Controversy Over Afghan Election Delay Puts Constitution To Test

An Afghan man shows his thumb marked with ink and his voter’s pass after registering to vote in the country’s presidential poll, now scheduled for August 20.

February 03, 2009
By Abubakar Siddique

Just days after announcing the postponement of Afghanistan’s presidential election, the country’s Independent Election Commission finds itself amidst a storm of controversy.

Parliament accuses the commission of overstepping its legal authority in pushing the election date from the spring until August 20, while politicians are warning of an impending political crisis that could harm the country’s fragile democracy.

Responding quickly, President Hamid Karzai found himself holding negotiations between parliament deputies and the Election Commission.

“This meeting was about the Election Commission’s decision and to look into practical ways to tackle [the disagreements about] it,” presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said. “This is the first meeting, and such meeting will continue. We want to reach a national understanding that also suits our national interests.”

The main sticking point was exposed on February 2 when Mohammad Yunis Qanuni, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, bluntly told the Wolesi Jirga that the Election Commission had no legal authority to delay the vote.

“Dear parliamentarians, I want to formally share my concerns about the holding of elections. If the situation continues as it is today, you will not see elections on August 20,” Qanuni said.

“We all should ask the president of Afghanistan, as the guardian of the constitution, to make a decision about the delay of polls announced by the election commission. Secondly, he should also form a supervisory constitutional commission to prevent similar mistakes from being repeated in the future,” Qanuni added.

Dismal Security Situation

Following extensive consultations, the Independent Election Commission cited the country’s dismal security situation, lack of funding, and harsh weather conditions in remote areas as the reasons for pushing the presidential vote to August 20.

It is a fundamental disaster. But we have a legal way to prevent it.

But the Afghan Constitution specifically tasks the Election Commission with holding presidential polls at least a month before the end of the president’s term in office on May 22, leading to expectations of an April vote.

And this has led lawmakers, opposition parties, and legal experts searching for the legal basis for moving the date.

In an interview given to RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan just after the delay announcement, Kabul-based Afghan legal expert Nasrullah Stanekzai explained the legal shortcomings, and a possible solution.

“Basically, the Election Commission lacks the authority to change the election date for a day. It was a mistake by the special representative of the UN [secretary-general, Kai Eide], who advocated it on behalf of the international community in the Mishrano Jirga [upper house] a couple days back,” Stanekzai said.

“I think the only way forward is for both houses of the Afghan parliament to now endorse the election commission’s decision. Although it is a wrong decision, [they still need] to grant legitimacy to [the extension] of the president’s term in office,” he said.

No Easy Answers

Lawmakers, such as Kabir Ranjbar, have expressed similar dissatisfaction, but don’t envision such an easy answer. Rajbar feels that the failure to follow the constitution in letter and in spirit could have dire consequences.

The fact that Karzai’s term constitutionally ends in May places him on shaky ground legally, should he remain in office.

Azizullah Ludin, Independent Election Commission chief, announces the decision to delay the vote on January 29.

“This will create a wider political crisis. And this will be a constitutional crisis. And such a crisis is much worse than any other political or economic crisis,” Ranjbar says. “It is a fundamental disaster. But we have a legal way to prevent it.”

Ranjbar suggests that the Afghan parliament could avert a greater crisis by giving its endorsement to the electoral commission’s decision. He adds that parliament could legally extend Karzai’s term by allowing him to impose a four-month state of emergency, which would allow him to tackle the security problems and to facilitate a smooth transfer of power.

Presidential spokesman Hamidzada admits that the country’s five-year-old constitution didn’t foresee such complications.

“Definitely, our constitution didn’t anticipate certain problems. There are, unfortunately, contradictions in the constitution. These problems should be look upon in a larger framework — in the framework of the national interests,” Hamidzada says.

Observers expect intense politicking on the question of what to do after Karzai’s terms in office ends in late May. But they widely predict that all sides will eventually agree to the August 20 date, considering that it would be practically impossible to hold elections before that.

That would fit with suggestions made by Kai Eide, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, in an interview given to RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan just before the decision to delay the vote was made.

“My recommendation would be to respect the decision that the election commission makes,” Eide said. “I will respect that decision, and I hope that everybody will respect that decision.”



AFGHANISTAN: Winter crisis averted in north?

Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
Aid agencies have delivered food assistance to thousands of vulnerable households in the north of the country this winter

KABUL, 2 February 2009 (IRIN) – Prompt distribution of food aid, improved coordination among aid agencies and a relatively mild winter have prevented mass displacements in the drought-stricken northern provinces of Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

Listen to the audio report in Dari and Pashto

“This year there was, in general, much better coordination between relevant government bodies and UN agencies, particularly with WFP [UN World Food Programme] as a key player. The other factor that really matters is that people in the areas most affected by drought are not facing such a harsh winter as last year,” Dusan Vukotic, an ICRC official in Kabul, told IRIN.

