach a peace agreement, have again issued warnings to the population in the face of the vote and threatened to carry out attacks during the electoral day to affect the process.

The talks between Washington and the Taliban, which at no time have involved the Ghani Government – which the insurgents consider a “puppet” -, collapsed on September 8 with the announcement by US President Donald Trump, about canceling a meeting at Camp David after the group admitted to being behind an attack in Kabul that ended the life of an American soldier and twelve other people.

The negotiations, which lasted for months and that different international actors are trying to relaunch, focus on the Taliban’s demand for the withdrawal of international troops and the United States’s claim for assurances that the Afghan territory will not be used again by terrorist groups to plan or carry out attacks, among other matters.

Despite these contacts, the Taliban announced on August 8 that there was an order to their combatants to “prevent” the elections from taking place and since then they have carried out several attacks on the campaign, including two directed against acts of Ghani.

One of them, executed in Kabul on July 28, left 20 dead – Amrulá Salé, Ghani's candidate for the Vice Presidency, escaped unharmed – while another perpetrated in the province of Paruan on September 17 caused 26 deaths. Both Ghani and Salé escaped alive, being several hundred meters from the suicide that was immolated.

In addition, the Taliban have asked Afghans to stay in their homes this week and will not vote to avoid exposure to the attacks, while describing the elections as a conspiracy “to meet the occupants' goals.”

The presence of the Islamic State jihadist group, whose cells have perpetrated dozens of attacks in recent years in the country, is added to this context of security fragility.

For all these reasons, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has called on all parties to do their part to ensure the security and credibility of the electoral process and for it to be held “free from fear, intimidation. and threats of violence. ”

“Voters must have every opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to cast their vote and elect political representatives in a peaceful manner,” said mission chief Tadamichi Yamamoto, who also stressed that attacks on civil and electoral colleges are “clear violations of International Law that could amount to war crimes.”

THE POST ELECTORAL STAGE

Concerns about the security and fragmentation of the political scene in Afghanistan, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the peace process, will be some of the main problems that the winner of these elections will face.

To them are added deep problems such as poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunities for the population, especially in remote areas of the country.

The political problems in the country have been exemplified during the last months in the need to extend Ghani's mandate after the last electoral postponement, a decision approved by the Supreme Court amid criticism by the rest of the presidential candidates .

In addition, allegations of corruption among authorities were reinforced by the decision last week of the United States Government to suspend part of the financing of an energy infrastructure project in Afghanistan because of the lack of transparency and suspicions of corruption. .

“Government institutions and the leaders of Afghanistan must be transparent and accountable to the Afghan people,” said the State Department, which emphasized that Washington “is against those who abuse their positions of power and influence to deprive to the Afghan people from the benefits of foreign aid and a more prosperous future. ”

Despite this, the essential factor will be the ability of the United States and the Taliban to sign a peace agreement and the materialization of contacts subsequently between the insurgents and the authorities of the country for the end of a conflict that has devastated the country for the past 18 years.