A total of 11 candidates are in the fray, vying for the most powerful yet most dangerous seat in the country. Afghan Constitution stipulates that the president’s term shall expire on 1st of Jawza (22 May) of his fifth year in office and election for the new president shall be held within 30 to 60 days after that.
The incumbent Ashraf Ghani has already finished his tenure and the new presidential elections were supposed to be held on April 22, but were delayed due to unspecified reasons. Even the May 22 deadline passed. The country’s top election body has announced September 28 as new date for holding the election, which means more delay and more concerns about the abrogation of Constitutional norms.
In a declaration issued on April 21, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan extended President Ghani’s term until the next election, but the Lawyers Union of Afghanistan deemed it illegal and called for the formation of an interim government. Now, there is an intense debate on whether the incumbent president should continue till September 28 or an interim government should replace his government.
A week ago, a council of presidential candidates called for an end to President Ghani-led national unity government (NUG) and demanded a caretaker government. Twelve out of total 18 presidential candidates including Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Ahmad Wali Masoud, Anayatullah Hafiz, Hakim Torson, Ghulam Farooq Najrabi, Mohammad Ibrahim Alkozay, Noorullhaq Ulomi, Rahmatullah Nabil, Mohammad Shahab Hakimi, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Faramarz Tamanna and Noor Rahman Leval are members of this high-profile council.
On 19th May, the council convened a press conference and announced a plan called “Safeguarding the Democratic Processes in Afghanistan; Position on Ending Presidential Term-in-Office and the Formation of a Caretaker Government”.
They accused President Ghani of seeking extension of his term through illegal means and said that the democratic transition is at risk due to failure of the government to hold presidential elections on time.
They said the government has failed to honor its commitments like convening a Loya Jirga (a countrywide consultancy council) for discussing amendments to the Constitution, creating a post of Prime Minister, introducing electoral reforms and facilitating free and fair election. None of these promises, they said, were fulfilled.
“Divisive politics of the President are at the roots of crisis today. He is seen as obstacle to fair and transparent elections. Out of the Constitution’s 162 articles 94 articles have been violated by NUG (national unity government), mainly by President. Government has lost control of more than half of the territory as well as over 45,000 solder have been killed, and President is seen as obstacle to peace and abuse of authority and state resources,” read the declaration.
In its declaration, the council called for the formation of a caretaker government. It said the incumbent President should give up his candidacy for the election and continue his term as the caretaker President from 22 May without going through any legal mechanism till the end of the duration of the government. This option, it added, also applies to the current vice presidents who may continue as caretaker deputies if they renounce their candidacy.
The declaration further said that if presidential palace won’t accept the first option, the second option is: “The incumbent candidates step down. A grand assembly of political and civic leaders from the entire political spectrum, including presidential candidates is formed. Eligible candidates are nominated through registered political parties and civic organizations. A selection procedure is agreed by members of the assembly through consensus. A caretaker president and two caretaker vice presidents are selected”.
According to this declaration, the caretaker president and vice presidents cannot be candidates in the election and the caretaker government will be subjected to all constitutional checks and balances, including parliamentary oversight.
But, as expected, the presidential palace dismissed the declaration: “The Supreme Court of Afghanistan is the sole authority to amend the Constitution,” said Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesperson of President Ghani. He said the caretaker government is against the country’s Constitution.
Mohammad Hanif Atmar, one of the presidential candidates, hit back saying that President Ghani had harmed government institutions and it was time for him to leave the chair.
“The recent interpretation by the Supreme Court on the continuation of the incumbent president is in violation of Article 61 of the Constitution,” he remarked. “The second clause of Article 61 says the election for the new President shall be held within thirty to sixty days from the end of incumbent’s term.”
He said the main factor for the failure of inter-Afghan talks, which were scheduled to take place on April 20 in Doha, was the government’s wrong policy. He added that the government was not committed to peace.
Observers and analysts believe that the international community has more influence on these matters than the local players. “After May 22, President Ghani will continue his work despite the scathing criticism. The protest won’t have any effect on him. It may be difficult for him only if the US throws its weight behind the protesting candidates,” said Ahmad Saidi, a senior analyst based in Kabul.
Meanwhile, the protesting presidential candidates have declared that they will continue their campaign if President Ghani continues to ignore their demands. They have called on the international community and regional countries to take note of the current situation in the war-torn country and support their demand for free, fair and transparent election.
By Abdul Wahid Haidari