Previously the ICRC had warned about large-scale displacements in the north. “Hundreds of thousands of Afghans may have to leave their homes this winter because of drought, insecurity and rising food prices,” it warned in a press release in October 2008.

However, the ICRC’s latest assessments in the four northern provinces of Balkh, Faryab, Kunduz and Badghis indicate “no major displacement” has occurred thus far.

Millions are at risk of food insecurity due to crop failure resulting from severe drought and high food prices, aid agencies have said.

In response, aid agencies and the government requested over US$400 million in a joint emergency appeal in July 2008 aimed at providing a safety-net for over five million most vulnerable people. Thus far over 50 percent of the appeal has been met, according to WFP.

Susannah Nicol, a WFP spokeswoman in Kabul, told IRIN more than 740,000 of the targeted five million beneficiaries had received food aid and the programme would continue until August 2009.

Other relief projects

A “Winter Task Force” established by the German embassy in Kabul has disbursed over 2.6 million euros (about US$3.4 million) for emergency relief activities.

“The Federal Foreign Office’s overall winter aid for Afghanistan totals 7.4 million euros [$9.6 million] this winter,” the German government said in a press release on 27 January, specifying that some funds would go to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the ICRC.

Winter relief supplies have also been distributed by various NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

“Our assistance package has been tailored to help families decrease their food gaps during critical winter months and to prevent displacement,” said the ICRC’s Vukotic, adding that some 50,000 households had received pre-winter ICRC food aid.

Gaps remain

Despite assurances by aid agencies, some people in drought-affected areas in the north said they had received little or no assistance.

“We have received no assistance in our village so far,” said Noorullah, a farmer from Khoja Mosa District in Faryab Province, saying his agriculture land and livestock had been badly affected by drought.

“Where should we go in search of food

انتقاد پژوهشگر آمریکایی از دولت افغانستان


  یک پژوهشگر باسابقه آمریکایی انتقاد کرده است که دولت افغانستان نگه داری میراثهای فرهنگی را در اولویت های کاری خود قرار نداده است.
نانسی هچ دوپری (Nancy Hatch Dupree)، که از شش دهه به این سو در افغانستان به تحقیقات فرهنگی و تاریحی مشغول است، می گوید میراثهای فرهنگی افغانستان به شدت آسیب دیده و افغانها در باره فرهنگ شان آگاهی زیادی ندارند.
خانم دوپری می گوید با آن که تلاش های زیادی در زمینه های فرهنگ و تاریخ افغانستان انجام داده، اما مقامات در این کشور نگه داری میراثهای فرهنگی را در اولویت های کاری خود قرار نداده اند.
او گفت: “در ۲۰ سال اخیر ما کار هایی را با وزارت اطلاعات و فرهنگ و مسئوولان موزیم (موزه) انجام دادیم، ما همچنین کتابهایی را در باره تاریخ بناهای تاریخی و کتاب رهنما برای موزیم افغانستان در مرکز تحقیقات افغانستان در دانشگاه کابل چاپ کردیم، ما (از کارهای فرهنگی در افغانستان) خیلی حمایت کردیم، اما در کل مقامات به این مسئله اولویت قایل نشده اند.”
خانم دوپری می گوید که میراث های فرهنگی افغانستان در تحولات اخیر این کشور آسیب زیادی دیده، اما به این مسئله توجه کافی نشده است.
این پژوهشگر آمریکایی گفت: “میراث های فرهنگی خیلی آسیب دیده اند، برای این که مردم در باره فرهنگ شان زیاد آگاهی ندارند و این موضوع در مکاتب (مدارس) به خوبی آموزش داده نشده است. به همین دلیل ارزش میراث های فرهنگی را نمی دانند و بنا بر این چرا باید از آنها حفاظت کرد؟”
نانسی هچ دوپری ۸۱ ساله، بیوه لویی دوپری باستان شناس آمریکایی است که در سال های جنگ در افغانستان، مرکز پژوهشهای افغانستان را در شهر پیشاور پاکستان تاسیس کرد.
خانم دوپری که از سال ۱۹۵۰ میلادی در افغانستان کار می کند، پس از سقوط حاکمیت رژیم طالبان این مرکز را به کابل انتقال داد.
در حال حاضر خانم دوپری مسئولیت مرکز پژوهشهای افغانستان در دانشگاه کابل را به عهده دارد.
این مرکز حاوی ۴۵ هزار نسخه حاوی اطلاعاتی در زمینه تاریح و فرهنگ افغانستان است که شامل کتاب، مجله، روزنامه و آثار پژوهشی می شود.
خانم دوپری می گوید در نظر دارد که این نسخه ها را دیجیتالی کند تا از میان رفتن آنها جلوگیری کرده باشد.
خانم دوپری میگوید بعد از تاسیس ساختمان جدید این مرکز در دو ماه آینده، برنامه های آموزشی و نمایش های ویدئویی را برای توسعه اطلاعات در باره تاریخ و فرهنگ افغانستان به اجرا خواهد گذاشت.